So how do you turn your head into a writer’s room? This is my process. Yours may be different, and that’s find. (Love to hear about it.)
It all starts with what interests you -
We’re all here to figure out certain mysteries about life and love before we die. I am interested in relationships, anything on the causes and effects of humor, and how New Media and social networks have changed our lives. They govern what I read, and as a writer, they dictate what I database as possible material to be used in future humor pieces.
And once you have some idea of what you’re interested in, it’s on to mining
resources for comic material, like magazines you already subscribe to. You can also Google “News aggregators directories.”
Then it’s on to creating a data base –
The mind needs a structure to hang info on and store fleeting thoughts on, that may be important in the future, so they are not forgotten. Unfortunately, the mind sucks at that, so you have to write them down, in notebooks or in a word processing database.
For instance, a time of great change is ideal for humor writers, and when articles on the social and psychological effects of New Media and social networks started coming out, I saw great comic potential. And over time, my database grew to include categories like education, citizen reporting, taking technology to it’s logical conclusion, the negative effects on psychology, and so on. Sometimes I knew who the comic characters were, but in many cases, I just collected any data that related to the topic, so I’d have something to work with later.
And the info that will go into your database will come from various kinds of news items –
All stories, theoretically, have the potential of being turned into humorous pieces or saying something profound about our human nature. If you can’t see it in a particular story, believe me, someone will. And the goal here is to develop that vision.
• Stories about a revolutionary product – Look for ways this change people’s lives or make things difficult to do things the same old way.
• Single-point stories – These are simply reporting on something new or curious. Since these are limited in scope, they need to be plugged into the database, under some category. Hopefully, they will be combined with future data and add up to something unique.
• Opinion pieces, often on politics or pop culture – Like the above, these are single issue articles, but they usually have a little depth, implying an opposition character or group, and a conflict that just might have comic potential. They often have sentenses that can be used as snippets of dialogue.
• Advice pieces – There’s a problem and the article is about what’s gone wrong, and sometimes how to make things better. Again, they can imply an opposition and a conflict. Often these can be switched to another area of human life for comic results.
• Human Interest stories – Personally, I don’t find much use with these, but I can mine them for clichés and painful truths. Fall-from-grace stories, however, get into flaws, which are one of the bases of comedy, when exaggerated.
• In-depth analysis of an issue – These are the best articles because they give new info on how things work, get into multiple “characters,” conflict dynamics, histories that escalate, and have something to say about us or politics, popular culture, whatever.
And what you’re looking for is -
Comic concepts, comic characters, comic conflicts, comic worlds (ideas for escalation) and snippets of dialogue that characterize the characters. Another way of looking at it is: problem (set-up) and comic solution (punchline).
With the in-depth analysis report, in effect, someone else has done all the work for you. You’re just taking a serious article, “stealing” the players, conflicts and facts, so you can exaggerate them and say something profound about society, but doing it in an entertaining way.
And now I’ll give you an example -
This is based on piecing things together from several single-point and opinion pieces, from Time and The Week magazines.
Why did I choose the government shutdown?
Many incidents in the news, at some level, are symbolic about what’s happening in society or has something to say about the limits of human nature. And the Government shutdown as the ideal absurd scenario that humor writers pray for everyday. So much of it symbolic of what’s going on in politics. Politics is often a form of hysteria, with all it’s extreme ways of looking at things (which is what humor writers do), and it doesn’t get any better than this.
And this is my raw data, which I then structured into the indicated categories -
Structure: each sensible (set-up) vs comic (punchline) – each part ends in yet another shouting and shoving match
What it’s about – The debate in the streets a reflection of what’s going on in Washington
Chicago: Daley Plaza, in downtown Chicago – Asking people what they think:
“What do I think of the government shutdown?”
Part 1 – normal world– solving the health care problem
- Shutting down the world’s most powers government – “Terrible”
- What Boehner says, “popular will,’ but it’s bullshit, according to the polls, but some take as truth - “Democracy is compromise. The president is not willing to do that.”
- Only non-essential gov services being shut down: CDC, food inspections, food assistance
- R: “We told you so.” And making sure it comes true – glitches on the first day, but really overwhelmed
- R “Not a shutdown. A much-needed downsizing of the government.”
“D “disputable.” “Someone has to do something about government spending.”
- The White House and the Senate conspiring to undermine the House, the will of the people. – “It’s called ‘checks and balances’ you idiot.”
- Government doing vaginal examinations, chips under skin, Scaring the public, disinformation campaign
- R: “This is good for America. Mothers, who depend on the government to feed their kids, will have mothers will get off their lazy asses and get a job.”
