Thursday, 2 May 2013

Why Writing Sketches is Good For You

There seem to be a lot of disillusioned comedy writers out there. I’ve heard people talk about the glory days of the 1990s, when Hale & Pace, Smith & Jones and Weekending, not to mention loads of European shows, were gasping for material. It’s all gone tits up, I’ve heard say. No one wants comedy writers any more, especially sketch writers.  

I’d like to correct this negativity. First of all, there are opportunities out there, not least Newsjack. There’s always a competition running (for example the Cofilmic Comedy Sketch competition currently advertised in the BBC Writersroom).  There’s a mini-boom in sketch comedy on the standup circuit –  get up and do some of your stuff, or get to know some performers. Think how The League of Gentlemen started off. And why not get a camera and put your stuff on youtube… Not all of this will make you much money, but you never know what it may lead to.

Apart from anything else, though, writing sketches is good for you as a writer, giving you skills like no other genre. Sketches teach you

Brevity  No other narrative art form makes you get to the point quite like the sketch. You’ve got two minutes – often one minute – in which to set up the idea, get it running and resolve it. Compression is key. If you want to write magazine articles or short stories, this ability gives you a head start.

Scattergunning ideas  Sketch writing trains your brain to come out with a flow of ideas, test run them in your head and turn the strong ones into finished pieces. I’ve met captains of industry who moaned about their executives’ difficulty in doing this.

Lateral thinking  The classic technique of juxtaposing inappropriate things, twisting situations and looking through an unaccustomed lens, is one which often passes more literary and “serious” writers by. By chucking together two things which shouldn’t be, as you’ve been doing with your sketches, you can get ideas for stories or add zip to your novel. It’s certainly helped me to come up with humorous article ideas.

Sketches are low-commitment  You can write sketches in between your other projects – sitcoms, novels, memoirs. You’ll refresh your mind and hone your skills. And it’s fun!

So don’t give up on your sketch writing. And if you’re just starting off – keep it going!

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