Keep the Laughs Coming

Satire can make for a wonderful read when placed in capable hands. So many social conventions as well as belief systems are absurd. Yet what starts as a barrel of laughs can be doomed in the long run if an author does not employ a variety of tools to keep the novel’s turns fresh. 

The first is to keep one primary plot aim true. While it’s fun to read about characters taking constant swipes, the story can devolve into a puppet show of tricksters and fools if someone is not staying on the beam. That character may well be the most slashing maverick of them all as long as her cause is meaningful, such as curing malaria. The reader then can keep rooting for justice to be served through all the mayhem.

Second, provide enough plotting so that the novel does not remain on the same starting premise. An arrogant bully can lose swagger if he keeps dissing the same characters about the same topic. A satire about the development of a miracle drug, say, had better move beyond the laboratory and the boardroom, or you’re done in 80 pages. A further stage in this scenario might be a hypochondriac in a trial phase, the head of the FDA review board, a member of Congress agog about the benefits of a side effect, etc. 

A third asset is a large cast of characters. What seems extremely funny when one character takes a beating can start to look like meanness after repeated blows. A hedge fund raider, for instance, can beat up on a hapless CEO only so much before we start wishing the CEO had some redeeming quality. That’s not to mention the repetition factor. Even a running gag needs new circumstances to remain vibrant. If you advance the plot steadily, that will entail adding new characters. You can not only use them in new settings. You can also insert new players into the matrix of old slings and arrows as a way add new variety to what seemed tired.

You might also consider starting with a subplot from the beginning, headed by an absurd character. In the running example being used, this might be a mad scientist working for a second biogenetics company who comes at the malaria issue with a patently quack solution. This personage also provides a break from the main plot, and that is helpful because switching back and forth by itself helps to keep plot lines fresh. That, in essence, is the entire ballgame: keep showing us new tricks.

Exercise: An outline can be valuable before starting a satire. You can lay out the characters in opposition at each stage. Not only that, you can sense from afar when a plot thrust is losing gas. That’s when a new plot line/character needs to be introduced. You can also sketch out how old and new characters can intertwine for new twists on old gags.

“Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”  —E. B. White

Copyright @ 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.