A common mistake many comedy screenwriters make is in the realm of their characters. Character personality traits do vary according to genres. While there are exceptions, the majority of genres have a base set of foundational character archetypes. Even though these personalities may be altered and customized based upon the the story, far too many writers choose to go with the stereotypical comedic personality, which is boisterous and off-kilter. Of course, some characters naturally progress to this personality trait; however, this is a rarity. I’ve personally found comedy screenplays are dramatically enhanced in believability and engagement with personalities are understated.
Oftentimes, understated personalities are far more enjoyable and entertaining than boisterous characters. Enhance your comedy script with understated, yet engaging, characters.
Comedy Screenwriting – Mastering Understated Characters
The art of creating understated characters is far more complex than most screenwriters anticipate. I’ve found that it’s far more difficult to create character personalities that stray from boisterous personality elements. To engage in this comedy screenwriting technique, follow these tips:
Rely on Subtext – There are many times when writers decide to say what shouldn’t be said. Don’t forget that comedy writing is not always driven by dialogue. To truly define your own brand of comedy, utilize the art of subtext within your scripts. Don’t say what you should hint at. Instead of having a character monologue about his day, keep his phrasing simple and lean. Allow his actions and emotional reactions drive the comedy, not necessarily the dialogue.
Don’t Forget About Actions – I’ve noticed in many novice comedy screenwriters that dialogue tends to rule the story. While this is sometimes appropriate depending on the type of script you’re writing, oftentimes screenplays would greatly benefit from telling the story not solely through dialogue, but also through action sequences. In most comedies, the physical movements of characters provide just as much if not more comedy than the actual dialogue.
Be Unique – One of the biggest mistakes a screenwriter engages in is staying within the boundaries of traditional, or stereotypical, choices. There are times when the most obvious choice is the best; however, I consider these circumstances more of a rarity than commonplace. Imagine how your character, within the boundaries of his personality, can respond to a particular situation or scenario. Doing so provides the amount of individuality required within comedy screenplays to make them enjoyable and marketable.