Not pictured: Don Knotts as Mr. Furley…while we’re on the subject of comedy geniuses.
What do all those wonderful comedies of Shakespeare have in common with late 70s/early 80s TV sitcom Three’s Company? I mean, besides the fact that they’re both awesome? (Don’t get me started on what a comedy genius John Ritter was.)
Both thrived on confusion.
And I make this point because for writers in this present age, it’s almost impossible to build a story around confusion. At least, that’s been my experience.
Confusion can make for great fun. Like when you don’t know that the dude you just met in the woods is actually your girlfriend in disguise. Or when you overhear Chrissy and Jack in the kitchen and assume that Chrissy is talking to Jack when she says, “I want to kiss every inch of you,” only to burst in and find that she’s cooing these words to a little puppy.
It used to be that writers could rely on a character’s being in the dark about something in order to move the plot forward. Nowadays, not so much. Where is So-n-So? Why didn’t he show up? Let’s text him and find out. Who is this stranger I met at the cafe? IDK; let’s do a Google search or stalk him on Facebook until we know everything about him. My mom is going to kill me for blowing curfew, but I can’t get to a phone to tell her the car broke down. Oh, wait, we all have cells in our pockets. (Thank goodness there are dead zones when a writer needs them.)
It’s hard to convince readers that characters in this present age don’t immediately know everything because we have the means to immediately know almost everything. We have zero patience for not knowing every bit of minutiae the second we want to know it. Find yourself having a sudden flashback to a 1970s Saturday morning PSA cautioning children about the excessive use of condiments? No worries…you can locate it on YouTube in a matter of seconds.
In a sense, this is the age of omniscience. We know everything. Most of it isn’t worth knowing, but we can still know it in an instant. Certainly this doesn’t make us wise (Whew! We can still fall back on our characters making bad decisions!), but it makes us know-it-alls. And so it can be challenging as a writer to get your characters into interesting predicaments.
We have to search for new ways to create dramatic situations in spite of this. It requires some ingenuity. Case in point, Lindsey Leavitt‘s Going Vintage, in which she uses modern technology to create the story problem and then removes it from the equation to see what happens. What a fun premise! Shakespeare and John Ritter would both, I’m sure, approve.