Instead of moving forward with post-process theory, something that will be picked up next week, I had the pleasure and honor of being able to have a semi-formal interview with someone who has been a big supporter of what I've been writing here and what I've been doing in this blog. I wanted to get some of his insight into the kinds of topics I've been learning about from his own perspective as a professional narrator and comedy writer. For the sake of this interview, we will only be using his online username, MoonHorse.
There are sections of this piece where we talk about the stories that he's narrated, many of which fall into specific niches that have more of a following today than they used to. What we're focusing on are his experiences in narration and writing and his views on writing and writing pedagogy. I have a full-length interview that I will be dividing into different posts.
I have noticed that many of the communities of writers and editors that I am a part of don't delve into this side of writing that we're discussing as much, so I feel that there is a lot to be gained by getting a better understanding of what this can add to the discourse of writing as a discipline.
How do you want to contextualize yourself? What do you want people reading to know about you?
Online, I call myself "MoonHorse." It's difficult to contextualize myself because the technical answer is that I'm a YouTuber and kind of a vlogger, but I don't think of myself as either of those things because for the most part I just read things and react to them. So, while I'm aware that this is a professional environment, I don't think of what I do as super-professional. I guess you can just say I'm a YouTuber.
You've also written comedy.
Yes, that's actually how I got my start. I started doing all of this because I always wanted to be a writer, but I was never trained. I learned what I learned by reading other people's work. I started to pick up on specific tropes and things like that. From there, I was able to analyze these things and learn how to critique them so I could avoid [certain pitfalls]. However, I often found that what I tried my hand at was not something I was good at.
I started with what was popular, with the kind of things you would expect because I spent all those years in certain "fandoms." The more popular things there were action-oriented or romance-oriented. I can't write either one of those.
I tried my hand at comedy when I was at the point where I decided I wanted to write stories that happened in my life, but embellished for comedy. I thought that if this didn't work, I wouldn't write anymore. I would get a boring nine to five job and just work at that until whenever, but I saw a huge change when I posted it. I went from thinking I'd get all of two people to like it, which is the reaction I got from the other things I wrote to over two hundred people saying, "this is incredible!" That was my first real foray into this, so I was very impressed by the turnout. I decided I'd lean into this more and it worked out.
What would you say is, not necessarily the mark because I want to avoid speaking in absolutes, but what would you say are markers of skilled comedy writing?
A lot of comedy comes from either relatable situations or absurdity, but it has to be absurdity that works towards what happens. The reason why the kinds of stories I've read about specific people are so fascinating, the ones that can go from comedy to tragedy to all of these other places, is the fact that the subjects themselves are fascinating.
The comedy of it comes from not just how they interact, but the weird absolutes that they decide that things have to work in. Like, the kind of strange mentality about how everything should work with their exposure to women, for example. They have all these weird rules about women that are completely contradictory, but that's what makes them funny. Someone like this would say that they can't stand women, but all they ever talk about is how much they want to be with a woman. They're this perfect contradiction, and yet they aren't even aware of their own contradiction. They're just yelling at each other.
Outsiders can find comedy in that because it's ridiculous. The absurd tends to make people react. It's what makes comedy work.
As a follow-up to this, what are some pitfalls that a writer might encounter when telling this kind of story?
There's a rule of improv that I learned that helps with this, and it helps with comedy writing too. If something doesn't work, don't be afraid to let it go. I've had to do that several times. In my head, I might think of a story, but it doesn't work with people who don't share a similar sense of humor. So, if it doesn't work, pivot. Do something else. Change something. You don't have to appeal to every sensibility, but you do want to appeal to the kind of sensibility that you enjoy.
A good example of this is that Kevin Smith's writing does not appeal to most people when it comes to comedy because it's a lot more abrasive, it's filled with a lot of fear and swearing that a lot of people might not be used to. It does appeal to the audience that he's generated.
I do know that a lot of the ways I do things are not the way that most people would do it, but it does appeal to my own audience. It works in that way. So, a lot of it is knowing who you're talking to and not being afraid to change things if it's not working the way you need it to.
