The 12 Step Program for Writers of Comedy Shorts, by Torry Martin

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Please welcome Torry Martin as our guest today. I sat next to him at lunch at the Florida Writer’s Conference and had no idea who he was or how talented he is. Now I know! This week and next I’ll be sharing his tips and lectures on scriptwriting for short comedies.

In addition to penning humor columns for a variety of national print and online publications including Cloud Ten Pictures, On Course Magazine, Enrichment Journal, and Clubhouse Magazine, Torry is the author of seven comedy sketchbooks published by Lillenas Drama Publishers. Martin’s unique sense of humor caught the attention of the producers of Focus on the Family’s popular children’s audio series,Adventures in Odyssey, who enlisted him to lend his writing skills to the show. Torry went one step further, creating the delightful recurring character of Wooton Bassett.
An accomplished actor, Torry Martin starred in the national touring company of Columbia Artist’s musical comedy, “Around the World in Eighty Days”. He has appeared on The Learning Channel and the Fine Living Network; won top honors as both writer and actor in the Nashville 48 Hour Film Project; and has twice been named Grand Prize Winner for both Acting and Writing by the Gospel Music Association. A storyteller at heart, Martin has graced the stages of hundreds of secular and sacred venues across the country, sharing a brand of comedy described by Peabody Award-winning writer Paul McCusker as, “Garrison Keillor with a spiritual perspective.”
Torry Martin has been a profiled in a host of national and regional print and online publications including Today’s Christian, Light and Life, At Home Tennessee and Martin is an in-demand speaker, performer and instructor at writing and filmmaking conferences across the U.S.

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12 Step Program

 For writers of comedy shorts- not alcoholics.

(Although sometimes they’re funny too.)


Drama is the most powerful form of communication. More than entertainment, drama ministry has a goal.

The secret of this impact is in good storytelling. Good storytelling is that which touches the heart and soul of humanity with the ring of truth that is relevant to all people of various background and viewpoints, Christian and otherwise alike. The key to good storytelling is conflict.

Each form of storytelling follows the same basic rules and principles, but each also has it’s own unique properties not found in the other two. Since this forum is about sketchwriting we will only be focusing on developing the principles and qualities of developing a sketch from beginning to end.

The following is a basic outline for writing sketches and plays that create emotional and intellectual impact through the personal conflicts of characters as they develop any given theme. Ten steps: get out a piece of paper!

Step One – Page Numbers

It’s sort of a joke to say “I always write the pages first,” but I suffer from chronic A.D.D./hyperactivity so I have to keep in mind the length of the pieces I am working on so I know where to stop.

Step Two – Theme

Without regard to the number of pages, a work must be focused on a single theme. Like a speech or sermon, each point should relate, either directly or indirectly, to the theme.

Writing is about making choices. Even if we already have an idea for a story or a character, the second choice we have to make after discovering what the length of the piece is to be is to decide what the subject is that we will be writing about.

Step Three – Background

Once you have determined what the story will be about, the next step is to research the theme to learn as much as possible about that subject. In drama ministry it is most important to have something of value to say in regards to the chosen theme. The ring of truth will be most powerful if we keep in mind that our audience will have varying degrees of experience and knowledge of our theme and therefore they will have differing points of view.

Step Four – Concept

A concept is an idea formed by generalization from particular examples. What we are hoping to do is to present an idea that is generally true by using a specific example which is the basis for our story.

The concept is the unique vehicle that will be used to carry the theme. This is where true creativity begins. Unlike a play, which is driven by character development, a sketch is concept driven.

Our story will center on some unusual and interesting relationship, situation, setting, characterization and or allegory, parable, simile, antithesis or other literary device.

Choose a concept that will best communicate and carry your theme.

Step Five – Ending

Every story is designed to move an audience from a beginning through a middle to an end using a formula of conflict and resolution.

The concept gives us a general starting point.

During the background and concept stages of the writing process we will have already begun to develop ideas for characters and a sequence of events, but before adding any more details to our story, we must be very clear about what conclusion we wish to reach for our audience.

It’s important to remember that the impact of the story will be in the ending.

It’s often a great idea to actually write an ending that is moving, touching, hysterical, frightening, or powerful; whatever degrees of emotion we want to leave the audience with at the end of the sketch.

In order to write the ending first, we must already have some idea of who our central character is going to be. Following very closely behind the ending step of the writing process is character development, which brings us to step six.

Step Six – Character Development

Just as every story has one central theme, it will have only one central character.

Through the story this main figure will experience a change of character in some degree as they are moved from a point of ignorance to a point of revelation by the conflict of the story.

Additional characters are added to facilitate the conflict.

Characters in a sketch must be clear and direct.

The limited number of pages only allows for a single basic need or objective to be expressed by each character.

Character development should be tightly focused on elements that will make these objectives believable, interesting and closely related to the theme.

Step Seven – Plot Outline

This is where we begin to make choices about what should happen in our story.

A clear and simplified focus on our theme, what ending we are moving toward and the basic objectives of our well-developed characters will help us along.

The first thing that happens should introduce our concept, establish the central character and grab the attention and interest of our audience.

The events that follow will present obstacles to the central characters basic objective, creating the conflict.

This is called the “rising action.”

The external, internal and underlying conflict will continue to build until reaching a turning point.

The turning point of a story, called the “climax,” will occur somewhere within the very middle ten pages of a play, screenplay, or novel. In a sketch, however, most of our pages are dedicated to developing the conflict, and so the climax of the story will almost always take place on the last page just before our predetermined ending, and extremely brief “falling action.”

The last thing that happens should offer some resolution to the conflict and leave the audience with something to think about.

Step Eight- Revelator

A sketch will always have an identifiable point of revelation.

Either an action by a character, a specific line spoken in the story or a combination of the two will make a direct statement of the theme.

While thinking through our plot outline, we should carefully consider when and how this statement will be made.

Step Nine – Words

Finally, we are ready to write the words. All the work we have already done gives us a tremendous foundation for our script, yet writing dialogue is never an easy task.

Dialogue and interaction between our characters must be natural and believable.

Relationships should be captivating and the conflict, intriguing.

Make sure your characters are set in their own identities.

Step Ten – Show and Tell Time

Secondly, don’t try to say too much with words. Remember to SHOW your story through the characters actions and not TELL it through the characters words. You are painting a picture of an American portrait not providing sub titles for a French foreign film.

PICTURE says a thousand words, and a sketch is made up of dozens of PICTURES.

Thirdly, be natural. Listen to conversations by real people. Your script should reflect the way people really talk.

Step Eleven – Edit, Edit, Edit

Double check and read through to make sure you’ve avoided using extraneous information.

Remember that every point made in dialogue should relate to the theme.

Step Twelve- Title and Copyright

We may have a working title to start out with, but we really need to have a completed and reviewed manuscript before we can properly title it.

The title will rarely be revealed to an audience, but it becomes important if you are seeking publication. The title should pique the interest of someone choosing a sketch from a list. It should cleverly reflect the sketch’s content and it should be short- three words or less.

Do you think you have what it takes to write a comedy? Who would your lead character be?



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  1. Vie says:

    Michelle–I am so glad you met Torry. He is one of God’s special blessings to everyone who knows him. And, Torry–I loved reading your blog. Praying for you on T days, and whenever I see a post for special prayer. You are tops. Hey, I’m heading to Alaska this summer! RVing for 59 days. Maybe I’ll see the Alaskan T. Martin Monument.

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