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Tips on Writing Comedy Screenplays

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 12/27/2010

Here is a look at some tips for how to write comedy screenplays.

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    Creative Screenwriting

    Creative screenwriting, more so than other types of creative writing, is quite genre driven. The reason for this is hat screenplays are then transferred into commercial products that have marketing, distribution, and financial models based around them. When films are able to stand along with a specified genre it is often easy to sell them to consumers, and then they are easy to find when in the theaters. Though this is unfortunate for those who want to challenge these conventions, many of these genres are relatively loose in content and have existed long before the film format. Comedy writing stand out as some of the most popular of the screenplays that are actually made into films, and often what people want to learn how to write the most. Writing comedy is something a lot of people strive to do, but often fail to see how it can merge with creative screenwriting. Here are some tips on how to write comedy screenplays that work and are viable for production.

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    Screenplay Structure

    What is important for writing comedy screenplays is to have a sense that the funny screenplay still has to be a complete one. Often times those who are learning how to write a comedy screenplay focus in on specific jokes and anecdotes that may be funny on their own, but do not actually fit within a larger screenplay structure. Each screenplay must follow the screenplay format and really see a beginning, middle, and end, if not a complete observance of the three act structure. The funny elements must derive from the plot and the characters that come organically from the story, which can be a hard synthesis when you are first considering comedy writing in the creative screenwriting enteprise. Do not just think about funny moments, but instead an entire story structure from which you could derive funny moments as part of actually moving the film forward when engaging in creative screenwriting.

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    What is Funny

    Another mistake that is common to those who are writing comedy screenplays is that they force the characters to actively create the funny situations, often by attacking each other. Funny screenplays are usually existent because the characters behave in comedic ways unwittingly, not because they want to actively do funny things. It is fine to have characters that knowingly say funny things, but that is not going to be the essence of the comedy in your film. Instead, there has to be a sense of irony, tragedy, and mistake that really drives what are funny situations and characters. Likewise, cruelty between characters that feels mean spirited is usually not that funny unless it is being mocked or the context is be altered.

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    What's On the Page

    Comedy is all about timing, and that is just as true when writing comedy screenplays. When you are writing comedy screenplays you are going to have to present lines and situations that are going to be able to be properly interpreted once in production. You can have a certain sense of comedy timing when writing comedy, but it is not going to be fully formed until it is being brought to life by the Director and the cast. Make sure to outline enough information about the character and situation to allow the comedy to exist, but leave it open enough to be owned by those that end up putting it into production. Take a look at how you would like the scene to go and let the lines stand out as they are, and usually the character of the lines and the scenes will be played out in a way that is relative to your intention. A good comedy screenplay will have a lot on the page without directly instructing those who are bringing it to the screen. The screenplay format and the screenplay structure allows for you to really decide how much you want on the page, but your characters traits should still be apparent by their decisions and dialogue.