Rebecca Mikkelson, Editor-in-Chief Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Welcome to our fourth post in our plot archetype series. Today, we’re going to talk about the plot archetype of comedy. So what goes into that?
Well, comedy is the simplest to explain and the hardest to get right. The comedy archetype is, in essence, a series of unfortunate events in which there’s miscommunication, secret-keeping, and confusion for your protagonist, which prevents the protagonist from reaching their goal with ease. These plot types are laced with humor, which is why it’s so difficult to get right, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that these stories can’t have some sort of drama or depth to them. Often the best comedies do, as frivolity for the sake of frivolity can become boring and keep your reader from continuing on.
We’ve seen in all of our previous posts that there are five stages to make the plot successful, but for comedy, you only need three. So what does it take to write this plot?
The confusion commences: This is where we’re introduced to our protagonist and their world. Once we’ve established what’s what in the world, then things can go wrong. The misunderstanding happens, and people start to pull away from the protagonist or turn against each other as a result.
Further confusion: (Or in my family, “But wait, there’s more!” And I genuinely hope you read that in Billy Mays’s voice.) In this stage, things get even worse for your protagonist. Things progressively get worse and more confusing, and it seems like nothing will be settled.
The confusion is resolved: Finally, the light dawns on our protagonist, either by them figuring out what went wrong on their own or by another member of your book’s cast explaining it to them. Things start to right, and the protagonist can go back to being in their happy bubble or move on to their happily ever after—hopefully with more insight than they started with.
So, where can you find plots that involve comedy? Well, there are several different examples that we can give, so we’ll break them down into their own sections. For comedy, there are even more examples of movies and television shows that are just plain funny that don’t quite follow the plot archetype, so we’ve done our best to find examples that do.
Well…play, as it were in this case. The Importance of Being Earnest is a great example and one of my favorite Oscar Wilde plays out there. It fits the comedy ploy archetype to a T. This involved Jack being Ernest, Ernest being Algernon, and a whole host of other deceptions in order to live the lives the two men want to have and get the girls they want. A spectacular series of errors happen as they try not to be outed, but that doesn’t stop it from happening. In the end, everyone gets their happy ending, though.
Schitt’s Creek is probably the best comedy I’ve watched in that it’s written with such nuance that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the characters become better people. This show starts with the Rose family losing everything that they can’t carry with them because Johnny Rose’s business manager stole all their money and now they have only one option: live in the town they bought as a joke for their son, David, and rebuild. They continually jump to conclusions and get themselves into some interesting situations as they try to right their lives, but eventually, they find out that the route that life has taken them has made them much closer and happier than they could have been had they not lost their money.
Ah, the nostalgic movie of my childhood: Mrs. Doubtfire. It starts when Daniel Hillard keeps making more and more mistakes, including being fired from his job. This leads his wife to ask for a divorce, which she’s granted, along with custody of their three children, while Daniel is only given supervised visitation. He devises a plan to become the nanny for his kids with the help of his makeup-artist brother making him an old lady mask. Things are great, and he’s getting closer to the children when he’s discovered. The children are immediately taken away from him, and he’s alone doing his own work as Mrs. Doubtfire on a Mr. Rogers-eqsue TV show. When finally the children and their mother watch an episode of the show, Miranda, the ex-wife, realizes that it was wrong to take away the kids, and Daniel is able to have his family back.