Finding a story goal in a parody novel.

by Ashley
(Washington)

Question: I absolutely love humor and recently found the inspiration to write a novel-length parody on the adventure and fantasy genres. I've worked out my main character and some other general facts, but I'm stuck on the story goal. Should the goal be the same as a regular novel (e.g. defeat the villain and save the world), or is there a different kind of goal hidden amongst all the satire?


Answer: Generally, the story goal is the same whether the story is humorous or serious. The difference lies in the mode of expression, the way the story is told.

Dramatica theory states that there are four throughlines in a complete story - one for each of the Overall story, Main Character, Impact Character, and their Relationship – and that each of these must be placed in a separate domain.

The four possible domains are:

Activity
Situation
Manipulation/Psychological change
Fixed Attitude

In a comedy, one or more of these throughlines will be told in a funny way.

In the Fixed Attitude domain, humour is derived from absurd attitudes, obsessions, prejudices, opinions, etc. (For example, much of the humour in Monty Python's Life of Brian derives from the absurd attitudes people hold concerning religion, politics, commerce, etc.)

Some humour is derived from funny situations. For instance, you might have a fairly straight main character who has to cope with an absurd or embarrassing situation. (Remember the scene in Life of Brian when Brian, having spent the night with the girl he loves and still being nude, opens his window to greet the dawn and finds thousands of admirers staring at him.)

Some humour is derived from funny activities. For instance, characters in the Activity domain, might perform slapstick or other physical humour, as we see Brian doing in Life of Brian.

And finally, some humour is derived from manipulations. Characters may try to trick each other or deal with various confusions or mistaken identities. (In Life of Brian, Brian keeps getting mistaken for the Messiah, a Revolutionary, etc.).

Not every throughline needs to be told in a funny way. In fact, having at least one serious throughline adds some emotional depth to a comedy. For instance, there's nothing funny about the impact character, Judith, in Life of Brian.

If your story goal is like most adventure/fantasy stories, your goal will likely be Obtaining, which is in the Activity domain. It's up to you to decide whether to make this throughline funny, or to leave it serious and create humour in the other throughlines.

An example of the latter: in the first Austin Powers film, the Overall story goal is serious - just like in James Bond films. The humor comes from the main and impact characters who hold absurd attitudes and do absurd things (Austin and Dr. Evil).

(Of course, you are also free to choose a different type of story goal.)

Finally, in a novel, keep in mind that humour can also come from the way the story is told, your prose style, rather than the story itself.

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Jun 27, 2011
Thanks for the help!
by: Ashley

Thank you for such a quick & thorough response! I have a much better idea of where I want to go with the story now. After looking at some great genre parody examples as well-The Princess Bride, for example-I see how actually following the structure of a story type can be a parody in itself. The hilarious hypocrisy of a story that mocks clichés while being filled to the brim with them is right up my alley.

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