• NaPoWriMo Interview: Justice3442 on Comedy

    "Another Velvet and Homage shipfic? Don't mind if I do!"

    As promised, I have another interview on comedy for you! As with all things writing, there are a lot of approaches to comedy. After all, humor is probably the most subjective of all topics! So, I wanted to give a different perspective!

    Today, we’re lucky enough to have Justice3442, the hysterical author behind such madness as Sunset Shimmer is MAD about Everything and the universal truths of A Newspaper Solves Everypony's Problem

    Check below the break for everything you ever wanted to know about stories that yell at you and solving problems through the gratuitous use of peaches.

    Could you talk a bit about the difference between "LOLRANDOM" comedy and the more structured intentional comedy?

    "RANDOM" works as an excuse to play around with the world and characters a bit and warn that some might be slightly different than usual or maybe hyper flanderized. I’d caution about throwing out all the rules or expectations regarding characters and the world out the window or making everypony the love-offspring of Pinkie/Discord. ‘That's so random’ stories are likely going to have trouble reaching an audience. Even with comedy or the random tag, few things bump a reader more than a character who feels ‘off’ or not like the franchise character they’re based off. Heaven help you if you don’t even have either of the tags and you botch presenting a character.

    Though, random does suggest to expect the unexpected, too. You can generally get away with a character acting out of character if you at least lampshade it and hand wave it with an explanation. Something that ties into the story is usually best, but even “I was woken up two hours early because SOMEPONY just needed to practice the sousaphone at 6 AM!” could work. Even if you’re ‘random’ comedy is a satire of something well known, like an episode everyone’s watched or a trope that gets used a lot, you still want to generally provide some explanation for why a character is acting ‘goofier’, ‘meaner’, or even ‘picked up a bizarre face licking habit’

    “Sorry, I drank a bit too much coffee today.”/”Now the Sousaphone player has made friends with a trombonist!”/”I’m sorry. I just figured out faces are delicious and can’t stop myself. I have a problem.” Could all quickly work without disrupting narrative flow.

    On that note, Random stories still have to adhere to most the requirements of any other story, unless of course, you’re purposely aping bad style or bad habits. In which case, there are still ‘rules’, you’ve just adopted a different set.

    Basically, for ‘structured’ comedy, I’d expect a some nice, familiar environment, like a metaphorical park, to enjoy a few laughs in, and if I get bored or am blindsided, I’ll leave.

    For random, I expect to get on a roller coaster that I’ve never seen before. I’ll leave if it throws me off before the ride is over probably be a tad annoyed by the whole experience and multiple bleeding wounds and broken bones.

    How do you decide on the kind of joke?

    I think someone once said the best joked are played on the audience, or maybe I said that just now.

    Even so, even silly stuff can invite audience members to laugh or cringe or even do both while decided if they're "in" on the joke or not.

    See, that's why some FimFiction writers, say... CassandraMyOCisBestpony I find are very successful writers even if they're not being measured by conventional metrics. Their goal is to get "a rise" from their audience. Up votes and downvotes are BOTH success as ‘rustled jimmies’ also means in uptick in what counts for success here.

    It's just a matter of if someone decides they are "in on the joke" or if the joke was successfully "played" on them. This is especially important in regards to satire. By the nature of satire, you’re often poking fun at something that’s popular by virtue of it being an accepted trope or, in the realm of fan-fiction, was presented as an actual episode. This means readers are going to have opinions regarding the topic already, so you have to often provide an alternative point of view in an entertaining enough way that keeps those with opposing viewpoints interested or keep it funny/interesting enough that those that agree aren’t simply the choir boredly nodding along.

    In a broader sense though. The “joke” or “theme” of a story should make you either be laughing/interested/or even cringing (but in a “I’m sickened but curious” way) within a title and a few sentences.

    One shots are often ideas that hit me out of nowhere and I laugh hysterically to myself or cackle madly then type away at a keyboard until the idea is done. This is, again, where the random tag can be your friend. A ‘comedy’ where Rarity and Applejack try to have a spa day, but Applejack is so caught up in ‘work mode’ that she can’t relax and annoys Rarity just sounds boring and not funny at all. Now, a story in which Rarity wants to go to the spa with Applejack but Applejack only comes so long as she brings a bushel of her beloved apples because she loves APPLES and hey, we should try apple skin-wraps and maybe see if we can steem apples in the sauna and apples, apples, apples! Is probably worth a good look to at least see if Spoiled Rich takes an thrown apple to the face and is force fed a dozen apples.

    This highlights another key component to ‘random’ comedy. Exaggeration. Flanderizing characters can work because we still see the ‘core’ (see what I did there, Apple? Core? I slay me) of the base character there so we’re still watching ‘Fluttershy’ even if she’s shyly mentioning that she’s at her wits end with Angel Bunny and is maybe considering accidentally adopts like fifty foxes who’ve eaten almost exclusively bunnies there entire lives.

    On that note, a joke that’s also highly relatable to the audience is also a nice thing to have.

    What would you say the best example of this would be in your own works?

    Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh! is probably the most popular example of my own work here. There's a story that's easy enough to follow, with really only one character being flanderized all that much, but it's also meta as it takes shots at writing styles and certain trains of thought, and also making fun of a specific episode.

    And eventually, the story is yelling at you. Almost literally yelling at you. It is designed to annoy.