You read a great deal of not just these relatable stories that we've been talking about so far, but you also read very personal accounts, even people's fiction. How does the quality of the content you read affect what you look for in other works or affect what you might deem as "writing that works"?
A good number of people copy other people, specific strategies, especially when it comes to amateur writing on the internet. I read this somewhere, editing is not just making sure that your prose works, your spelling is correct, and your grammar is proper. It's also about the physical appearance of what you write.
A wall of text is completely overwhelming and most people won't read it. You need to be able to break it up and, even if it is following the basics of what you're writing about, don't be afraid to space things out. Give it a little room to breathe. The aesthetics of what's being written are also very important.
When it comes to the kinds of things I read, what determines what gets made into a video or how something gets read is if it's something that I can make legible. Sometimes, I've noticed, I get stories where I can't follow the thread. Even as I'm reading it, I don't know where it's going. It's not that I need to be able to predict the end, it's just that it's difficult to keep up with what's going on. There's so much out there that's written in a clumsy fashion that it's overwhelming.
I can usually, if a word is misspelled or if a phrase doesn't work in a spoken manner, I can usually work around that and make it work. I sometimes improvise something else to put in it's place to give it a more cohesive flow. How something is written and something is spoken can be two different things. That's usually not a problem, but it's when something is written in a rush, it's not cohesive, and it's incredibly short that it becomes something that I wouldn't make videos on. If there's no substance, there's nothing to talk about.
That's the most difficult part because a lot of the stories that are people's favorites are based on substance and cohesiveness, whether the story has a good flow, has a good narrative, and actually means something. It's not just how it's written, but how you present it. Presentation is very important.
I want to move on to the education system and writing. Knowing that every one of your listeners has had wildly different experiences of an education system, do you feel that the systems that are currently in place are helping or hindering the process by which people are finding their own [writer's] voice?
This is a kind of roundabout answer. There's a subreddit that re-opened awhile back where I put a lot of the stories that I wrote. They've all been archived. They can't be altered. One of the comments on, I believe it was the first story I ever posted, was someone specifically asking if I had gone to a certain college or university for writing. I haven't. I have no formal training in writing.
This is all stuff I've picked up by reading and trying to express myself in the best way that I possibly can. I have, however, been exposed to a kind of standard learning environment and can see how it's hindering some people. A lot is hammered into you about what is "supposed" to be done, but not about what it is that you're trying to say. A lot of academic resources are set up to measure whether you're doing things in the "proper way" rather than measuring the merit of your work.
It's kind of like saying, "You didn't put the screws in the proper place," but they're ignoring the fact that you built an entire house and it's still standing. It's just because they're not on the exact dots that they're getting mad about it.
Creativity, expression, and art in and of itself is a sloppy, messy, kind of "out there" experience because it's a human experience. Everything about the human experience is mess and that's fine. That's because we're not machines. So, it's expected that some things are going to be off-center or weird or a little strange, and that's totally understandable.
It's not entirely off-subject, but if we're talking about how academic resources work, there are several incredibly famous authors who have published and widely-purchased works who have interesting views on science and women's anatomy that I don't think are actually true. There's an entire subreddit dedicated to this, so if you ever start to think that someone's work is too far above yours and you're not capable of doing these things, I'd like to remind you that there are people who do that.
Thank you again to everyone who has given me feedback on my posts thus far and have supported Purposeful Prose thus far. Next week, I will be continuing in my discussion of post-process theory and, the week after, I will be giving you the second half of this interview.
A big thank you to MoonHorse for providing his insight and experience. It was a pleasure as always and I can't wait to share the second half of this conversation. If any of you have questions or thoughts, feel free to comment and engage with this post in some form. To do so, you can become a member of Purposeful Prose. With membership you can "like," comment, and participate in the Purposeful Prose forum.
As always, if there's ever a topic that you'd like for me to research, please feel free to share that with me. You don't need a source ahead of time, but if you do have one, that helps too!
I look forward to hearing your thoughts!