Geddit geddit?

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’.

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About suehealy

Award-winning Irish writer/playwright Sue Healy’s work has been supported and developed by Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, the Peggy Ramsay Foundation and Arts Council England. January 2018 sees her play Imaginationship run for three weeks at the Finborough Theatre. Previous productions include Cow (Etcetera Theatre, 2017) and Brazen (King’s Head Theatre, 2016), funded by Arts Council England. Sue’s work has also been performed at the Finborough, Arcola, Hackney Attic and Sterts theatres, and at festivals including the Claremorris Fringe (New Writing Award winner), the Brighton (Sussex Playwrights’ Award winner), the UEA Contemporary European Drama Festival, Norwich. Her work will also be showcased at the Criterion theatre on Dec. 4th. Radio work includes nine plays broadcast on BBC Radio 4 (Opening Lines winner), WLRfm and KCLR96fm. She has been a finalist for BBC Scriptroom 12, Eamon Keane Playwriting Prize, Nick Darke Award and the Old Vic 12 New Voices. Sue's prose has won the the Molly Keane Award, HISSAC Prize, Escalator Award and has been published widely. Sue has been writer-in-residence on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, and at the Heinrich Boll Cottage on Achill Island. She has also benefitted from juried artist residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, and at Ginestrelle, Assisi in Italy. Sue is a UEA Creative Writing MA alumna. She spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. She is currently London-based, completing a Ph.D. on the Royal Court Theatre. Sue is an Associate Lecturer in Playwriting at the Universities of Lincoln and Portsmouth, and tutors Creative Writing at City Lit. She is Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre. View all posts by suehealy

5 responses to “Geddit geddit?

  • peculiarpotato

    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….

  • Vikki (The View Outside)

    Wow, I’d never thought of using jokes as story ideas!

    Thanks Sue!

    Xx

  • Michael Graeme

    Brilliant Sue,

    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.

    Regards

    Michael

  • melanielynngriffin

    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

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