Death squads vs, God, when you times comes it comes. “No miracle cancer cure, that will cost an insurance company $63,000 will change that.”
- Wealthy, “I’ve love to help the unfortunate, but my taxes are too high.” He’s worth $128 million
- Give me Medical liberty or give me death.” - handing out leaflets to the young, telling them not to sign up, Ponzi scheme (all insurance is)
Part 2 – more comic – gerrymandering, stop European-style socialism
- Tom Cruz: The filibuster was really to make him the head of the Tea Party and fill his campaign coffer, pockets, like Palin.
- Problem: Gerrymandering, insure Republican seats. Solution: Democrats will move to those districts in mass “But there’s higher unemployment there than here.” - Texas: corporations gave money to conservative candidate, who then go elected, then gerrymandered districts, so Republicans will always be elected – “Corporations are people, too, you know.” RINO- republican in name only
- Obamacare will help a lot of people, but states don’t take the money, 25 states refuse to set up exchanges, discourage young people from joining. Block navigators – party not for the people’s welfare
- R beats into speech or national audience: “Republicans unit behind this effort. If we can’t stop Obamacare, which is nothing but a scheme to get more votes, how are we ever gong to stop immigration reform, that the Democrats are going to do next, to lock up the spic vote.”
Part 3 – comic world only– Wall Street
- Congress is bad for the economy – Wall Street turns against Republicans – still they don’t budge – no money
-World stock markets down, but Tea Party people bought “shorts” betting the American economy, so they are making a killing and won’t stop until the market bottoms out, - so the tactic isn’t going to work. “So, there!”
Ending – the comic world climax – siege on Washington
-Obamacare as Obama’s conspiracy to destroy the Rep Party by convincing the public we’re nuts, when what’s we’re rally trying to do is preserve conservatism, stop the death of the idea of limited government, extinction – godless socialism – all a plot to scare the Party’s financial backers, fearing we won’t get elected and will go to the Dems to buy their votes. Civil war within the party
Solutions: 2nd Amendment people go with guns to defend the House (against government worker unions) . from the millions who are laid off, going to force Congress into taking no pay until they get paid.
Argument: “What if you get cancer? Don’t you think it’s a good idea that you can get life-saving treatment, so you and your family don’t go bankrupt, trying to pay for it.” “That’s not a problem for me.” “Oh, I see. You’re wealthy.” “No, I’m on Medicare.” It’s the same kind og program, and is what we should have.”
- Weather bureau: working for free, due to hurricane, rename it “Tom Cruz” “And we hope it’s bluster is worse than it’s bite.”
Ending line –
from the Cook Country lockup, on trumped up charges of inciting a riot.
And from that, I wrote this first draft of the story -
And So What Do Citizens Have to Say about the US Government Shutdown?
Well, we’re in Daley Plaza, in downtown Chicago, during the morning rush hour, to find out.
“The most powerful country in the world, being shutdown by a senseless squabble?” one woman commented to this man-on-the-street reporter, as she hurried by, then added over her shoulder, “I think they should be ashamed of themselves.”
A dozen other passers-by grunted their agreement.
“For a democracy to work,” a man uttered, stopping for a moment, “both sides have to compromise, which the President is steadfastly refusing to do.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” a female passerby said, also stopping. “The shutdown is just the Republican’s forty-third attempt to kill Obamacare. There’s nothing to compromise about.”
A dozen passersby hung back a moment, to agree with her.
“Look what happened on the first day of the so-called exchanges,” the man blurted out, then he lectured her and all the others, “All the websites either crashed or took hours to get any info out of.”
“The demand was so high,” the woman shot back, miffed, “it overwhelmed the system.”
“And it’s symbolic,” he continued, unabated, “of how big a disaster it’s going to be for this country.”
Even more people stopped to voice their objections.
“Stop interrupting,” he shouted at them, outraged. “I’m practicing my First Amendment rights, here. And what I want to say is, let me be the first to say I told you so?”
At that point, a shouting match broke out between twenty people, with even more stopping by to see what was going on, so this reporter had to move on to a quieter part of the Plaza.
“Plus, you people are getting all worked up over nothing,” a woman yelled back, to another gathering group of a hundred commuters, minutes later. “Only non-essential governmental services are being shut down.”
Various people shot back, “Like the CDC.” “Food inspections.” “The FDA.” “The IRS,” “Food assistance for the poor.”
“She’s right,” said a man, joining her. “Someone has got to do something about government spending.”
