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Give a comedy story a prize? You’re having a laugh!

March 25th, 2011

Competition adjudicator and frequent comps winner, Iain Pattison explains why he’s saddened by a dearth of mirth…

Iain PattisonIt’s a funny old world … or least it used to be. Time was, I’d judge a competition and know that in amongst the harrowing tales of death, depression, despair, infidelity and brutality there’d be an ample supply of comedic gems to lighten my adjudicator’s load and help me resist the urge to think all human life was futile and hang myself from the nearest bookshop sign.

I’d look forward to a clever, rye yarn with a subversive humour, guaranteed to make me chuckle and applaud the writer’s verve and sense of fun. Some tales would be wonderful concoctions of silliness, warmth and joy; others would make a serious point with the wisecracking jester’s satirical all-seeing eye. They were always a treat, and even the flawed stories that veered too far into slapstick usually had something to like in them.

Yet recently I noticed that these moments of merriment – these wonderful narratives of inspired lunacy and witty wordplay – have begun to dry up. Fewer people seem to be submitting amusing stories.

Yes, there are obvious reasons. These are terrible economic times and it’s no fun facing possible redundancy, soaring inflation, massive cutbacks and uncertainty. People don’t feel they have a lot to be happy about.

And it’s possible that comedy is simply out of fashion. These things do tend to go round in circles, and maybe it’s some other genre’s turn to be popular.

But I suggest there may be a third reason – and at the risk of being controversial – I think we judges may be to blame. I believe that we simply don’t give humorous writers the credit they deserve and by not awarding prizes to funny entries put out a strong subliminal message that humour is a waste of time – flippant, juvenile, irrelevant and not worthy of consideration.

It’s as though nanny has said in her sternest voice: “we won’t have any funny business here” or a government minister has put a gagging order on giggles.

I say this partly because when I read remarks in judge’s reports and they dismiss some of the entries as mere “anecdotes” I wonder whether they truly mean that the stories lacked a gripping, well rounded plot or whether this is a code for “it was one of those common comedy efforts.”

It’s also, that as a regular competitor myself, I’ve found it harder to gain a podium place with comedic stories – unless I very carefully pick a contest where I specifically know the judge is fond of a laugh and understands the timing, skill and precision that goes into making something rib tickling.

Am I right? Are less people writing funnies? Are adjudicators to blame? I’d love to hear your views – whether you are a judge or a regular comps entrant. Leave me a comment.

In the meantime, I’m judging this year’s Writers Bureau short story competition and I’d love to see more funny entries. I can’t guarantee you’ll win, but I can promise you’ll make me very happy!

Iain Pattison is a prolific and widely published short story writer, on both sides of the Atlantic. He’s a popular speaker and workshop leader, and is the author of the highly acclaimed book Cracking The Short Story Market and co-author, with Alison Chisholm of our Writing Competitions – How To Win study course.

This July he’s tutoring a week-long course in the sunny South of France revealing the secrets of successful short story writing. For more details visit: www.perpigneholidays.co.uk

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