Writing Sketches and Dramas

June 12th, 2012

How many of you have ever been in a skit? How many of you have ever seen one? What did you like about participating in one? What was enjoyable about watching one?

Sketches are short dramas (e.g. 3-15 minutes). If they are comedic they are also called skits. Many successful skits are built on common situations. You can turn a situation into comedy by asking ‘what if’ questions. For example the famous Dead Parrot sketch by Monty Python is built on the relatively common situation of returning a defective product to the retailer for a refund. The ‘what if’ questions that might have been asked include: What if the shop owner refuses to acknowledge the problem even though it is obvious? and What if the product is an animal rather than an electronic product? The resulting skit has a customer attempting to return a dead parrot to a pet shop and the shop owner steadfastly refusing to admit that it is dead.

The advantage of basing a skit on a common situation is that you can, in a matter of seconds establish the setting, the characters and what the characters are supposed to be doing. You can take full advantage of the audience’s prior knowledge.

The supporting characters (and sometimes the main characters) can be based on stereotypes: the rude waiter or shopkeeper, the clueless secretary, the dumb jock (athlete), the priest or minister with a speech impediment, the gossiping middle-aged woman, the dumb blonde, the nerd, the sleazy pick-up artist, the absent-minded genius, the overprotective mother, the clumsy but good natured half-wit, the tough boss, the policeman who is unable to see crimes committed in front of him, the stingy banker, the snooty socialite etc.

What other stereotypes can you think of? The advantage of using stereotypes is that the audience can have some previous knowledge of these characters, so you don’t have to establish any motives for them to act. The disadvantage of using stereotypes is that unless you can do something a little different with the plot and dialogue, the audience may become bored (as they have already seen such characters doing the same things over and over).

As Christians, the characters we choose may be less well known. So, we need to be true to the character we’re portraying, true to their stereotype (if there is any established…like Moses with his rod) and true to our theological truth.

Facts do not move us, Truth does. No one is interested in, “Hi, you’re a sinner, and you’re going to burn in Hell while I enjoy heaven.” Facts cannot be presented with out the truth of faith. As Christians, we should not just present the facts of the gospel, but our encounter with it that helped us overcome and believe…capture what made a difference.

The turning point is called the conflict – it causes us to change, which causes us to see what we didn’t see before. Conflict must always be sincere (i.e. Moses having to give up his rod). Conflict should take the audience along for the ride so that when there’s resolution, the audience is with you.

Sources of Humour

  • Audience awareness and expectations – Much humor is based on the audience being aware of something that at least one of the characters does not know. For example, the audience may be aware that a park bench has been freshly painted (but the sign ‘Fresh Paint’ has fallen off). A character wanders onto the scene unaware of this. The audience will find some amusement expecting the character to end up with paint all over (people like to see the misfortune of others). Similarly a character doing something entirely out of expectation can also be a source of humor.

  • Miscommunication, or the inability of people to understand each other, is a popular source of humor and is often used in scenes about cross-cultural interaction.

  • Exaggeration, or hyperbole, can occur in the situation itself (e.g. the students answering their phones while taking an oral exam), the response of a character (ie. a manager’s emotional breakdown) and in the language used (e.g. how many different ways can you say the same thing…dead, expired, passed away, gone on, croaked, checked out, etc.).

  • Understatement This is the opposite of hyperbole. Something terrible or exciting happens and the character barely responds.

  • Satire pokes fun at some aspect of society in order to reveal its evilness or foolishness. We should avoid religious satire when ministering because we don’t want to poke fun at what is wrong in the church, we want to bring to light what’s right with receiving Christ.

  • Double entendres and puns are word play jokes in which one phrase has two meanings. Unintentional double entendres sometimes pop up in Hong Kong company names and signs (e.g. Hung Fat Brassiere Company, Lee Kee boat company etc.)

  • Slapstick is a physical humor that often involves people falling down, getting hit or otherwise getting hurt (though the pain, if it is depicted, is short-lived). The advantage of this type of humor is that is able to easily cross language barriers.

  • Parody refers to comic imitation of existing dramas, movies and/or television shows. It generally does not work unless the audience is familiar with the original shows that are being parodied.

