Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Writing Captions - 101

In last week's post I mentioned that I started writing one-liners for speakers, comedians and broadcast personalities. Eventually, after writing thousands of them, I could see where they could be illustrated and become a cartoon. I don't draw at all, but I went about learning everything I could about single-panel gag cartoons by studying cartoon collections, especially "The New Yorker" cartoon collections. At the same time I read every book I could find about comedy writing. I soon discovered that a cartoon was a moment in time. It either had no dialogue or one or two short sentences of dialogue spoken by one person. The shorter the better. Usually the drawing and the writing fit together. Sometimes the drawing was simply an illustration of a speaker and a listener and the setting could be almost anywhere.

From reading books about joke or gag writing, I learned that they almost always had a set up and a punch. The set up is the straight, or factual part. The punch is the unexpected part and should come at the end. I also learned that certain words were funnier, specifically, words that had the "k" sound in them. Also, that there was something called a series of three, where the first two items were the set up and the third item was the punch at the end. After looking at thousands of cartoons in publications such as The New Yorker, Barron's and Reader's Digest, I could see that fewer words had a greater punch. I became familiar with the situations these cartoons focused on. For example, cartoons in Barron's mostly focus on the business world. I felt I could write business gags  because after working in offices for many years I had opinions about things. I could see the humor in the relationships between bosses and workers, workers and co-workers, salary issues, lazy workers, lazy bosses. You get the picture. I also realized that I liked to write about restaurants (snooty waiters, demanding customers, lousy food) and relationships (husband and wife gags, mostly).

I regularly read the magazines whose cartoons I identify with. I see the type of cartoons these publications buy. I also read these magazines and newspapers to pick up phrases, jargon and slang that I will use in my cartoon writing. I guess you could call me a news junkie. I try to stay current on what's going on in the world. I listen to news radio constantly in the car, much to the frustration of whatever family member I'm riding with.

I'll conclude by saying the best humor has an element of truth in it. In writing cartoons, or any type of humor I guess, if you can say something that other people are too afraid to say, you might have a winner. A sense of humor and a skewed way of looking at things also helps.

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