Writing sketches: things to consider while drafting

Sorry about the lack of posting action – not been getting much sleep! Or free time not used for writing sketched. However I have been thinking hard about writing sketches and trying to make them as good as I possibly can. I always have certain ideas/ways of working that I keep in my head but I thought it would be useful to dump them down here.

Thanks to the various Kirrin Island writers who have chipped in and generally taught me a lot about writing funny.

Now this is assuming you already have a killer premise… what do you think about when writing/reviewing your sketch?

These aren’t meant to be rules. Just things you should think about. Not all will apply or help for any given sketch. So don’t waste time dreaming up counter-examples. There will be loads!

Here are some of the things I try to consider,  feel free to add your own in the comments.

  1. Is the situation/location set up at the start (ideally in the first couple of lines)? Even in a pull-back and reveal I think you often need some context to make the reveal work and not seem like it is cheating.
  2. Is the premise set up at the start (ideally in the first couple of lines)?
  3. For Newsjack – have you written a Justin Intro? You should. Don’t use the sketch premise as the joke in the Intro – it gives the game away and blurs the sketch.
  4. Where there are characters, do they have clear objectives/motives/positions?
  5. Where the comedy comes from character, are the characters in conflict, ie do they have clashing objectives/positions? Not always necessary but the staple “sane man/mad man” set up exists for a reason!
  6. Has something changed or developed by the end of the sketch?
  7. Can you make things happen in the present/shown in the sketch rather than just talked about?
  8. Do the characters each have an identifiable style/voice?
  9. Do the characters lend themselves to funny performances?
  10. For NJ or any specific market where you know the performers – do the characters lend themselves to these performers? Are you using as many of the cast as you can?
  11. Are all the funny lines you have thrown in relevant to the premise?
  12. Does any escalation flow naturally and stem from the one premise?
  13. Does it escalate? Or is it just repeating?
  14. Is it too long or too short?  Too long is more likely… Remember diminishing returns… But if something really really works, milk it.
  15. Are there the minimum number of words needed between laughs? Remember “needed” can include rhythm as well as sense.
  16. Are there 3-4 laughs per page? (OK sometimes tension/drama will do instead, particularly if it is resolved with a BIG laugh, but you should only do this deliberately, not waffle on for pages and pages.)
  17. Can you include any callbacks/running gags?
  18. Did you put in a clever joke that doesn’t really help the sketch move along? Cut it.
  19. Does the ending relate back to the premise/start, whether by contradiction, logical conclusion or call back? We can’t all end sketches by having Terry Gilliam come on in a suit of armour and hitting someone over the head with a rubber chicken. No. We can’t.
  20. Check again – did you get distracted and start writing a different sketch half way through? If so, put it in a different sketch.
  21. Don’t fall asleep with your pen on your face.
  22. For some reason babies want to eat computers.