Friday, 1 August 2008

Writing advice from someone who knows

I've been devouring Jane Espenson's blog for the last week (and foolishly neglecting to make notes of what she says). She's a Hollywood writer who has worked on TV shows like Buffy and Battlestar Galactica, with many years of experience and just LOADS of useful advice for those of us who know comparatively nothing. Examples follow.

On reading through your work: "I find it's best to make two separate passes through a script. Once, to read for content and make suggestions in that area. And a separate time just to read for cuts. I don't know why, but these two agendas don't seem to work well together when you try to do them simultaneously."

On repeating words to make the funny: "Here's a rule. Or at least a rule of thumb. In general, we try to keep from reusing the same word, especially when the uses fall near one another.

So what happens when you break this rule? On a recent episode of Family Guy, the mayor, Adam West, asked:

"Anyone want to play Stratego? I have Stratego!"

And on Buffy, a college girl once scoffed at Willow, who had proposed a spot of spell-casting, by saying:

"Oh yeah, then we could all get on our broomsticks and fly around on our broomsticks!"

Here's how I think this one works. Because we tend to try to avoid repeated words, in careful speech as well as in writing, when a character repeats a word they naturally sound either generally inarticulate (like the college scoffer) or over-excited, like the mayor.

Once again, character traits and comedy are one and the same. The repeated word joke can be funny because it contains a funny reference, but it also contains the extra funny that comes from revealing character. Want to expose a dumb or flustered character to amusing ridicule? Give them a repeated word."

Also, this gem.

1 comment:

organicprankster said...

That is indeed a gem. I've never thought about it in such terms, always accounting for these things in terms of rhythm.

I tell ya: I've developed such acute Buffy envy since re-watching that show recently, it simply can't be healthy in a man of my age, and Espenson's blog is very cool.

I see in your interview there you name-checked ChurchOfBlow too. I tip my hat to you.