Many great writers have said it: You get no points for living; you must bring art to experience and dick jokes to art.
Depression and anxiety, rape culture and trauma: these examples of dark topics are hard to read about and harder to write about—yet there are a lot of ways to pull it off. Humor can get your same point and feelings across in a more palatable and profound way. People listen to a joke when they may ignore a sob story or think piece or rant, so in this class we’ll turn tragedy into comedy. If you can’t say something straight (if it comes off as too preachy, saccharine, confessional, or harrowing), then say it slant.
To repurpose tragedy we’ll interrogate how other writers do it and discuss the many tools to render darkness lighter: structure, speaker, analogy, headlines, verbal acrobatics, time & space, and more, a lot more.
David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary uses an unconventional structure to tell an unlove story (in dictionary definitions). In “Fragments,” an essay from Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, Aubrey Hirsch elucidates rape culture in a series of math problems. In The Answers, Catherine Lacey plays with language, syntax, and punctuation to pull off a scene of sexual assault unlike any you’ve ever read. In “How to Move to New York; or, The Human Centipede,” award-deserving writer Elissa Bassist (me) uses analogy and pop culture as a vehicle to discuss life-threatening depression.
There will be two assignments.
1. To draft a tragedy (300-1,000 words not to be shared in class; write about a break-up, an episode of depression, a history of anxiety, trauma, near-death experiences, etc.--it can be a work-in-progress, an old essay in need of new life, even a Facebook rant/Twitter thread/email that may be something more).
2. To rework the tragedy into a comedy (or at least a more entertaining tragedy) using new writing devices (500-1,000 words that we will workshop). We’ll brainstorm and pitch in class to get started. And we’ll talk submission, publication, and coping strategies that involve food.
This class is perfect for writers who work across genres (fiction, nonfiction, humor, serious) or want to learn how. Our ultimate goal will be to make readers laugh while breaking their hearts. Happy endings will not be accepted.
- Introduction to different writing approaches and how to go dark in a creative and/or silly way
- Instruction on thesis, structure, speaker, language, introspection, and comedic tools & tricks to transform one’s writing
- Lessons on how to engage readers and hone a singular voice
- Access to Catapult's list of writing opportunities and important submission deadlines, as well as a 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Write two pieces and workshop one. In addition to in-class brainstorming and pitching, there will be one mid-week writing exercise: Take a beloved paragraph from a published work and make it your own by replacing each noun/verb/adjective, etc. with your own while keeping the original punctuation and word count.
Elissa Bassist is the editor of the column “Funny Women” on The Rumpus and teaches writing nationally. Her sad essays and humor appear in The New York Times, NewYorker.com, NYMag.com, Marie Claire, Longreads, and more, including the best-seller Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, ed. by Roxane Gay. She served as managing editor of The Best American Nonrequired Reading and writers' assistant on The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, and she is probably her therapist's favorite.
"Elissa was extremely knowledgeable, supportive, and funny! I walked away with a stronger grasp of humor writing structure and technique. And thanks to Elissa’s supportive teaching style, I feel more confident as a writer and more comfortable expressing my voice. Elissa also imparted her knowledge of the creative writing process and shared her tools and techniques for generating ideas and tackling first drafts and revisions. These are practices that I’ll continue using after the class."
"I have recommended this class to SO MANY PEOPLE. Elissa is an amazing teacher. She creates such an awesome environment where everyone generally wants to improve AND she can explain to you what isn't working without hurting your ego in the slightest. If it weren't weird, I'd take this class ten more times."
“Had a lot of fun with the class, and for the first time, I feel like I can write funny things (though I've always believed I'm extremely funny, and my friends think so too). Elissa’s enthusiasm and laughter are infectious, would definitely take a class with her again.”
“This class taught me so much about humor and also probably made me a better person (for learning how to see the humor in people). Before Elissa’s class I didn't really understand the value of spending time and energy on writing genres that aren't your primary interest. In her class I learned about using humor to write about sad stuff, which I'd never attempted before."
“Love your work on The Rumpus! You really do have quite a special, strong, funny voice. I LOVE YOUR WRITING! Have I not made that clear?”
“Elissa is too good for most anybody.”