Hi all! It’s time for another #ComedyScribeMonday — a weekly Twitter chat where comedy writers gather in a supportive environment to share and expand their craft.
This time around, we’re sharing some work of our own: the writing process behind the pilot episode of our comedy podcast series The Axe & Crown.
Eli: HELLO WORLD
We wanted to use these chats to do a bit of a masterclass thing, or at least an occasionally-competent-personclass. 😜 So this week, I dug up the oldest draft I could find of The Axe & Crown Episode 1. (Here’s the episode, if you want to listen.)
And here’s a chunk of the very first existing draft, with commentary.
Sean: I love that Stan is named Ashwin here. It’s crazy how much he “knew” in this draft. It’s like he was in charge and not the Stan we all came to love.
Eli: Stan evolved a lot! Not least his name (I think it was a mashup of two street names, which is something I do a lot in first drafts). Before I started writing, he was just a regular at the A&C. Then for a while he was kind of a layabout wannabe musician/artist.
Sean: Yeah, I also think it’s interesting that the conflict was so physical in nature right out the gate versus opposing aims like in the end draft, no?
Eli: Definitely. There’s still a physical threat in the final script, but it ramps up over time rather than BOOM, he’s in a trap, ha ha.
Sean: I’m interested in the biggest weakness you see in this looking back at it now.
Eli: Biggest weakness is just that the tension doesn’t build. Comedy’s much like action in that you want to keep things tense and off balance. This draft sticks Stan/Ashwin in a trap… and then never actually takes that anywhere.
It improved a lot over the next few drafts, but it still took me a long time to get that conflict going. Here’s draft number 6.
Of course, everyone who teaches writing, comedy, improv or whatever underlines the importance of conflict. I didn’t get what that actually meant for a long time. Finally it broke through to me that what I needed was clarity of conflict (starting with the characters’ goals). And to intensify the conflict, how do the characters end up backed into their corners, or dug into their respective positions?
Even draft 6 of this scene resolves the central conflict within like a minute. Stan wants to redevelop; the regulars don’t want him to. Gubbin says no, Stan throws out his plans. Done. (Mind you, the way line 20’s written, I’ve kind of left it a placeholder for “uhhh maybe flesh this out?”)
This draft gets closer: Stan comes to the realization that he likes Gubbin and the tavern regulars, and tries to make nice. But he still kind of ends up arguing with himself. Internal conflict is tough to pull off in audio… it’s usually kind of a muddle.
Here’s the final recording script.
No big scare right off the bat. Stan is oblivious to the threat at first and ends up talking himself into a corner.
Sean: Interesting. So here we see that you are going into the plans? What else changed?
Eli: Yes! Stan finally describes his plans for expanding the Axe & Crown. We get to see his enthusiasm (and enthusiasm is such a good way of making a character sympathetic / engaging). And see those dreams ploughing right towards a brick wall.
He was always cheerful and enthusiastic, of course, but in the final version, that façade cracks (line 58). We realize he’s actually feeling rejected by his family and that this is his one big chance to prove himself. Stakes are raised. AND that gives weight to his big speech. (I never wrote big speeches for anyone in Alba S1!) And crucially, Stan’s big decision to tear up the plans. Which is not a comedy moment, but feels like a much stronger climax.
So Stan goes in on a quest to build his dream building; Gubbin and co. are standing firm against the invasion (once we made him a war vet the battle metaphors got sharper). And Stan discovers that what he really wanted was a place he could belong.
(Pardon if I ramble — I’m just kind of discovering my own themes as I re-read this script!)
Sean: What I love about this is how I always assume that MY way of writing is worse or more flawed than everyone else. Maybe that’s just a human reaction we all feel? But I love seeing how this evolved and changed.
Eli: Oh hell yes. This is the beauty of reading other people’s first drafts. Hell, I’m sure there are worse drafts that I didn’t save.
For that matter, it’s been reassuring for me to go through and see how much it improved. I don’t know if all our episodes have so much structure — I’ll have to go back through and see now!
Be sure to join us for our next #ComedyScribeMonday. They take place on Twitter just about every Monday at 9am PT, noon ET and 1700 hours UTC (UK).