MINDY KALING: RULES FOR WRITING
With commentary by Paulette
Mindy Kaling is featured in the latest issue of Entertainment Magazine. She acts, she produces, she writes, she tweets and blogs. She is clearly multi-talented. She is currently a force in the Fox comedy The Mindy Project. She was previously an Emmy nominated writer and a cast member with The Office. She is also the author of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? which came out last year.
I think her rules for writing apply to every genre, not just comedy. I believe all writers should take her rules seriously. Too many writers ignore these tenets of good writing. Those that do may look very successful, but they damage all readers and writers in the long run. So I’ll share Mindy’s rules for writers who didn’t see Entertainment Magazine this week and I’ll add my two cents.
#1 Characters are helpful and kind.
This indicates that a writer has respect for their characters and for humans in general. Characters make mistakes, they have flaws, they behave badly, yes. But I’d rather read about a character who values kindness, or laugh at one who has a good heart. Meanness gets old very quickly.
#2 No one is a moron.
Are you really interested in someone who is completely lacking in the ability to use the talents he or she was given? I’m not, nor do I wish to spend time with those who are present in a piece of writing only because they cannot think. That is not to say that mentally challenged human beings cannot be interesting characters. There are some great stories, real and imagined, about those of us with different abilities, or different disabilities. We all have our challenges of one kind and another. But stupidity for its own sake? NO.
#3 Characters are polite. Again, this shows the writer has respect for his or her creation. A stream of disrespect spewing from anyone’s mouth is likely to cause the listener to look away, and the reader to put down the text. Sometimes a struggle with politeness (it doesn’t necessarily come naturally) is the drama or the comedy of a situation. But the character is trying to figure things out, trying to be a better person.
#4 Do not fear nuance. Comedy from avoiding conflict, not instigating it.
Are you comfortable when the villain in a piece is constantly setting people up against each other. I know we see this in stories. But it seems to me that it is more interesting when we know more about the background and conflict within a character. Yes, characters sometimes cause trouble. It is more interesting and more thought provoking when the reasons are somewhat clear and we are not simply watching someone be mean and more mean. I have watched the first few episodes of Orange Is The New Black. Yes, there is conflict, some characters act in a mean way. But we are finding out about them, their lives, their feelings. That is what makes the story riveting. Not how “bad” a character can be.
#5 Characters don’t have to be maxed out to be funny.
I’d love to talk to Mindy Kaling about this one. Sometimes, a writer needs to take a character, a situation, even a setting, further than might be expected. Just how far? That is the trick. I’ve heard the Pulitzer Prize winning writer Elizabeth Strout talk about this. Now Mindy Kaling refers to it. Just how far to take the character’s personality and actions, the plot, the words. That is a question not easily answered.
At any rate, Mindy Kaling gives writers plenty to think about with her list. Your comments are welcome.