July 3, 2016
Jokes! Jokes are a great source of plot ideas. An established writer gave me this tip years ago and it has served me well.
Jokes, you see, are plots in miniature. Stories sealed up and ready to go. You’ve got your beginning, middle, end, your conflict, your characters – flaws and all. All you’ve got to do is flesh it out. Expland on it. Change gender and setting if possible. And no, it doesn’t have to be funny because many jokes (indeed, stories) need an element of tragedy to make comedy (and vice vearsa) and you can just crank up the aspect you want to emphasize.
Here’s a joke that gave me an idea for a radio play I once wrote “The Angel of Trafadden” (see urls to podcasts listed on sidebar)
“It was Ryan’s funeral and the pallbearers were carrying the casket out from the church. When they bumped into a pillar, one of them heard a moan from inside the coffin. They opened the lid and found Ryan alive. He lived for another ten years before he properly died. Another funeral was held for him and, as the pallbearers were carrying out the coffin, Mrs Ryan shouted “Now, watch out for that pillar!”
OK, it’s the way ya tell ‘em… But the point is that they don’t have to be the funniest jokes – just so long as there is a story in there, a universal truth with which your readers will react and engage. Wordplay/puns won’t work so well, go for the story…
Here’s another one you can chew on for a story idea (it used to go down well in the creative writing classes I taught in an English prison…)
The defendant knew he didn’t have a prayer of beating the murder rap, so he bribed one of the jurors to find him guilty of manslaughter. The jury was out for days before they finally returned a verdict of manslaughter. Afterward the defendant asked, ‘How come it took you so long?’ the juror said, ‘All the others wanted to acquit’.
From Ireland, Sue Healy is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre, London, a full-time Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Lincoln. Her book on theatre literary management is published by Routledge, December 2022.
Sue is an award-winning writer for stage, TV, and prose writer.
Her current project, a 6x60minute TV series, is under option. She is under commission with Lone Wolf Media, producers behind PBS’ “Mercy Street”, to co-write the pilot and treatment for a six-part TV series.
Her most recent stage-play, Imaginationship (2018), enjoyed a sold out, extended run at the Finborough and later showed at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. Her previous stage productions include Cow (Etcetera Theatre, 2017) and Brazen (King’s Head Theatre, 2016), funded by Arts Council England. Sue’s short plays have been performed at the Criterion (Criterion New Writing Showcase), Arcola (The Miniaturists) and Hackney Attic (Fizzy Sherbet Shorts).
Her radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm.
Sue has won The Molly Keane Award, HISSAC Prize, Escalator Award, Meridian Prize and has been published in nine literary journals and anthologies including: The Moth, Flight, Tainted Innocence, New Writer, Duality, HISSAC, New European Writers. She has been writer-in-residence on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, and at the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island. She has also benefitted from annual artist residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and at Ginestrelle, Assisi in Italy.
An academic with a PhD in modern theatre history, specifically the Royal Court Theatre, Sue has presented her research internationally. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. She has a PhD in modern theatre history (Royal Court Theatre) and is a UEA Creative Writing MA alumnus.
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October 3rd, 2012 at 05:00
Hey sue,great blog today,I really enjoyed it. The advice you received was spot on. A joke in a book can reveal so much about a character. Especially if the joke ends up being a bigger part of the overall plot or story-line. Thank-you.I needed something to put a little zing in one of my more serious stories. After that the old hamster wheel started turning in my brain,were I could even use the joke in the plot….Sincerely P.P………….PeculiarPotato….
October 3rd, 2012 at 09:33
Wow, I’d never thought of using jokes as story ideas!
October 3rd, 2012 at 23:38
Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I thought these jokes were very funny! I hope you don’t mind if I tell them at work tommorrow? But seriously, yes. At least one of my published stories, years ago, was derived very loosely from meditating on a joke.
October 8th, 2012 at 01:29
Hi Sue – great to come across your blog! I’m a new blogger and very much appreciate the tips and encouragement. Your posts are informative, a manageable length (unlike a lot of “writing” blogs), and you have a warm voice. Thanks for writing, keep it up. I loved Wells when I visited back in the 80’s!
Melanie, Writing with Spirit
July 4th, 2016 at 01:02
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