Being Silly is Serious Business

When I’m not writing, sleeping, or doing things on a computer, I need a hobby, and that hobby is watching television.

I find television writing very interesting because in many cases, the scripts are written by committee, and even when a single person has control, they are still subject to changes made by directors, producers, and actors. The fact that they produce anything palatable at all is a miracle, and when they miss the mark, they make for glorious train-wrecks.

Lately, I’ve been watching That 70s Show, the last season of which was a glorious train-wreck, and I noticed a phenomena which I have seen a few times in fiction. They play fast and loose with internal consistency. They do things that make no sense just to be funny. They even unapologetically  make fun of their mistakes. Still, as long as they kept making funny episodes, I didn’t really care. (Though I admit I watched the last season just to see the train-wreck pull into the station.

I pick on That 70s Show, but it isn’t the the only comedy show/novel/movie/play I’ve caught playing fast and loose for a quick laugh. So, the feeling I’m getting is that is you can be funny enough, you get a bit of a pass on making sense. Many times, I’ve told people that I will risk the hallowed rules of writing, Chekov’s gun, et al, for a cheap joke, but I often agonize over how far to go.

I’m currently 24,000 words into my latest (forth or fifth?) re-write of my work-in-progress. I’m really being pulled between my desire to tell a good story, tell a funny story, and make it seem natural and flowing–feedback from my critique group is that the story seems forced and rigid. I’ve even stopped going to my critique group because the story is causing a bit of a metaphysical crisis for me. I have this feeling like the way to tell this story lies deep inside my soul, not in external advice.

All I can do is keep writing and hope the answer comes in the next 24,000 words, or the 24,000 after that.

8 thoughts on “Being Silly is Serious Business

  1. Katy Sozaeva

    I’m not very good at beta-reading (I’m better at the nitpicking stage), but if I can help you in any way, I’ll do what I can! I know you can pull this one out – maybe set it aside and do something else for awhile and then come back at it fresh?

  2. D. Moonfire

    There is a reason “jumped the shark” exists. In a lot of sitcoms (or shows that don’t have a predefined end), there comes a point when they have to keep producing things but they’ve pretty much ran out of the jokes for those characters and situations. Some of this comes from just trying to keep a formula going (like Simpsons, Family Guy, Cosby Show) and others are just to wring every penny out of a money-making endeavor (shows are a business, pure and simple).

    I honestly think every show should have an exit strategy. A way of ending the show gracefully without the final year/season of basic crap. Hercules is a good example, that show should have died a year earlier when it was peaking. Ditto for Zena.

    Babylon 5 would have been perfect except that the network was going to cancel it a year earlier from his five year plan. And then, when he crammed years 4 and 5 into one year, it did fantastic and they gave him the year back. The new year 5 was, sadly, not as well-written as the rest simply because of that.

    I think you can be funny and serious at the same time. It is (relatively) easy to keep “in universe” for a book or three without draining the well. While I love the Plum novels, I really wish Stephanie would just admit she’s poly and marry Joe with Ranger on the side. The conflict was good for seven books, but after eighteen, I want her to just pick both and move on to a new series.

    Just enjoy the rewrite and have fun, every time I rewrote things it got better.

    Side note: shows should also have an encore strategy. It would have been fantastic for Special Unit 2, Firefly, and Dresden Files (okay, I just happen to like those).

    1. Katy Sozaeva

      YES, MORE DRESDEN FILES!! I was disappointed in the “Dollhouse” thing – I think Joss has a long-term plan for that and they said “no, you gotta end it after season 2” and that’s why Season 2 was a stinky pile of chee…

      1. D. Moonfire

        I only find out about shows after they are cancelled. Me and Fluffy tried to find Firefly near the end but they *kept moving it around*. Friday night, Saturday morning at midnight, no wonder no one watched it around us. Same with Dresden Files, The Gates (was getting interesting at the end of season 1), Special Unit 2 (which we both adored). Sadly, as the Browncoats have proved, even obsessed fans can’t raise a show from the dead*.

        * One exception I know. Kim Possible was extended for a fifth season because of the fans. And it was a utterly fantastic season that wrapped up the whole series.

  3. Shannon Ryan

    I think my brain has started moving forward on this one. During last nights post-sickness insomnia–it’s hard enough for me to sleep when I’m tired, let alone when I’ve been sleeping all day–I had a great idea for a sequel, or for the title of a sequel.

  4. Shannon Ryan

    One of the funniest things I found about That 70s show, was the writers never seemed to know which war Red Foreman fought in. I think the original writers had meant it to be the Korean War, but later writers were a little foggy on history, which led to this hilarious entry in the That 70s Show Wiki…

    Red Forman joined the Navy at 17. He fought in the Pacific front in battles such as Guadalcanal, Okinawa, Iwo Jima. He has mentioned fighting in the Western front as well. Mainly, though, he talks about fighting in the Korean war. He has hinted he saw action in Vietnam.


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