    I'm not going to lie. There is an earnest attempt to blast a blow horn in the face of the reader and see how they react. To my great surprise and delight, most decided that "Hey, this is funny!" and pushed on. There’s also a heap of downvotes. This is also a delight. The reward is basically one big lead up to a single reference in a different cartoon entirely. So yeah, it's random, but that doesn't mean it's without purpose, even if that purpose is very silly.

    What about the other side and your “non-random” material?

    My non-random stuff is usually more grounded.

    It's basically a sign that everypony should act in a way consistent with how they are portrayed in the show or my existing work.

    I often reserve it for longer comedy pieces that might also be slice of life/adventure/or even romance.

    However, a good story to call out is The One Where Pinkie Gets Even where the main characters are Pinkie and Discord. Both character pull out all the stops in regard to their flirtatious relationship with physics and reality.

    And yet, no [Random] tag.

    That sounds pretty darn random to me. Why didn’t it have the tag?

    Because both Pinkie and Discord are acting how most would expect them to, or at least in a manner that one could read and hopefully think "Hey! This can be an episode of the show!"

    So really, the difference can be an approach to the characters or the scenario our characters find themselves in while both still following a solid structure.

    Or, you know... You can start things off with most your character clearly enthralled by some magical, maybe alien, giant peach that is only thwarted by being set on fire and wrap it up with a PSA about memes.

    Still, regardless of what many may think, there's quite a lot of options with the [Random] tag that can keep things bizarrely grounded.

    What’s the difference between satire and random (and how do you do both well?)

    I’m not sure I see a practical difference, to be honest. Almost all my random stories are lampooning something be that an episode, a trope the show uses a lot, or maybe even a writing concept like using ‘Anon’.

    As I mentioned in my opener, random comedy without even a little bit of direction is not likely to give the readers anything to latch onto. You can’t subvert any expectations if you set those on fire and throw them out the window within a few paragraphs.

    In both cases, however, I feel it’s good to keep the jokes coming. Whether those jokes are slapstick, witty dialogue, or even a reference inserted into the character’s word choices that they just move right on past.

    Slower, slice of life comedies can work, but one will likely have to inject some ‘feels’ with the ‘laughs’ otherwise the audience might leave before they even see the horizon of the punchline from an overly long setup. 

    On that note, don’t be afraid to explore deeper and complex issues in comedies. Not everything has to be funny literally all the time and getting someone to go from laughing one moment to sobbing real tears of sadness is an accomplishment in itself. The ‘serious’ issue could even become the best part of the story. Not to say that it’s still not funny, just maybe people are more likely to fondly remember two characters breaking down because they’ve been terrible to one each other and neglected the other for years despite still loving the other over that scene where a character got so mad at animation errors they screamed at train for most of a page.

    Any specific tips you would give to writing silly (and non-silly) comedy well?

    As mentioned above, pick an idea you think is funny, or could ‘rustle jimmies’. Now really try to explore it in depth, ridiculous, potentially senseless depth. Again, keep in mind that if you’re writing fanfiction, your readers have some expectations of how characters will behave in a given situation, so don’t completely flip the table on them without SOME warning or explanation.

    If you come up with a line that’s funny or action that’s funny, but don’t feel it makes sense for the characters present, add another character. Heck, rewrite the scene so they were there the entire time. Or, have an existing character do it and provide some explanation. “Sorry! I slapped you upside the face because I thought I saw a bug… Also, what you said was so genuinely offensive, I felt you deserved to be slapped.”

    On that note, typically you’ll still want at least one character who's behaving (mostly) like themselves the whole way through. Someone the audience can latch onto who's part of the mad journey you find yourself on. The ‘straight man’ trope is there for a reason. If a great deal of the humour comes from the fact that something is out of the ordinary and no one in the story seems to think it is, then why would you? It is possible to pass the straight-man mantle around a bit, however. Sure there’s certain characters that usually default to this role, but even they can get a little wild at times. Just have someone nearby to begrudgingly pick up the slack a bit.

    Almost everything I’ve written above applies to regular comedy as well, though without the random tag, there’s usually an understanding that you’re going for a style and tone not dissimilar from the franchise proper. Twilight and Rainbow Dash can have a funny exchange where there’s some concern over spoilers about the latest Daring Do book where maybe Rainbow got a peek at the rough draft, for instance. However, without that random tag, it’s gonna be a hard pill to swallow when Twilight cold-clocks Rainbow and then eats the draft to prevent spoilers. I mean, the fact that you can even imagine Twilight doing that is important for random comedy, but the distinction that ‘they’d never put that in the show/comic/etc…” is a good thing to keep in mind regarding the lack of a tag.

    Could you give us a practical exercise on a way to write comedy?

    Pick an idea involving at least two characters that makes you chuckle or cringe and try to write an interaction between them. Maybe that interaction concludes in a few sentences, maybe it goes on and on for an entire story and you have multiple chapters.

    Maybe that interactions consumes those two characters time nearly completely and becomes their life, and by extension, your life for a few years.

    Or, heck, if you can make it work between a character and an inanimate object or two, go for it. There’s some good stories out there involving straws and bags of flour in this fandom.

    Thank you, Justice3442, for that somewhat... strange insight into your process! Make sure to come back next week for more interviews with some of FimFiction's best and brightest!