YOU COULD LEARN A LOT FROM A CLOWN - aka: What Clown College ™ Taught Me About Writing
Yep. I went to Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Clown College. Here’s me in my Ringling “agent suit.”
Be ye not afraid, dear reader. I am not going to attack you or make you watch me juggle or fall over. Although….the first one….clowns on the attack….clowns love the taste of human blood…..no – no. Musn’t. (That’s a joke, y’all. So many people claim to be ‘scared of clowns’ –you get kinda punchy with it. We don’t really love the taste of human blood. Now puppy blood, on the other hand…. ;)
No. No! I am here today to give you a quick lesson –lessons in writing that I learned while studying clowning.
Someone somewhere said “the more you study any art, the more it informs your art.” Or words to that effect. The point being: that if you, a writer, love painting and take a painting class, some of it will spill over (*comedy drum*) onto your writing. Meaning you will use what you’ve learned/observed/etc.
So here’s my TOP FIVE WRITING LESSONS LEARNED AT CLOWN COLLEGE:
5.) GO BIG - Clown college instructors were always urging us to ‘make it bigger’ – our pauses, reactions, laughs, gestures – everything. Think about it: you’re on stage or more likely if you’re a Ringling clown – in an arena. You’ve got to sell your move/skit/comedy all the way to the last row. So go big.
APPLICATION TO WRITING: your plots, your characters’ emotions, the high-stakes (internal or external) that your story hinges on. GO BIG. You can always bring it down a level – it isn’t always as easy to take it up. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have subtle, quiet moments, just that you take them as far, make them as important, make them as BIG as they can go. This happened to me recently: I was doing a revision. I thought “GO BIG” – afterwards I thought. “Hmm. Maybe I took it too far.” Guess what? It went over fine.
4.) DON’T BE AFRAID OF PIE IN THE FACE: At CC, we had “pie day.” We got to make, throw, and get pied. (Clown Pies are actually whipped soap. The More You Know.). It was so much more fun throwing pies than getting pied, though.
APPLICATION TO WRITING: You can’t be afraid of making a mistake. Or getting messy. Or getting rejected if “pie in the face” is a metaphor for that. For me, this hit home in my recent agent hunt. To even start the submission process, you have to face down “pie in the face.” (yes, I said “face down pie in the face.” Yes, that is a mixed metaphor).
3.) K.I.S.S.- KEEP IT SIMPLE,STUPID! Ok, so there you are, developing a comedy bit for your arena tour: You are a lion tamer and you’ve lost your lion. Your lion is having tummy troubles, and your lion is trying to find a bathroom. You, the lion tamer, are recently divorced and trying to hold onto the lion as your one anchor in a changing world. Also, you are allergic to flowers. Oh, and the lion loves flowers, especially the water squirting kind. And then chipmunks jump out of your trousers. The chipmunks like to play cards and smoke stogies and…..
APPLICATION TO WRITING: It’s obvious. While the silly scenario above probably got more interesting for you to read as it went on, imagine trying to communicate all that in an arena, using no words, in about a minute, and get a laugh from it. In writing, the “everything and the kitchen sink” method *probably* will have the same result. To me: this is a case of knowing where your story is/what it is about. Similarly, you need to have a simple focus when you pitch or query agents. If you can’t summarize your story in about three sentences, you *may* have a problem.
2.) ANY EMOTION CAN BE SHOWN PHYSICALLY: Clowns (and the great silent comedians) are masters of showing emotion through their movements/postures. This goes way beyond facial expressions (but don’t forget those!).
APPLICATION: We’re always told “show, don’t tell.” What better way to show a character’s emotions than through physicality? Obvious examples are instead of saying “Sally was angry.” Say “Sally stomped her foot.” Or something. You can do better than that. You take it father –bigger--- connect emotions and physical sensations. (Just don’t do “Mark had a sinking feeling.” – cliché. Find another.) Then next time you feel any strong emotion, ask yourself “what is my body doing right now?” Note the posture and internal sensations – then write it down.
Aaaaaand…….drum roll please……Number One:
1.) ATTA GIRL! (or BOY!) GET IN THERE! At CC there was this one, super-encouraging, super-funny clown. Any time we were working on something – be it a pratfall, or pies in the face, or gymnastics, this guy would yell to whoever was on deck: “ATTA GIRL!” or “ATTA BOY!” then he’d yell even louder: “GET IN THERE!” If you were feeling psyched out about the slide table or eight-foot pole stilts, that “ATTA GIRL, GET IN THERE!” Would galvanize you past your fears and into the thing itself.
APPLICATION: Writing is lonely. All writers need a cheering section. The next time you are psyched out, feeling discouraged, rejected, talentless, or whatever --- call up that voice: ATTA GIRL! (ATTA BOY!) GET IN THERE!
Hey, this has been almost as much fun as throwing pies! Feel free to cruise over to my blog- where I cover five MORE writing lessons learned from CLOWNS. (Yeah. I have more. That’s one of the lessons…..you’ll see if you come over….)
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