Your Ideas Are Great But Not Precious
By Briana Hansen
As writers, we often hear you have to be willing to “kill your darlings.” As dark as some of our twisted minds may be, that of course doesn’t mean any actual murder. It simply means you have to be willing to edit rigorously. You have to at least be willing to let go of scenes, moments, dialogue, and sometimes even characters in order to streamline your script.
This is true in all writing. But it is especially true when it comes to writing and developing comedy. Comedy shows and comedic writing have a pacing expectation that sets it apart from all other genres. You have to be short, sweet, efficient, and punch hard using as little time as possible.
The best headlining stand up comedians average a laugh every seven seconds. The best comedic shows are shooting for at least three to four laughs per page. These shows (and the writers crafting them) want to keep you entertained, keep you engaged, and – most importantly – keep you laughing. And the best way to accomplish all those goals at once is to keep the energy up and keep the jokes consistently coming.
Behind the scenes in the comedy rooms that are shaping these shows, there’s a similar expectation. You’re expected to pitch lots of jokes and ideas. You’re expected to keep the pacing high, the word usage efficient, and the page count within a very narrow range. In order to do all these things effectively, you have to be willing to constantly kill your darlings. Or, better yet, never even get so attached to a single idea or scene or joke that you consider it a “darling” and therefore have an emotional attachment to it should it be unceremoniously sacrificed in front of your eyes.
When writing and creating comedy you have to check your ego at the door, especially if you’re in a collaborative setting which is really common in the genre. You have to be vigilant to make sure you’re adding value to the bigger picture and helping serve the overall goals that the genre requires. And that means being as enthusiastic about throwing out an idea or a pitch as you about getting rid of it if it no longer works in the storyline. It also means being willing to throw something out that you’re not crazy about on the off-chance someone else could build on it or that it might be a step in the right direction towards solving a script problem.
Not every idea has to be a homerun. Plenty of singles or even sacrifice bunts have helped win a ballgame. When did this become a baseball metaphor? I don’t know...but now that I’ve tried this metaphor out I can say I’m officially fine with stopping it immediately. It was just an idea. And ideas, as we’ve learned, are wonderful but not precious.