I'm gonna continue for the next two or three weeks about “The Comedy Toolbox” approach to comedy structure.
There is quite a bit of crossover between this method and other methods you've heard of. But that's probably a good thing; there should be some similarity when dissecting plots.
This is once again from the book “The Comic Toolbox” by John Vorhaus. I recommend the book if you find this stuff interesting or useful; I'll avoid getting too detailed out of respect for that author. The book has a lot more stuff than what I've talked about. It's a fun read, too.
John breaks down his comedy stories into as few steps as possible. These are the big structural things to figure out when you're writing a script, should you choose to use this method. Here's the whole template:
Who is the Hero?
What Does the Hero want?
The Door Opens
The Hero takes control
A Monkey Wrench is Thrown
Things Fall Apart
The Hero Hits Bottom
The Hero Risks All
What Does the Hero Get?
A lot of those bullet points might make total sense to you already, and most or all of them probably suggest something to you. Today I'll just go over the first two items.
WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU WANT?
WHO IS THE HERO?
The hero may be a guy. Or a girl. Or a rabbit. Or a robot. Or a ghost, monster, or sentient plant. Or even a not-so-sentient plant. They may not be heroic, even. What makes them the Hero is that the story is about them.
There could be more than one Hero in your story; unless you are prepared to track separate journeys for all of them in one story, it's a good idea to pick ONE. There can be multiple characters, of course - but most stories are about one hero.
So how do we create this Hero?
Well happily, a previous Newspost has that covered. You create a character with a Strong Comic Perspective, Flaws, Humanity, and then Exaggerate all of those elements. This method of Comedy Character Creation is detailed here:
WHAT DOES THE HERO WANT?
This is the Hero's goal. And it's split into two parts: Outer “Want” and Inner “Need”.
We've talked about this before, too. It's a basic building block of characters in stories, no matter what the method. Heroes have a goal when a story starts
Luke Skywalker WANTS to be a starfighter pilot.
Whatshisface wants to not be a nerd anymore, and get a date with Miss Popular Whatsherface.
Andy wants to lose his 40 year old virginity.
Margie wants to solve the murder.
Sydney wants to survive the slasher who's stalking her.
The goal should be strong, interesting, and important enough to be worth writing about. By the way, if the outer want changes through the course of the writing, or even morphs throughout the story, that's okay. Establishing a want or two is vital to defining a character. it can be altered later.
The Inner Want is what I call a “NEED”. “Want” and “Need” are words that have a nice separation and clarity to them. Vorhaus calls them “Inner” and “Outer” wants. Either way. Same diff.
The NEED is usually invisible to the Hero. They don't know what they need, or are unconsciously or actively avoiding it. In comedies, it usually has something to do with growing up, or LOVE. Romantic, familial, self-love, or whatever.
Rob in High Fidelity WANTS to get over his romantic misery, but he NEEDS to grow up.
Sydney WANTS to escape the killer, but she NEEDS to get over her mother's death.
Luke Skywalker NEEDS to grow up, learn spirituality, and become a leader.
Margie NEEDS to accept and appreciate the life she has.
So if you create a Hero, and give them an Outer and Inner Want, you'll be off and running.
To be continued!