Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Art of Contrasts

Hey Gang.

Today I'd like to talk about writing a little bit. I'm by no means an expert on the subject, but it is something I'm interested in.

Most of the stories I write are humorous and character driven, so I tend to lean on the art of contrast to inject humor into my narrative. I could throw joke after joke and gag after gag into the mix, but eventually that would fall flat.

 It's better instead, to establish a character's desires, motivations, and personality traits, and subsequently give them a situation to react to. When that situation is in extreme contrast to the personality of the individual, a great deal of humor can result.

This tried and true method is regularly used in movies and television:

Think of happy and innocent Buddy the Elf going to a jaded New York city in the movie, "Elf".


Or, as a more subtle, but incredibly funny example, consider the peculiar and almost selfish childlike nature of Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean as he interacts with a more rigid and manners-oriented British society.


When I was writing and directing the "Blacksocks" episodes, I had the task of establishing the main character, Blacksocks, as a swarthy pirate.  He is a man who doesn't take kind to insult, and is very interested in accumulating treasure. However, the fun and humor of the situation arose because Blacksocks, who is both salty and unsavory, works in a common office building.

At our jobs, we have people we like to work with, and those we don't. Blacksocks is no exception. He works with a guy named, Brian, who fancies himself a comedian and who likes to tell jokes at the expense of Blacksocks. We've all been picked on. The humor comes into play because a pirate would react differently to such heckling. Here's an excerpt from the script:

INT RECEPTION DESK


A DELIVERY GUY IS BY THE RECEPTIONIST DESK WITH A CRATE ON A
DOLLY. BRIAN IS LEANING AT THE RECEPTIONIST DESK FLIRTING
WITH THE HER. HABIB'S BALLOON LAYS POPPED ON THE FLOOR
BESIDE HIM.

DELIVERY GUY
Are you Captain Francis Seagravy
Blacksocks?

BRIAN
(sarcastically) No, he's one of the
other pirates we have working in
this building.


BLACKSOCKS
(Now irritated) I be Blacksocks.


DELIVERY GUY
I just need your John Hancock
here... annnnd here.

BRIAN
John Hancock? More like your Francis
Drake!

RECEPTIONIST
Brian!

DELIVERY GUY
And you can pay the amount specified
here.

BLACKSOCKS
(Rumages and counts out three gold
coins that he drops in a small bag)
Here be one... and two... and three
for yee.

BRIAN
(In mock pirate voice) Sorry
"Matey", but he don't be accepting
Doubloons. (Covers eye again and
hooks finger) ARRGH!! (laughs)

BLACKSOCKS
..............

BLACKSOCKS PAUSES, THEN PICKS A STAPLER OFF OF THE RECEPTIONIST'S DESK AND STAPLES THE BAG OF COINS DIRECTLY TO BRIAN'S CHEST ABRUPTLY ENDING BRIAN'S LAUGHTER.


BLACKSOCKS PICKS UP THE HEAVY CRATE AND WALKS AWAY WHISTLING.

In the scene above, Brian tells joke after joke, but that's not the humor device for the scene and it isn't intended to make the audience laugh. It is used instead to build tension that will be released when Blacksocks reacts to the heckling. Don't be afraid to make the characters, or even your audience uncomfortable. Tension and release is a great writing technique, but we'll have to cover that another time.

If you're writing comedy, or even just want to add levity to your drama, look for "fish out of water" situations that contrast the nature of your character. They don't have to be as extreme as the examples above to work, either.
Thanks for reading!

For me there must be contrast; for humorous effect I must have solemn background; 
- Mark Twain

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