Writing a crazy or zany series isn’t easy. Many people think it is because they believe you just throw everything out there. Yet, there does have to be something to hold the events and characters together. Otherwise, you have an utter mess that nobody can make any sense out of. How do you do it? Well . . .
- It helps to have a serious character in the mix. This character becomes an eye in the storm of insanity. Maybe they try to stop it or they simply go for the ride while pointing out the crazy to the audience. These characters can act as vehicles for the audience to use as their focal points. This will help in bringing some coherency to the antics.
- Running gags have their limits. I remember reading that comedy has the ‘Rule of 3’ where a joke can happen 3 times in succession. First is a shock. Second is a surprise that it happened again. Third time is a surprise that it was done once more. Beyond that, the audience will be ready or get bored with the repetition. This doesn’t seem to be the case due to certain popular shows smashing it and people have more limited attention spans. Still, this is something that works best in books because it requires more focus.
- Zany doesn’t mean 100% nonsensical. Sure, it’s funny to see logic go out the window and physics break. That still requires you have something to show that this is an actual story. For example, the Animaniacs were random and wild, but they got into clear situations such as renting a room from Dracula or trying to sell cookies to Albert Einstein. They had a goal, which traveled through the comedy.
- Read and watch stories that are designed for comedy to get a better sense of timing and flow. Fight the urge to think all you need are jokes and a basic idea of story structure because you have a lot of chainsaws to juggle here. The chainsaws are also on fire and singing ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’.
- Place moments of seriousness and sanity in the story to prevent desensitization. This doesn’t break the flow like you may believe. It can dial back the mood to center, which allows for the comedy to strike as hard as it did before. Otherwise, you’re going to be battering against a steadily crumbling wall that will eventually decide it’s best to watch a documentary on chia pets.
- Breaking the 4th wall is a popular choice when it comes to these series. You can’t make this the centerpiece. If every character is repeatedly talking to the audience then they’re spending less time in the story. This tactic is funny, but it also erodes the suspense of disbelief. Every time you use it, the audience is edged back into reality for a brief moment. One method that can allow you to do this more often is to pick one character to do so and the others get confused about who they are talking to. Still, it comes with the same risk.
- You have to abide by your own rules even if the world is crazy. One character can’t be immune to anvils falling on them while another is killed. Not unless you establish that they come from two different species or systems. For example, Roger Rabbit (a toon) could survive things like a toon while Eddie Valiant (a human) will die. This needs to be made clear. Otherwise, the story appears to be working off the whim of the author and that can cost you readers. They’ll pick up on that nothing is stable and swiftly become numb to the antics. A big part of the zany is that it happens within the backdrop of established norms, which it breaks.
Great tips, Charles. I had to laugh out loud at number four’s …”you have a lot of chainsaws to juggle here. The chainsaws are also on fire and singing ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’.”
Thanks. Hate it when the chainsaws start doing classics.
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As John said, great tips! 😃 😄 You’ve described the difficulty of writing this type of story. The Animaniacs is a great example. That was a well written show. I also think of the Marx Brothers movies. Timing is everything!
Animaniacs were a great combo of Marx Brothers and Looney Tunes. Showing my son the old episodes.
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I think your list is spot on. I grew up with Looney Tunes, which were the parent of Animaniacs.
Thanks. Grew up with the classics too. Tiny Toons were another one.
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