After the success of The Hidden Tools of Comedy, Kaplan follows this up with an equally insightful book, The Comic Hero’s Journey. This time, Kaplan veers away from the more general successful tools and techniques of comedy (although he does incorporate several of the familiar tools learnt such as the non-hero, winning and positive action) and instead focuses rather on story structure, the protagonist’s journey throughout the movie and how to write comic characters.
Throughout the book, Kaplan seeks to differentiate the comic hero’s journey from The Hero’s Journey (a story pattern defined by Joseph Campbell in The Hero and Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey) by highlighting the story structure that is unique to comedies. The chapters are arranged in a way that seamlessly takes us through the 7 steps of the comic hero’s journey. Where each chapter leads us through the emotions, trials and tribulations of the comic character, with each section written with a neat conclusion that introduces the next stage of development for the character.
As a precursor to the comic hero journey Kaplan discusses the comic character archetypes and their defining features, whilst using examples from famous comedies to provide an example. This helps develop a deeper understanding of each archetype and serves as a useful differentiation from each one. This is useful starting point so readers can envisage what type of character they want to write for their script, and, in doing so, design contrasts and combinations of characters as they begin to explore the multitude of possibilities that creating comic characters present.
Also, at the end of each chapter Kaplan writes a review, which is a fantastic resource of comic writers. These reviews ask questions and present writing exercises for the reader to complete. This encourages the reader to incorporate the writing tactics written about in the chapter in their own work and acts as a helpful guide of what to think about when they are creating comic characters.
In the conclusive chapter, Kaplan answers questions from aspiring screenwriters wanting to write successful comic screenplays. In this section he offers advice, settles some interesting debates and lists some of his favourite comedies that writers can learn from.
Throughout the book Kaplan weaves in some favourite previous examples from Hidden Tools as well as introducing in some new comedy screenplay inserts or photos to excite the reader and support his claims. The writing style is comfortingly familiar with the conversational, inviting and comic tone. This makes for an easy and enjoyable read that any filmmaking novice or professional can get stuck into.
The book effortlessly describes the comic patterns that are tried, tested and reoccurs in numerous comedies, which helps provide the foundational building blocks to create a fully-fledged comic hero protagonist. Thus, this book serves as a useful tool than helps the reader build a screenplay that works, or help the reader recognise why your screenplay might not be working if it isn’t following these patterns. Overall, a brilliant book that any filmmaker should keep on-hand when delving into the world of comedy.
Steve Kaplan presents his weekend Comedy Intensive Masterclass in London