A productive holiday

I’m just back from a week in Egypt, which meant lots of relaxing by a pool, knocking back red wine by the gallon and not doing as much staring-at-pyramids-and-mummies as you should when in Egypt (I’m afraid this holiday’s hedonism : culture ratio was way off-kilter).

But having plenty of free time and little to do with it, meant time to read.  Packing for a holiday always begins with a small rumble of disapproval from Mrs @awbscreenwriter – I have dozens of unread writing books sitting rather forlornly on shelves in the shed, forming temporary housing for spiders and moths who’ve made poor lifestyle choices.  Every time I begin loading a few into the suitcase, I’m told it’s not OK to do anything productive on holiday, so out they come, to be replaced by the novels I’ve collected since the previous holiday, which will be worked through, to while away the hours spent burning by the pool.

This holiday I was rather underhand and, alongside the novel pile, loaded the kindle with two writing-related non-fiction titles: ‘The Serious Guide to Joke Writing’ by Sally Holloway and ‘The Secrets to Writing Great Comedy’ by Lesley Brown.

Sally’s book has been recommended several times in James Cary’s Sitcom Geek blog (a goldmine if you’re interested in writing sitcoms).  I do have the paperback somewhere, but not wishing to disturb the large and rather fearsome arachnid currently residing around page 32, I purchased the ebook last week.

It’s a fantastic resource for anyone looking to advance their joke-writing skills and breaks down a few simple processes for coming up with jokes, which can be applied to sketches.  The tools given are pretty much fail safe, the output is really down to how much practice you are willing to put in. The book alternates between theory and practical exercise chapters, allowing you to try out the tools that Sarah gives you as you progress.

Lesley Brown’s book explains the basics of what comedy is, different styles of comedy, thinking about your audience, starting out on a project and the language used.  Lesley then takes the reader through a series of ever more complex writing, from jokes, stand-up material, to developing characters and situations to fit this material to sketches and finally through to developing a sitcom.  There are further chapters on plotting, character development, editing and much more.

An important aspect both books come back to again and again is the important of writing everything down, silencing the inner critic and not expecting to just sit down and bash out a work of genius between lunch and afternoon tea.  This is something I’d foolishly forgotten for some reason, a shame as I thought I’d learned to control my inner critic during the NaNoWriMo escapade of 2011.  I’ve spent so long working on established projects which trip off the keyboard with ease, that every time I’ve tried to start work on my own pet projects, the second they don’t go right I’ve moved onto something else.  Sometimes, even if what you first write is awful, you have to scribble it down, if at least to empty your brain of rubbish and warm up the comedy fried gold neurons – and once it’s down, you can make it better.

With this in mind and equipped with the tools from these two books, I set out to develop a few ideas last week and lo and behold, it only blooming well works!  Four sketches written down, a few one-liners and a radio sitcom plotted out, I really should come to Egypt more often.

(…and no spiders were hurt in the process)

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About Adam Brown

Screenwriting MA graduate with experience of Radio 4 sitcom development, continuing drama, children’s TV and feature animation.
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