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The Comedy Plot, Toolbox Edition (part four)

Banes at 12:00AM, June 1, 2017


Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

This is it! Part Four of the “Comic Toolbox” approach to comedic story structure. The book is by Jon Vorhaus and you can pick it up here:

Ironscarf pointed out that this “comedy structure” is very applicable to other genres of stories, too.


A rundown (once again) of the beats of the comedic throughline:

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?


After entering a new life and finding some success with what he thinks he wants, the Hero finds things are more complicated than initially believed. This complication usually comes in the form of LOVE - the Hero finds something to be loyal to, other than his own goal. Their loyalty is displaced, as Vorhaus says.

At that point, things begin to fall apart, getting rougher for the Hero, until we reach this LOW POINT.

If you've watched movies, you probably know this moment (or sequence of moments). The jilted, betrayed, or disappointed lover (romantic or otherwise) walks sadly across a bridge or something. They can't have what they've come to love. A happy ending is not in the cards.

And in the “Toolbox” model, this is presented as a CHOICE between getting the OUTER WANT or going after the displaced loyalty of the new love, which represents the INNER NEED.

City Slickers - When Mitch's little baby calf pet is swept away in the river. What to do? Let the little guy die? Or risk dying himself?
Insomnia - Al Pacino, between a rock and a hard place, has no choice but to let an innocent go to prison while the real killer goes free.
40 Year Old Virgin loses his relationship when he can't bear to get rid of his lingering childhood/static life.
The AVENGERS are scattered to the four winds and have lost one of their own.

Again, this is about CHOICE being presented to the Hero. The Hero can't have what he wants without sacrificing what he USED to want.

So, what he wanted initially (solve the murder, win the battle of the bands, etc) has been replaced with the NEW want (protecting his reputation and previous arrests in Insomnia, bonding and helping his students learn new things in School of Rock or other team/sports movies, or becoming a grownup and having a real relationship in The 40 Year Old Virgin).

And time has run out - that's a hallmark of this part of the story.

It's the end of the line, and along with the next beat, is the real power of story. This is what we came to see!

use the Force, Luke

With no reason to expect success, the Hero goes for it. He does the right thing, without knowing it will pay off. That's the key to this beat in this system.

-Vince Vaughan blindfolds himself at the end of Dodgeball, Luke Skywalker style!
- Pacino picks up the badge he set down and goes to take care of business (I know - Insomnia is not a comedy.
I just love that scene so much. Any opportunity to mention it)
- The Avengers band together to fight off the endless Hordes of evil
- Mitch in City Slickers throws himself into the river to save his pet calf (the book uses this example - it's such a fun one, I had to include it).

In movies where the Hero has been living some kind of lie, this is the “confession” scene (Big and Soul Man are what come to mind for me. Soul Man?? Who the heck knows Soul Man? Get a better example, Banes!).
In a magic powers story, this is where the Hero does the right thing WITHOUT the help of his powers.

The Hero didn't know it, but this is the moment he was looking for the whole time.

This moment fulfills the INNER NEED - that unexpressed thing that the Hero started out not recognizing.

A double rainbow

John Vorhaus says that the natural ending of a comedic story is a happy ending. I tend to agree. This is not a RULE, don't get me wrong. None of this stuff is to be taken as RULES.

But in a comedy, this is where things strongly point. Even a dark, or outright black comedy, say, Fight Club or something like that. The comedic story wants a happy ending. Heck, isn't that the distinction in Shakespearean Comedies? It's a happy ending in comedies, otherwise it's a Tragedy where everybody dies.

Further, the happy ending is generally a DOUBLE Happy Ending. The Hero achieves their outer Want AND their Inner Need.

They risked it all and they win it all! That's generally the Comedic Story.

So what do you think? Good stuff? Do you agree? I tend to agree with most of this - and it doesn't seem like “forumula” to me. There's a LOT of room for an infinity of different variables that could still line up with this general template.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this month of THE COMIC TOOLBOX story structure outline. I may try to write something using this method next time, or have some kind of group experiment with it? Not sure. The DD Awards are coming up pretty soon so people are going to be busy.

I'll figure something out.

Talk to you again soon!




ozoneocean at 11:29PM, June 1, 2017

Bravo, those sound like great films!

Banes at 9:49PM, June 1, 2017

@bravo - Ah! I'm gonna try to find those...if such a thing can be done in our post-video store world. I liked John Candy a lot but haven't seen either of those.

Banes at 9:48PM, June 1, 2017

@Gunwallace - Heh! Well, offhand I can envision a comedy trailer for it, with Al trying to paper the windows, and that dude throwing the garbage and knocking the files over...okay, I've watched this flick way too many times...

bravo1102 at 6:08PM, June 1, 2017

@Banes: The romance writer one is "Delirious " and the overbearing mother is "Only the Lonely". In the latter film he works for the fire department. "Delirious " is great because it's where he's a soap opera writer and gets stuck in his world and discovers he can write events, often with some great results. He ties up the evil town patriarch by making him stay at home waiting for the cable guy.

Gunwallace at 5:35PM, June 1, 2017

Insomnia is not a comedy?

Banes at 8:51AM, June 1, 2017

@bravo - I don't think I've seen that one. Is that where he's a romance writer with an overbearing mother? But NOT 'Throw Momma From the Train"?

Banes at 8:51AM, June 1, 2017

@KL - Thank you, K! Ah, Soul Man! C. Thomas Howell was EVERYWHERE, once upon a time. How about "The Hitcher"? That movie freaked me out as a kid.

bravo1102 at 8:44AM, June 1, 2017

I kept thinking of John Candy in "Only the Lonely" and how he risks it all after losing it. It's one of my favorites.

KimLuster at 8:21AM, June 1, 2017

Fantastic toolbox!! So well done - you could probably teach a class on this thing!! And lawdy, lawdy... I remember Soul Man!!

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