This week, I was lucky enough to attend the play, Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare In The Park. It’s a great story that doesn’t get old, a comedy within a comedy. I love romantic comedies when they’re done well.
I’m always being asked how to find a good comic story for a TV pilot or episode? I always say that you need to find a good story, then make it funny. There are many ways to find a good story, but the best ones are inspired by things that have happened in your own life.
Paradoxically, the best ideas come from your own personal worst moments. My friend, Ellen Sandler suggests that you decide which of the Seven Deadly Sins you are most often guilty of committing, and then brainstorm your worst experiences of whatever that sin was. She will admit that hers is gluttony, and by using her own experience, came up with the story about the turkey dinner in the sitcom, Everyone Loves Raymond.
In her book, The TV Writer’s Workbook she describes using a “clustering” technique to beat the harsh inner critic. I learned a similar version in which you connect all of the ideas by putting a circle around the idea and connecting it to the main circle.
There’s something exciting about being able to collect your thoughts and memories in a nonlinear way. When I worked with my writing partner this week, we clustered before we wrote, and both of us were inspired to look at the material we were working on with fresh eyes. I saw that if I wanted to find a story, I would have to find a way to process the events I wanted to write about using a different point of view: writing with a narration to link some of the episodes to get the story down on paper. I don’t love narration in dramatic literature, but as a way of organizing a first draft, it can be a terrific tool.
To recap, Shakespeare’s comedies are models because the underlying story is good, and effective comedies need to be based on strong, original stories. One way to find stories this good is to “cluster” about the “sin” committed most in your own life, and use these memories to spark new ideas.
Here’s to your successful writing,
Professor Marilyn Horowitz