Comedy and the Happy Ending

An incredibly late post about the comedy writing workshop I went to for the Aye Write festival about a month and a half ago. Overall it was great fun, though there was this one point that I disagreed with. During the workshop endings were discussed and the author running the workshop said that comedies can only have happy endings, and almost everyone in the workshop agreed with her. For her specific genre, which was romantic comedies, what I’ve seen from publishers and readers shows this to be true but there’s a lot of scope for an “unhappy” ending in a comic story. Within context, the correct unhappy ending can either be a.) very fitting to a story or b.) hilarious in its own right.

The next contains spoilers for an old TV series and an old film so, uh, the 1980’s called and spoiler alert?

For my first point, perhaps the most memorable and most powerful example I can think of is the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth. Set in the WW1 trenches, you can imagine the scope for happy endings. The series comes to a close with the main characters going “over the top” in a suicidal charge infamous for devastating loss of troops. While the episode makes liberal use of extremely dark humour (for example, as the troops wait to go over and Darling exclaims “Oh , we’ve survived it, the Great War, from 1914 to 1917!”), it ends an on especially bleak note. The entire atmosphere of the program seems to flip with three simple words from the overly optimistic, nothing-can-bring-me-down George. “I’m scared, sir.” That’s when it hits. All the characters are going to die. The jokes keep coming but they are the characters’ last words. It’s over. And finally, it ends with Blackadder’s famous “good luck everyone” and they go over the top. The series ends.

It is dark, and unfunny, and brings people to tears. It is also perfect.

The second point, where the unhappy end can actually be a joke by itself, has a few good examples – in fact my favourite film is one of them. Evil Dead II is a comedy horror film, your classic “terrible things happen to young adults in a cabin in the woods” story. Everyone’s favourite one-handed, chainsaw wielding, shotgun-toting white trash asshole Ash Williams spends the film freaking out and killing demons. Just as he finally succeeds, as he triumphs over the horrors and is given perhaps a chance to return to his normal and safe life, he is transported back to 13th century England (it makes a little more sense in the film, though admittedly not much) where there’s an army waiting, expecting him to lead them in a great war against the demons. The film ends with this army chanting that he’s their deliverer, and with Ash stood on a plinth screaming in despair.

Trust me, it’s much funnier than it sounds.  Ash doesn’t get what he wants, in the most ridiculous way possible, and fits with the “what other terrible things can we do to this guy” humour that the film employs liberally.

So while the advice that certain genres of comedy require a certain type of ending, I definitely don’t believe it’s true for all. Yeah, you probably don’t want your rom-com to end with a tragic double murder, but a war setting has much more flexibility. Blackadder nailed it. Irvine Welsh’s Filth could never be disregarded as a comedy but at the same time really couldn’t have ended well. Wars? Corrupt police? End of the world? A family reunion? All these things have the potential for both comedy or tragedy but the two aren’t mutually exclusive, if you ask me. Over running the world with nightmare horrors can actually be pretty funny, but isn’t necessarily going to end breezy. The possibilities for dark endings in funny stories are limitless, within reason.

Remember the magic words: Context and audience.

Anything can be funny if you’re smart about it. Then again, maybe I’m a little twisted.

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Aye Write! Editing Workshop and Confidence Building

This month I’ve been very excited about the Aye Write festival that’s been taking place in a city near me. There were loads of classes and workshops I wanted to attend but unfortunately due to money I budgeted myself to three. Even more unfortunately, one of them was cancelled right at the last minute, so I’ve only gotten to two of those.

sdr

 

Today I’m going to quickly talk about my experience at the first – that was “Creative Writing: What You Need to Know About Revision and Editing” with David Pettigrew, writer, lecturer and editor. I was excited for this event because editing is the stage I’m at with all my projects currently. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’ve got a huge backlog of rough draft novels that I’d love to be able to look back on with more than a cringe, so I’m doing my best to work some of these into shape before I get struck by any shiny new ideas.

For me, it’s such a great feeling to go to these events. Almost all my creative writing experiences can be summed up by “me, alone in my room, banging my face against a keyboard.” When I took writing up seriously after university, I didn’t live anywhere that I could actually attend any writing classes. There were no writing groups and I couldn’t find any likeminded writing friends who weren’t at their very closest in another country. It has at times felt very isolated. Being able to attend writerly things like this are not only great fun but a good way to get some of that desolate feel away from it. It’s refreshing and inspiring.

During the event, I never actually learned too much that I didn’t know already. The course covered the basics like when to use a full stop and maybe you should put in paragraphs, along with a couple of other bits and bobs. For me it turned out to be less of an educational experience than it did a confidence builder. I took the time after the event to chat with a few of the other attendees and there were folks who were very serious about their writing but felt the course had opened their eyes about a lot of things they weren’t thinking about.

I guess I’ve still been considering myself as a beginner when it comes to writing fiction because I’m still unpublished, when I’ve actually learned a lot this last five years. In the handout provided with the course there were a lot of examples that I at first thought to be hyperbolic for the purpose of learning. They weren’t – they were quotes from pieces submitted as assignments in an undergraduate creative writing course. I was taken back by that, as I still very much considered myself on the low end of the writing skill scale. It turns out that after five years of practicing and studying and learning I know how to polish things perhaps better than I thought.

I’ve realised that maybe, perhaps, I’m not quite as much a beginner as I thought anymore no matter how much I feel like it.

Aye Write!

Thanks to a very impromptu visit to Glasgow last week, I was able to attend a little of the Aye Write! Glasgow Book Festival. Due to time (and money) I was only able to attend one workshop but it was still a great experience. My very first writing workshop! Woo hoo!

There were things that surprised me and things that didn’t. The great difficulty in setting up the projector and the very unsettling heating arrangements are all things I’m used to thanks to five years at university. Those are things I imagine first year undergraduates sat in their lecture hall in a space station rolling their eyes at. After all, lecturers being unable to work projectors is one of the constants of nature and if we start messing with those who knows where we’ll end up. I was also told to inform a member of staff should smoke start pouring out of the radiator. Again, fairly standard. I was surprised and a bit annoyed for the person giving the workshop as—despite this being a completely voluntary course that we all paid to attend—some people still rolled up late and liked to chat away to each other while the person we all came to see was trying to talk. My naivety struck again as I expected people to be past such things at this stage.

Aye Write

Stage left is someone desperately trying to set up a PowerPoint.

The workshop I attended was Research for Writers run by Dr Ronnie Scott – writer, editor and researcher. It was a fun and interesting experience and has just made me want to move to the city even more so I can attend more of these things. Not just that but the workshop highlighted some of the huge benefits of living close to a big library that I hadn’t really considered before.

I’m pretty well versed in researching via the internet just thanks to life and my undergraduate just about got my head around journals and books. There’s a lot more in libraries than that, it turns out. Like the archives, full of old: council documents; building plans; photos; newspapers; and so, so much more. Okay, so the cataloguing system (or lack thereof?) sounded like a bit of a nightmare but the possibilities opened up by this absolute trove of information are endless. I always knew that records were kept but I hadn’t realised that they were there for any monkey (read: me) to go in and poke around at. It was pretty eye opening.

Doodle

During the break, I made the terrible mistake of doodling this instead of going to get a hot drink.

I also learned the fun term WILFing – when you go looking for something, get super distracted and end up having to ask your screen “What Was I Looking For?” I can see that becoming a major part of my vocabulary.

Do you try to attend events for writers? What’s the best thing you’ve experienced or learned during one?