Continuing Series on Story Structure
NOTE: This is part of a series on story structure. I will be collecting them all up and putting them into a book once I’m finished, as part of my Business for Breakfast series.
The classic comedy plot is not necessarily comedic, or funny. In today’s world, particularly with situational comedies, or “sitcoms” as they’re called, the comedies, while still light-hearted, will occasionally have some serious points and movements within it, and can still unflinchingly look at some hard truths.
The primary focus of a comedy plot is triumph over adversary. A series of problems — frequently in the guise of secrets or misinformation — have prevented the main character from their heart’s desire. In a more traditional comedy, that heart’s desire is a romantic partner. But they might just desire an uneventful life. Or to get that damned gopher off their golf course.
Comedy can frequently be absurd. People act in ways that aren’t necessarily the norm. They tell lies, go hide in wardrobes, hang off balconies. Part of the humor comes from the unexpected — the image of a staid, buttoned-down banker so madly jealous that he dresses up as a French Maid to spy on his beloved is not the norm or what is expected.
The first act of a comedy is frequently misunderstanding building upon misunderstanding. Sometimes this is caused by another person who is selfish or completely unobservant, the “villain” of the piece. Sometimes, it’s the characters themselves who hear something and who continue to believe it, even when it isn’t true. Occasionally, it doesn’t appear to be anyone’s fault, just a series of mishaps and mistimed steps.
A lot of comedy is based on timing. Someone arriving for a coffee date with the hero a minute too late, after they’ve already seen an easy-to-misconstrue event. The hero and heroine miss each other at the dance, or one or the other is held up intentionally by the “villain.” Conversations take place, information is exchanged after the main character has left.
In the second act, the confusion deepens. There may even be what we’ve taken to calling a “Scooby-Doo” chase, where villains and heroes and their sidekicks are entering and leaving an area through different doors and buildings. You can dance a fine line in act two between…