Serious sketches, or dramas, are much more rare than humorous skits. Serious sketches need real characters doing meaningful things rather than stereotypical characters doing silly things; you may find it difficult to establish meaningful characters in a short span of time.

We need to find the human and bring the divine into that. In writing a sketch for a mime, find the parables that speak of spiritual truths. We take certain liberties, or poetic license, to portray what we perceive. We can use mime, like Nathan told a “story” to David after his sin with Bathsheeba…to tell a story that goes “in the back door” to the people’s hearts. David repents because of the story…he judges himself because Nathan has drawn on David’s internal conflict and applied it to a story.

Narratives – story read that you enact

Scenarios – the summation of a story upon which you can build plot lines

Do you want to be literal? It is better to mime a thought than a word.

Do you want to be figurative? It enriches the story by telling the truths of the story…ex: “Angels watching over me”…they don’t just stand there, they interact with us and for us.

So, what are the elements we need to consider when blocking out a skit, drama or mime?

  1. Theme – the moral of the story, the overall concept

  2. Plot – this is most often about a conflict or struggle that the main character goes through. The conflict can be with another character or with the way things are or with something inside the character – like needs or feelings. What the character learns is the theme. The conflict should get more and more tense or exciting. The tension should reach a high point, or climax, near the end of the story and then ease off into the resolution.

  3. Sub plot – where there are changes in time, place or situation. It is divided in to three parts:
    a. beginning – intro of situation

    b. middle – the struggle (reaching toward the climax)

    c. end – overcome by it, overcome it, (the climax is between these two) and then move on

  1. Tone – is the feeling or impression you want to leave behind when it’s over…heaviness of heart for repentance; joy unspeakable for rejoicing.

  2. Setting – the time frame and location. If this is a pulpit support, consider if the presentation is introducing the sermon, illustrating a point in the midst of the sermon, or concluding/summarizing the sermon.

What else do we need to consider?

  1. Who is your audience? (the church, the youth, the unsaved or saved, secular venue)

  2. What is the subject matter?

  3. Is it comic or tragic?

  4. Will there be any special props, lighting, sound, limited space?

  5. Will there be dialogue or no words at all? A narration? A monologue or dialogue?

  6. How many people do you need?

Where do we start?

  1. Pray – ask God for the inspiration – what topic/theme/Scripture/story line to write about

  2. Submit your ideas to the overseers

  3. Pray again – ask God for the details

  4. Do the rough draft

  5. Pray again – what would God have you change/modify/delete?

  6. Submit your second draft to the overseers

  7. Revise as needed

Here are some tips when writing your own sketch…

  • You don’t always have to start at the beginning – start with what you have. If you know you want to use a certain scripture or you have an idea for a sketch but are unsure of what lesson it will teach, start there. This initial idea is called your “seed-idea” or “seed-plot”.

  • Explore and brainstorm connections with your seed ideas, the text, and the “point”. Ask yourself:

    • how does this text relate to life today?

    • Can I see this principle in action (and what does life look like when this principle is not put into practice?)

    • How is this lesson similar to something I’ve experienced?

    • Is there a parallel (or metaphor or analogy) to this idea?

    • How can I relate this message in an unusual way?

    • How could I exaggerate this concept to an extreme (toward or away from humor)?

    • Have other movies or books tackled this question? How?

    • What is the opposite of this idea?

Write down what you want the audience to do, feel, believe, think, or learn at the end of the sketch. This is the destination you are aiming for.

  • Tell a good story – it may be easiest to start with the conflict in order to create the plot around it. Once you decide how the character(s) will handle the conflict (either successfully or unsuccessfully), the beginning and the ending of the story will become more clear. Remember, every story is a bout a character who is hindered in some way from reaching a goal. Your characters need to be realistic and believable. Your audience needs to be able to identify with him/them. Conclusions must be satisfying – a happy ending or an unexpected dramatic plunge.

  • Don’t fall in love with your first draft – Pray and revise as needed.

Leave a Reply

RSS Feed

  • Digg
  • Delicious
  • Furl
  • Stumble
  • Technorati
  • Yahoo
  • Recent Posts

  • Sites I Love!

  • Archives