How to Write Farce
The essence of a good farce is the slow buildup to absurdity. In the beginning, everything is more or less normal: a normal family, or a normal group of friends, facing ordinary situations that the audience can relate to. At each step of the plot, things get just a little more ridiculous, so that by the end the whole thing is utterly absurd. If you want to write a good farce, the first step is to map out this gradual buildup of craziness.
This is why mistaken identity works so well in a farce. If two characters are easily confused for one another (e.g. because they’re identical twins who dress alike), then it’s perfectly reasonable for people to mix them up. But over time, those little mistakes can add up – and in the end, you’ll have a huge mess of confusion, with no character able to figure out what’s going on!
When writing a farce on the basis of mistaken identity, however, it’s important to make things believable. Modern audiences are pretty skeptical about such things, and will be inclined to believe that the characters ought to be able to catch their own mistakes. Thus, for example, you can’t just say that two characters are identical twins and leave it at that – you have to go further and specify that they dress similarly, have similar mannerisms, etc., and then explain why they would do things in such a needlessly confusing way!
Finally, there’s one trick that TV writers love for writing farce: tell the whole story from one person’s perspective, then “rewind” and tell it again from someone else’s perspective. This gap in perceptions can be a great source of laughs, and is also a good way to make social commentary along with your comedy, because it shows how a single situation can be viewed differently by people in different groups.
When to Use Farce
Farce is actually pretty difficult to pull off in writing alone, which is why it’s far more common in visual media like film, TV, and theater. This is for two reasons: first, a farce is confusing! All the mistaken identities, deceptions, etc., are hard for a reader to follow. If you give them visual cues, it’s much easier to dispel that confusion and keep the audience on track, even as the plot gradually goes crazy. Of course, that’s hard to do in a non-visual medium like writing.
Second, farce is often based on “sight gags,” or visual jokes. For example, here’s a sentence with a slapstick joke in the middle:
Reginald was walking along in his usual dignified manner, when he slipped on a banana peel and fell face-down into some wet concrete.
Did you laugh? Probably not. But if you saw that same thing happen in a cartoon, you might find it pretty funny. Slapstick humor just doesn’t translate very well in writing, which means it’s hard to make a good farce without a visual element.