Every screenplay ever written contains some form of emotional escalation. This particular screenplay element is essential to drive the story forward while simultaneously adding suspense. In the world of comedy screenwriting, writers must constantly look for avenues to add not only comedic moments but story depth. Escalation is an effective method of adding the aforementioned while forcing screenwriters to think ahead during scene creation.
Comedy screenwriters must have a solid grasp on cultivating humorous scenarios and dialogue. Escalation as the script moves forward promotes these elements while adding its own dynamic.
Comedy Script Escalation – Defined
Rather than provide several paragraphs describing comedy escalation, I feel this information is better released by simply reading the following three tips:
Variable Speed – The rate of escalation cannot be uniform throughout the entire script. If each scene provides the same amount of emotional or comedic escalation then audiences become bored and your screenplay will not read as a fresh and unpredictable comedy. Some of the most successful comedies have various speeds of escalation. Meaning, the rate at which emotions or situations transition and intensity typically cycles between almost non-existent to extreme. This form of comedy screenwriting is evident in situation-based comedies such as all the “National Lampoons Family Vacation” films as well as in my personal favorite comedy, “Bridesmaids.”
Snowball Effect – In comedy films the primary character begins escalating the seriousness or severity of their situation in a slow manner. The beginning of a film is used to establish characters, locations and primary objectives. As the scenes progress, actions and dialogue begin to escalate existing scenarios while introducing new obstacles. For example, in the film “Bridesmaids” Kristen Wigg begins with a best friend and their life is perfect. As scenes move forward, emotions and actions are escalated as she is thrown into situations that trigger personality traits that were long dormant. This same concept can be found in the romantic comedy, “My Best Friends Wedding” as Julia Roberts attempts to break apart the marrying couple.
Level of Satisfaction – Typically, as a comedy script moves forward and the characters escalate certain situations there is some sort of satisfaction toward the end of the film. This satisfaction is what the escalating elements were leading to. Many times, the objective that forced the character to escalate the intensity of their actions is never met. Instead, they are satisfied through a lesson learned or personal growth. Other times, the escalation leads to direct satisfaction of their primary objective. For example, in the “National Lampoons” where the family drives across country to go to Wally World each scene seems to escalate not only the humor, but also the seriousness of their objective. While not in the manner they thought, they did achieve their objective by enjoying the theme park. Therefore, the escalation was fully satisfied. Using “My Best Friend’s Wedding” as another example, the main character (Julia Roberts) does not achieve her objective. Therefore, the escalation found within the story is not satisfied.