I’m working on a new book now. A comedy for YA readers. (Nope, not gonna tell… yet. Everything stays in the lab until it’s ready to be tasted.) So much of the stuff I have written has been “raw, deep, edgy YA grit” that I am dying to flex some other writing muscles and show I am not a one trick pony.
Thematically, I’ve done gangs, immigrants, racism, sports, and on and on.
So I thought to myself, time for erections. (Oops, I just threw open the lab door. Oh well. Teenagers… you gotta be relevant, right?)
Anyway, as I work on this new book, I realize that I still need all the same elements as I do when I write one of my more, “go to the edge” teen books.
*The protagonist has got to be someone about whom I care deeply. (Cause if I don’t care about them, the reader sure won’t.)
*The problem has to be HUGE to them. (Though his erection isn’t… okay, I’ve said enough.)
*They need to have both an overt want and an inner need. And often these two things are diametric opposites of one another. (For example, the overt want of Jerry Maguire is to be the big dog, king fish, take no prisoners agent that represents all the top American athletes so he can live the life of a superstar. His inner need, however, is to become a humble, kind, thoughtful, caring, responsible adult who can show love, commitment and kindness in a dedicated relationship. He wants the vapid limelight. He needs good ol’ fashioned salt-o-the-earth love. Good character, right? And they do battle with one another right in front of our eyes. Tom Cruise plays this type really, really well. Think about Rain Man.)
*Gotta have a rockin’ antagonist. (Blogged about that the other day.)
*Conflict has to grow. Conflict has to rise. Conflict has to saturate every page. CONFLICT HAS TO BE THE DRIVING FORCE OF THE NOVEL. Whether or not it’s a story about conquering the forces of evil or hiding the forces of nature in your pants, CONFLICT drives stories. It’s an inviolable rule of good storytelling and makes me think of something I once heard Steven Spielberg say: figure out what the worst thing possible that can happen to your character is… and then have that thing happen. Then, how they respond will reveal who they really are. (And you thought he was just amusement park rides on the cinematic journey… the guy knows his stuff.)
Of course, there’s much more. Dialogue, voice, tone, setting, subplots, relationships, motivation, background, deus ex machina (avoiding it) and showing, not telling (incorporating it). The toolbox required has many levels and no matter how many books one has written, all of these elements still require attention anew once you crack open the new document on your computer and begin to concoct new tales.
So what makes comedy different for me now? Not much, in my opinion. Not much at all. Other than me recognizing that if I “try” to be funny, it’s a recipe for disaster. You just gotta let the humor come from where it does while staying true to all the requirements of good storytelling. Telling a joke and writing a book are not the same thing. Matter of fact, writing a joke, fah-gett-abow-it! I have no idea how those folks do it. I read 3-5 line funny jokes and am amazed. Joke writing is an art unto itself. For example:
LITTLE RALPHY ON MATH
Little RALPHY returns from school and says he got an F in arithmetic.
‘Why?’ asks the father?
‘The teacher asked ‘How much is 2×3,” I said ‘6’, replies RALPHY.
‘But that’s right!’ says his dad.
‘Yeah, but then she asked me ‘How much is 3×2?”
‘What’s the f…… difference?’ asks the father.
‘That’s what I said!’
So clever, right?
At the end of the day, comedy, it’s been said, is tragedy where no one really gets hurt. Wile E. Coyote take about 200 anvils to the head in all those Road Runner cartoons. The Three Stooges pop one another in the eye, head, gut and so on. In Meet the Fockers, Ben Stiller gets absolutely traumatized by his father-in-law to be. And we laugh.
And considering how somber and serious and sober so much of our life can be, it’s really important to turn on the smiles now and then, no? At least that’s how I am measuring the quality of this book: how much fun did I have writing it? (Cause if I am not laughing and loving the writing of this book… who in the world is gonna want to read it? In many ways, authors are always their own first audience.)
And boys who pop woodies in math class — much to their own horror and lack of control — they are audience number 2.
Kind of a big potential crowd though, no?