‘ The President is using the term ‘government shutdown’,” ranted yet another man, squeezing through the crowd to join the other two supporters of the shutdown, “to sucker you people into sending him donations.” Then he shouted over the objections, “But all it really is, is a much-needed downsizing of the government. And finally, finally, the Republicans have come up with a way to do, what we sent them there to do, in the first place.”
“And what about the poor?” shouted back a dozen people in the crowd
The first woman stated, “This is the most generous country in the world, so they’ll be fine.” And over the roaring boo, she screamed her explanation, “The problem with socialism is that it thwarts the freedom of millions of citizens from helping their fellowman – assuming those misfortunate aren’t lazy bastards, who refuse to get off their asses and get a job.”
Her colleagues cheered their whole-hearted agreement.
A young lady, in the front, called out, “So, the poor can count on you people, to give them a helping hand, right?”
“I would take great personal pleasure in helping the unfortunate, and will,” the first man yelled at the woman. “Just as soon as Washington cuts my taxes by ninety-percent.”
Again, a shouting and shoving match broke out, and this reporter barely made it out of there unscathed.
“Everyone knows that Obambacare is just a ploy to buy Democratic votes for the next election,” a man standing on a park bench preached to the crowd, that was pouring into the street, behind him, stopping traffic. He pointed to the throng on the left, booing and shaking their fist at him. “Everyone except those brainwashed idiots.”
“But all the Affordable care Act does is help to correct an injustice,” a woman standing on the next park bench shouted, furious that the man was again interrupting her speech. “An injustice that every other developed country in the worlds has done something about.”
Again, she got a huge cheer and round of applause.
“But the facts of the matter are,” the man shouted back, like it was obvious, “That only God can decide when your time has come.” And over the rousing howls of agreement from his supporters, some of whom were passing out flyers to young people, urging them to boycott the program, he yelled, “And no $163,000, for some so-called miracle cancer cure – that comes out of our pockets - or will ever change that.” Then he followed it with a so-there gesture to the woman.
“And the question is,” the woman continued in a hoarse voice, rubbing her nose with her middle finger, “are we a nation who cares about each other, or are we a country in which the rich have everything, including access to readily available medical treatments.”
Again, she got a cheer and hundreds of her supporters also rubbed their noses with their middle finger, at the man
“And it’s incumbent that we Republicans stand behind our leaders in Washington,” the man harangued the crowd. “If we can’t stop Obamacare, how are we going to stop immigration reform, that the Democrats are going to bring up next, to buy Mexican votes.”
Then to stop the women from continuing, he led his supporters in a chant. “Give me Medical liberty or give me death.”
Well, shortly thereafter, everything for blocks around came to a stand still. And like everyone else, this reporter had to watch the action on his smartphone, via live YouTube.
“Let me tell you what’s really going on in Washington.” a man, standing on the top of some limo somewhere, said, trying to out-shout some woman. “Obamacare is the most diabolical plot, ever conceived by man. Obama has conned millions into thinking that something, that will really be a disaster for the country, is the greatest thing ever devised by man. All for the sole purpose of permanently destroying the Republican Party, by making it look like it’s full of nuts.” And over his supporter’s roaring cheer, he added, “Plus, the real motive behind his refusal to compromise is to make sure the stock market to crash. A vicious, conspiratorial tactic designed solely to stop the billions of dollars, we’ll need, to take back the White House and Senate, in the next election.” Then he howled at the top of his lungs, “By making sure our Wall Street backers lose trillions of dollars.”
“Everyone’s going to suffer from this shutdown,” a woman shouted, seething, from the roof of some taxi, somewhere, “but that A-holes buddies in Washington.” Then to try again to get the upper hand, she roared, “And as a stock broker, I have it on good authority, that all the Tea Party representatives in the House, have taken every last dime they have and bought “shorts,” betting against the American economy.” She punched the air and howled, “And they won’t end the shutdown, until market crash bottoms out, and have made a killing.”
Her supporters cracked up, loving it.
The man on the limo got even more anrgy and yelled, “A million, overpaid, furloughed government workers are pouring into Washington, at this very minute, hell-bent on killing the idea of limited government, once and for all.” He held up a defiant fist. “And I urge all of my fellow true Americans, around the country, to grab their guns, go to Washington and use their 2nd Amendment rights, by protecting the House from insurrection.”
Well, about then, a massive police presence began emptying the Plaza. And for some inexplicable reason, this reporter ended up getting arrested for inciting a riot!!!
Copyright © 2013 by Ed Toolis – All Rights Reserved