Kill the Baby Before It Kills You
Writers will always say they appreciate criticism. The good ones mean it. They know it’s a process.
The rest say it out of politeness and a desire not to look precious.
The curse of comedy is the act of cutting. It’s called ‘killing the baby’ for a reason, though sometimes infanticide can look like the easier option. For some, the suggestion to cut a single line from a first draft can result in tears and recrimination, dark mutterings and fiery accusations of jealousy, stupidity or humourlessness.
Editing can be a debilitating experience, particularly for new writers.The truth is, even Shakespeare wrote some crap plays. Coriolanus for one has me reaching for the red pen. Writing comedy is as much about what you cut as what you write. In fact, cutting is the comedy writer’s primary skill.
No idea is beyond cutting. Besides, you’re creative. There’s always another idea around the corner.
Don’t be too quick to say, ‘It’s ready’
So, don’t get attached to your baby. It must live in the shadow of the axe. You must be prepared to hack off a line, a scene, a character or even an entire draft at any stage in the process.
Ernest Hemingway said, ‘The first draft of anything is shit’. So, don’t be too quick to say, ‘It’s ready.’ Before you present a first draft to anyone, give yourself time to climb off the cloud of catharsis finishing the draft brings.
Too often, a writer will present a first draft to a producer before the spell-check has finished. Put the draft in a drawer for a week, then read it again. Its lack of structure, style and clarity will horrify you. And it will seem as funny as Anna Karenina’s teenage poetry.
Don’t seek too many opinions on your work. Opinions are like buttholes—everybody’s got one, and what comes out is mainly of doubtful relevance. Limit your advisers to a trusted three at the very most or you’ll be pulled in all directions.
The demands of comedy cannot be avoided, denied or ignored. A script is funny or it isn’t. It appeals to its intended audience or it doesn’t. There are no grey areas.
The risks in writing comedy are greater than that of drama. In drama, if the writing is bad, the audience goes to sleep. In comedy, if the script is bad, the audience gets angry.
Learn to look at your script the way a surgeon looks at a patient on the operating table. Don’t make the mistake of imagining you are the patient, that your sense of humour is under the knife.
It’s not personal—it’s business. Cut, cut, cut.
- Excerpt from The Cheeky Monkey – Writing Narrative Comedy