Improve Your Writing
By Analyzing existing success stories!
There are many tricks, and techniques, that writers use to improve their craft. Today, I would like to talk about one that perhaps you hadn’t thought of – YouTube.
YouTube is one of the world’s most comprehensive websites, for entertainment, ideas, and in this example, an education. You can use their video uploads to find book trailers, book reviews, book readings, movies, movie trailers, movie reviews, comedy sketches, television shows, scenes from television or movies, music videos, poetry readings, etc.
Do you see a common theme here?
They all involve writing!
This is how I like to use YouTube. I research successful examples of writing and analyze them. This is easy to do because you can filter your search results by rating, views, genre, title, industry, and keywords. When you find a video whose ratings, and views, are high, you can bet the farm that there are nuggets of golden information for you to mine from that writing.
Let’s give it a try!
I searched: television, situation comedy, less than 4 minutes run-time. The list came up, and I zoomed through it until I found something that looked interesting.
Here is what I chose –
This particular television show is one of the most successful situation comedies on TV today. Now, you might be saying to yourself, “I could just watch the television show. Why do I need YouTube?” And you’re right, if you’re interested in writing comedy, you should watch the entire television show series. These writers are doing everything right – much can be learned about writing comedy by studying their methods.
The reason I’m advocating the use of YouTube is because it covers many genres and styles of writing. Plus, it saves time. Let’s say you set aside twenty minutes a week to do your YouTube research, in that short period, you could locate videos, watch them, and make notes on writing techniques, and you’d still have time for lunch before you get back to that work in progress! If you find a video that is particularly interesting, you can bookmark it,: and then you return to it over and over. You can also stop the action as you make your notes, or, replay it instantly.
Let’s breakdown this scene
And see what we can learn from it.
(I’m going to illustrate by using notations from my research)
- Opening scene – life as usual. Three very different women sit in a car talking. One is mousey. One is bold. One is eccentric. (varying personalities) They have skipped out of work to go to Disneyland.
- Comedy elements – The absurd situation of adult women skipping work to go to Disneyland for a princess make-over. The eccentric woman’s over-the-top efforts to escape from work. The bold woman’s lack of concern over deserting her job. Conflict – they argue over who gets to be Cinderella. Funny – the mousey woman turns belligerent over her desire to be Cinderella. Funny – mousey woman pulls a ‘junior high trick’ by threatening to pull her car (toy) from the plan.
- Descriptive elements – Eccentric woman – Big Mouth, overtly expressive – happy, facial tics that look like the cat that ate the mouse, slumped shoulders, leaning forward in excitement. Bold woman – Set jaw, distant eyes, lips closed, sarcastic expressions, back straight, little head movement. Mousey woman – Eyes set, business-like expression, some smiles (as a character she fits between the other two – creating a well-rounded character group), at the end of the scene the mousey woman snaps and turns mean (again well-rounded characterization, nobody is all nice or all bad).
- Dialog highlights -“Throwing up like a fire hose .” – Excellent metaphor / strong visual impression. “And now I’m going to Disneyland!” – Excellent comedic play off an old phrase that many people would recognize. “I work at The CheeseCake Factory. I said, Bye.” – Funny because of its lack of caring. (Give your characters things they care about and things they don’t care about.) “You’re kidding right? We’re not going to just get drunk and go on rides.” Funny because it creates a mild conflict between the characters expectations of the day. (Give your characters different expectations about the same situation.) “We can’t all be Cinderella.” An unexpected twist – all the characters instantly come to the realization that they want the same thing – conflict. “Well it’s simple. This was my idea. I’m driving. I’m Cinderella. You bitches got a problem with that, we can stop the car right now.” Character change – The mousey woman goes completely out of her normal element in making this statement. (Comedy comes from unexpected change.) Make your characters do something unexpected.
Scene Two – Disneyland
- The women are now at Disneyland.
- Comedy elements – The women are now dressed as Disney characters, colorful flowing dresses, unusual hair, overt make-up. (Remember to include visual descriptions that will allow your reader to see your characters.) A woman pushing a stroller passes. (Funny because it highlights the absurdity of their situation. Disneyland is geared toward families, not adult women wearing fantasy costumes. (Think of small clues to add to your story, that are outside the main story-line, yet support your idea.)
- Descriptive elements – The eccentric woman and the mousey woman are having fun. The bold woman sits off to the side,by herself, eating popcorn. – conflict (This is a good use of subtle conflict simply by their placement within the scene.)
- Dialog Highlights – “I’m Doctor Fowler, and I’m a neuroscientist.” (The professional title does not fit the situation. It creates comedy.) “From an early age, we girls are taught to care about the way we look, rather than, the power of our minds.” (What makes this funny, and quite powerful, is her actions do not match her words.) “Unless you want to be Cinderella.” (This is great because it returns to an earlier funny moment. It supports it and builds on it. Don’t let your characters experience an important situation in a story and then never bring it back up. That would make it unrealistic and lessen the importance of the original event.)
Scene Three – The Aftermath
- Overview – Scene three completes a story arc. The comedy comes from the disparate reactions of the men.
- Comedy elements – Each husband / boyfriend of the three women returns home from work to find their significant other dressed as a Disney character. (The comedy is derived from their reactions.)
- Descriptive elements – When the mousey woman tells her husband that there is a surprise waiting for him. He reacts by hoping that she is dressed as Cinderella. This is a twist and a reveal. We now know that this is a fantasy of their’s, and the mousey woman had an (ulterior motive) the entire time. (Give your characters hidden motives for their actions – reveal those motives late in the story.) As the husband crosses the room to her – this is a superb example of body motion as a comedic element. He galloped across the room, his belly undulating like jello. The Bold woman’s scene creates comedy from her boyfriend’s unexpected response. The mousy woman’s situation creates comedy by her boyfriend’s lack of response. It’s three disparate views, of the same set-up that bring laughs.
- Dialog – “Please be Cinderella. Please be Cinderella.” (Unexpected reaction. Desperation.) “What are you doing?” (Unexpected reaction. Exasperation.) “I heard you the first time.” (Expected reaction. Lack of empathy)
Here is what we learned from a simple breakdown of this YouTube video!
- Even a scene, or a situation, should have a complete story arc.
- Comedy is derived by unexpected situations or expectations.
- Each character should have a distinct set of personality traits, but these traits can, and should morph with an unusual situation.
- Give your characters distinct physical attributes, and they don’t always need to be pretty or handsome.
- Create metaphors that are extremely visual but fit the scene.
- Give your characters things that they care about and things that they don’t care about.
- If there are multiple characters in a scene give them different expectations over the same set of circumstances.
- Include elements (such as the family passing by in Disneyland) outside the main scene to add realism.
- Let your characters act differently than what their dialog indicates.
- Use character placement within a scene to create tension.
- Don’t let an important event happen in your story and then let it disappear. Return to it later.
- Have different characters react differently to the same set of circumstances
Not a bad education for twenty minutes of effort!
I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.
You can follow me at
I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.
I’m currently reading, “Unexplained Mysteries of World War II”, by William B. Breuer
All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.