Monday, 3 June 2013

Comedy (And Other) Rules


I’ve just finished reading Comedy Rules: From the Cambridge Footlights to Yes Prime Minister by Jonathan Lynn. Lynn was one half of the partnership (the other being Anthony Jay) who wrote the hugely popular Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister comedy television series, and this book provides 150 rules for writing comedy. But, then again, it doesn’t. Let me explain.

Lynn uses these ‘rules’ to explain some aspects of writing comedy, whilst also drawing upon various moments of his life. It’s part writing handbook and part biography. However, one point Jonathan made was that these rules are not really rules but guidelines. And then, they’re only guidelines that he’s found useful to his writing - they wouldn’t work for everyone. (That doesn’t mean to say that it’s not full of practical advice for writers of comedy!)

In other words, what works for one writer may not work for another. And sometimes, what works for one writer might not always work for that writer. It’s easy for us to think that just because something has always worked for us in the past, it will always work for us in the future. These things then become our own rules that we find ourselves following religiously, which might not always be right.

Sometimes, it’s worth reviewing your own personal writing rules. For the next few weeks I’m going to be breaking one of my own writing rules. As a self-employed writer, I’ve always written for ‘work’ during the day: writing for pleasure is something I’ve only done in the evening. That’s been one of my rules for many years. But, now, I’m going to experiment! I shall spend part of my day writing for pleasure.

Why not consider what your writing rules are? Which rules about writing do you adhere to? Why do you adhere to them? Is there a valid reason for doing this? If not, why not break it for a few weeks? After all, rules are meant to be broken, aren’t they?

Good luck. 

10 comments:

  1. Sounds like an interesting book! It is a true gift to be able to make people laugh. I don't think I have any writing rules, but there are some subjects I won't write about - perhaps I should. Hope you enjoy breaking your rule :-) x

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  2. Yes I am a firm believer in rules were made to be broken - which is great because it is rather akin to Spanish culture and as I live in Spain.......

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    1. Sounds like you've well and truly settled in then, Rob!

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  3. The only rules I follow are those dictated by the particular magazine I am writing for.

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  4. Thanks for the recommendation - I recently won some book tokens which I'm investing in good writing books and this will go on the list.
    I have a problem in that I set too many writing rules. Always have a to-do list and never stray from it, but on sunny days like this have the urge to throw away the list and write what the hell I want to...

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    1. Go on, do it! Throw away the list for today!

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  5. The timing of your post couldn't be better Simon, I'm reviewing my own 'rules' this very week.
    Its time I looked at another way of working, and I'll be identifying how to best bring those changes in so that its not too overwhelming!

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    1. Good luck with the reviewing then, Maria. We shouldn't get stuck in a rut!

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