• NaPoWriMo Interview: Aragon on Comedy

    "Rarity's romance stories have got nothing on Colt Sagan. Soon, she'll be putty in my hooves, all thanks to SCIENCE!"

    Comedy is serious business. Writing it is doubly so. Thankfully, we have some amazing authors in this fandom who are simply spectacular at it! Even better? They're here to inpart their wisdom and experience to us all. 

    Comedy is such a big topic, I've tapped two authors for this. Today, we'll be hearing from Aragon, the wildly popular author behind fics such as the swashbuckling pulp comedy, Evil is Easy, Governing is Harder and the wonders of farce and punching eagles in Let it R.I.P

    Later this week, you'll get some dangerous insight into the comedic madness of Justice3442

    Check below the break for all the good stuff like why everyone should be reading Terry Pratchett and the intelligence of baby brothers. 

    If you could point to any major fictional comedic inspirations that helped create your comedy writing, who would it be and how could writers learn from those authors?

    When I was a kid, around eight years old or so, a classmate told me a joke that made me laugh so hard I had to be excused out of class, and my parents were called to pick me up.

    It goes like this: “There’s a snail and it goes so fast it goes nyooom.”

    Yeah. Humor is subjective. Because, well – that joke is garbage. It worked on Lil’ Aragón because it catered to his personal tastes (I like the word nyooom), but it wasn’t well-constructed. If you’re not partial to it, you find it so bad it might as well be nonsensical.

    It’s the same with entire comedies. Humor is so subjective that some people will find certain things hilarious to an almost bizarre point, while others won’t even crack a smile at this. That’s why I always recommend not seeking the funniest comedy authors.

    You should go for the best instead.

    Who’s funnier depends on your tastes. Who’s best depends on the skill of each author.

    So here’s the general thing you can learn from all these guys – they know how to make their story fun, even if you aren’t laughing. Even if they just happen to be the opposite of your sense of humor (something I truly hope doesn’t happen, because I find these guys hilarious), they’re still massively enjoyable.

    Because their jokes, their sense of comedy, is extremely well-constructed. It’s well-paced. It’s well-written. It’s the kind of thing that makes other comedy authors bite their nails in frustration.

    In no particular order:

    Terry Pratchett: Look, you can’t have an interview on comedy without this man popping up. He was an amazing writer, period. If you have to learn anything from him – and everybody could; the man was brilliant – check how seamlessly he merges drama and comedy, how easily he uses jokes and entertainment to make you invested, and then naturally amp the stakes. He was to literature what the Beatles were to music, if the Beatles could cure cancer with a riff.

    Douglas Adams: Adams wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and one thing those books have is that they’re memorable. They’re quotable. They’re a perfect blend of originality and wording, so every scene, and almost every line, becomes an instant classic. You can tell, because if you have a friend who’s into his stuff, they won’t shut up about it. While I don’t consider him as good as Pratchett was, he’s amazing if you want good examples on how to make your stories stick.

    Kurt Vonnegut: When you write comedy and science-fiction, two genres that have always been undermined, and you still manage to be seen as part of our modern pantheon, you’re doing something right. Vonnegut made comedy beautiful, borderline transcendent. Structure, prose, and rhythm? If you need good examples on those, check him. He wrote Slaughterhouse Five, a book that’s brimming with raw emotion, and also has a poop joke. It manages to be elegant and insightful. The entire book, I mean. And also the poop joke. Read Vonnegut.

    Kafka: Look, he’s messed up, but you don’t get better than this if you want dark humor. Many people think black humor is just shock and edge with a nice wrap, but Kafka taught us that wasn’t true. He’s for you if you want to learn how to write funny nightmares. 

    Shout-out to André Breton, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, and John Kennedy Toole while we’re here, too.

    If you could point out three critical elements of comedy writing, what would they be?

    Gosh, this one’s easy: wording, pacing, and storytelling.

    Wording: One word can make a difference, really. The way you write the joke should be funny, but also have some punch, and manage to get the point across.

    Pacing: When you tell the joke is usually more important than what the joke actually is. Which brings us to…

    Storytelling: Comedies are stories, not just strings of funny lines. If you don’t have a good narrative to sustain the jokes? Nobody will really enjoy what you write, because nobody will really care. They need to be invested; for that, you need an actual story.

