General feedback from our script editors
11 points to consider – Here are some things we’d feedback to writers after reading through many submissions to Kirrin Island. We’ve tried to give an example for each one based on the Bedroom Tax story to help explain our point.
1) Killer premise: This is probably the most important thing to consider when writing a sketch. What is the angle you’ve taken on the news story? Is it an unusual and interesting one? You’ll know you’ve got this if you can explain in one sentence what the sketch is about.
For example – ‘On Kirrin Island the chancellor has introduced a bathroom tax and is trying to classify everything s/he can as a bathroom’
2) Keep focused on that idea: The temptation can be to add in lots of things that aren’t relevant to that killer premise. You want to get to the premise as soon as possible, develop the idea and then get out. Even if some lines are funny take them out if it’s not tied in to the premise.
For example – I’ve got a killer kitchen sink line I don’t want to lose. Sorry, if it doesn’t fit, take it out.
3) Confusion is not your friend: Nothing stands in the way of humour more than confusion. If the reader / audience doesn’t know what’s going on then they aren’t going to laugh. Sometimes it can be clear in your head what the sketch is about but it may not be conveyed on paper. And remember it’s a radio recording so will the listeners be clear what’s happening? Make sure everyone knows what’s happening and what your angle is. One thing that can help with that is the intro…
For example – Oh, I’ve got to p.2 and I haven’t mentioned bathrooms once but sure it’ll be clear what’s happening from the washing / shower references. Hmmm, wouldn’t it be easier to say something up front like ‘I’m here to inspect your property for the new bathroom tax’.
4) Intro: It’s much better to get a sketch with an intro than without one. And intro is a really good way of giving the audience a laugh to get things going and to set up the angle the sketch is taking. If we don’t think we need it we can take it out and that’s much easier than having to put one in. And for more obscure news stories it’s worth having one to make sure people know what the story is. An intro should roughly go – News story, joke about news story, angle for this sketch.
For example – Okay we haven’t got a good one for bathroom tax so here’s one for an immigration sketch:
Over on the mainland they have decided to close their Borders…. and Jessops and HMV and Clinton Cards. However Kirrin Island proudly welcomes people from Romanian and one of their most famous sons has just arrived. (CUE HILARIOUS SKETCH ABOUT DRACULA ARRIVING ON KI)
5) Ending: The ending of a sketch is important. At the very least you want to cue up to the listeners that the sketch is finished so they know when to laugh / clap / react in other ways. The ideal is to go out on a big laugh with a punchline or final twist but if that isn’t possible at least out a clear sign that it’s finished.
For example – I could end with ‘I’ve heard enough of this, good day!’ (hmm, it is an ending I suppose…) or the hilarious punchline ‘I’ve got a sinking feeling in my stomach – did you say sink? We’ll tax you for that too’. (a punchline is better but is that really the best you can do?)
6) Keep it tight: You want to trim every ounce of fat out of the sketch. Does that person need to say that line? What words could be taken out of the dialogue without losing the meaning? Are there any ‘joke holes’ i.e. long periods without anything funny being said? If so you’ll need a joke in there to keep people laughing. It’s easy for the first draft to be overly long and waffly but for the final version you want it pared to the bone so there’s just the funny left.
For example: – Before:
A: I’ve come to inspect your house
B: Really why’s that?
A: It’s a new tax that we’re introducing here on Kirrin Island so we need to count up your bathrooms
A: I’ve come to inspect your house for the new bathroom tax.
7) Sketch setting and action: Have you thought about where you’re going to set your sketch? Most of the sketches we get are two people talking and while there will be some in the show we can’t have too many. So it’s much better if the sketch is set somewhere interesting and has some action in it. Make the people be doing something rather than talking about it. Introduce some unusual voices. We’ve got some great actors who like playing different characters so give them some direction in your script. Add some F/X to make it more interesting. In general a sketch set somewhere is more engaging than a report, interview or aide talking to Supreme Leader Smith.
For example – For the bathroom tax let’s not just have the home owner and inspector talking. Let’s have some F/X for different things – leaking roof, shower, perhaps even something falling in the toilet. Does it have to be in a house? Would it be funnier if it was set somewhere else? And why have just two people talking? Could we have owner’s partner there too? So what’s his/her relationship to the sketch? That’ll give another dynamic to play with and perhaps the third character could have a running joke in the sketch to keep things moving.
8) Two people talking: If you can avoid it do but what if it’s the best setting for your sketch? Well then make sure both are fully developed characters with funny lines. It can be too easy to have one ‘ridiculous’ character and the other one just saying ‘Really?’ or ‘Don’t do that’. It’s much funnier if both characters have a point of view (it may work better if the POV is different for both characters) and both have funny lines. And actors really love interesting characters they can get their teeth into – someone with a distinct voice, unusual mannerisms or something else then can play with.
For example – In the bathroom tax sketch it can be too easy for the inspector to be the ridiculous one and the owner just responding. How about the owner is trying to come up with elaborate excuses to explain everything away? Or give the owner an angle on the bedroom tax story e.g. s/he’s a soldier or s/he’s disabled. How would that change the inspector’s assessment?
9) Stick to just one news story: It’s better to keep your sketch focused on one news story. Yes sometimes it’s funny to bring in a gag from another story but in general we’d say stay clear of that. If you’ve got several news stories covered in your sketch it means you’re competing with many more sketches to get chosen. And if there is 3 big news stories covered in one sketch and that sketch falls flat in the recording we’ve blown our coverage on several stories not just one.
10) Follow the brief: It may seem obvious but it’s always worth repeating! We still get sent scripts in formats we can’t edit, using the wrong template and with someone called ‘Justin’ in. We appreciate people who make an effort to Kirrin-ise (yes that is a verb) their sketch so set the sketch on Kirrin Island, add in some KI characters if you can, use the right template and send it to us in .doc / .docx format. You want us to be in a positive frame of mind when we open it!
11) The unknown: And after all that there’s still things that can go wrong that are beyond your control. Someone else might write an even funnier sketch on the same subject, a technical failure happens in the middle of your sketch or, ridiculous as it sounds, the audience might not find the sketch as you and the script editors did. Sadly there are no guarantees in this game and you can fail for many reasons that aren’t your fault. So in this case just take it on the chin and move on.
And finally we do try and give as many chances as possible to make it into the final podcast. We asked for more re-writes than we could use and on the Sunday we way over-record for a 30 minute show. We record about 25 sketches and only about 15 will make the final podcast. Our aim is to maximise everyone’s chances of making it and we hope you see it that way!