January 24, 2012

Sitcom writing on Scriptchat

Oh, it's you again. You left your wallet here so you'd have an excuse to return, didn't you? Well, welcome back! I promise I didn't lick all your coins.

On today's Screenwriters Anonymous I relay to you the meatiest bits of the Scriptchat guest-starring writer John Vorhaus. John has written for Married... With Children and Head of the Class. He is the author of 'The Comic Toolbox', 'Creativity Rules', and 'The Little Book of Sitcom'. This man knows his stuff.

11th December, 2011
Guest: John Vorhaus 

* Characters are sympathetic monsters. Sympathetic because we like them. Monsters because they don’t always act in their own best interest.
* Biggest mistakes: writing characters from the outside in, constructing characters according to template instead of heart.
* John’s favourite character flaws: going too far, innocence/naivety/obsession.
* “The trouble with too far is you never know you’re going ‘til you’ve gone.”
* Characters who go too far are well-intentioned, therefore ‘sympathetic’ – they just lack limits.
* Michael Scott in The Office goes way too far trying to validate his self image.
* Ask yourself what choices your character must make. Test them by putting them in a situation as a writing exercise. “How would this person cross the street?” Play with the characters before you really try to write them. Don’t use these scenes in your script unless suitable.
* Villains in comedies should be likeable. Villains elsewhere can be unlikeable. e.g. Hannibal Lector.
* Protagonists must be likeable and relatable. Otherwise no-one will come along for the ride. This doesn't necessarily mean they should be nice (look at Al on Married... With Children. What a jerk! But we love him.)
* It’s easy to like a flawed anti-hero – we can relate.
* You can have a more likeable sub-character to act as the viewer’s window in, to make the flawed anti-hero more likeable.
* Antagonists need goals (and love!) too.
* Antagonist’s job: put pressure on the hero, bring him/her to truth.
* Strong supporting characters: more exaggeration, less self-awareness, very strong comic perspectives, and repeatable “bits”.
* John isn’t a fan of unity of opposites + archetypes when crafting characters. “Have the characters be who THEY want to be, not who YOU want them to be.”
* Good writing = honesty + style.
* John says screw character bios! Put your characters into stories, see what they do. That’s where the real learning lies.
* Give your character a strong early choice to define them (the viewer can see the cut of their jib early this way and have a handle on who this person really is).
* The best way to get constructive feedback is find a writer you trust and do the same for him/her.
* If you don’t know writers, join a meet-up group.

If you want to learn more, you can check out John's books and follow him on Twitter at @TrueFactBarFact

The next post will come very soon, with tasty treats from the TVWriterChat about mutli-cam TV shows. It will be awesome from multiple angles.
Please don't hit me.

Screenwriters Anonymous - your IMDb profile can't save you now, mwa ha haaa!

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