    What are the most common comedy pitfalls and how can people avoid them? 

    The most common comedy pitfall is actually forgetting to tell a story. My main advice, here, is to remember to tell a story.

    No, like. For real.

    A lot of rookie writers make the mistake of thinking comedy is what happens when you’re too dumb to write drama and too ugly to write romance—and that’s kind of true? But also not really. Comedy is drama, inside out; it’s what happens when you set yourself up to tell a story, but also force yourself to be entertaining with it.

    A string of jokes isn’t a story—I already talked about this in the previous question, actually!—it’s a story with actual characters, with actual stakes, with an actual plot. Comedy is the easiest way to get your readers invested in your characters, so use that!

    Simply writing one thousand words of setup with a single punchline is fine, but it’s forgettable. Comedies that use character assassination—as in, OOC humor; we’re not talking about throwing Applejack down a cliff for comedic effect here yet—can be funny, but if you don’t do anything with the characters afterwards, then… Why did you even bother?

    So that’s my advice. Tell a story. Don’t just go nyooom. Actually talk about the snail.

    What are 5 tips you would give to aspiring comedy authors? 

    I once wrote like 7,000 words on how to write comedy, and the very first comment asked me if I had advised writers to “be funny.”

    I re-read my own blog.

    I actually hadn’t.

    So, to avoid being a complete moron twice in a row, my first tip is absolutely to be funny. That’ll take care of that pesky first commenter.

    What else can I say? Humor is about subverting expectations: you make the readers think something is going to happen, then something else happens. Classic comedy, that—but first, you need to set up expectations. Don’t be random for no reason, because that’s just obnoxious. Jokes need a structure, after all. Nyoom alone doesn’t cut it.

    Originality is important, but execution is more important. Don’t obsess over someone else doing what you’re about to do—care about doing it better.

    Kill your darlings; if the best line you’ve ever written doesn’t fit a scene, take it out. If a great scene doesn’t make the story work, delete the scene. What matters is the big picture, not the little minutia nobody notices.

    And lastly? Have fun. Writing is something you should do mostly for yourself. The comments, the fame, the readers—that’s secondary. It’s a plus. Have fun while writing, enjoy writing. Make it its own reward. It’s the only way to keep going, and it makes your stories so, so much better.

    Have a great time writing comedies, because you’re about to entertain others—and how can you do that if you can’t entertain yourself?

    Any parting thoughts?

    I remember when my little brother was born. I was eight at the time, and the little fella changed my life.

    Because I already had a big sister, see, and trust me: if you want to know what Hell feels like, try being a middle child. You’re trapped in a constant loop of “don’t fight with your big sister, she knows better,” and “don’t fight with your little brother, he doesn’t know better.” Say whatever you like about Sisyphus—at least the rock didn’t noogie him whenever Mom wasn’t looking.

    It was hard. When you’re eight, seeing everybody else pay attention to the new guy is like being slapped, only at least there you can’t call Child Services to play a hilarious practical joke on your parents.

    But one day I had a revelation: the baby didn’t mean to do this. Maybe we should be friends. Maybe we should get along.

    So, I told him a joke.

    “There’s a snail and it goes so fast it goes nyooom.”

    And it was so dumb that I laughed. And my brother literally didn’t understand the human language, so he laughed, too. We both laughed.

    And we became friends.

    Laughter unites us. And babies are even dumber than me.

    That’s why I write comedy. And if you feel like you can do it? I think you maybe should, too. Babies aren’t getting any smarter anyway, and in the meantime, hey. You might make someone’s day.


    Thank you, Aragon, for taking the time to give us some fantastic insight. I want to take a moment to echo Aragon's recommendation on Terry Pratchett. Pratchett's a freakin' legend for comedy writing, especially working in a fantasy setting. You cannot go wrong reading anything by Pratchett! (Seriously, I listen to his stories by audiobook every night going to sleep). 

    I hope you enjoyed the latest interview. And don't worry, I have plenty more in store for you!

    Previous NaPoWriMo Interviews: