Writing Parody and Satire
New York Times bestselling author Andrew Shaffer on parody, satire and the importance of humor.
Although many people use the words “satire” and “parody” interchangeably, they are technically different art forms.
Parodies are stylistic imitations, exaggerated for humorous effect—think Scary Movie, a parody of Scream, or my Fifty Shades of Grey parody, Fifty Shames of Earl Grey. Parodies may be broader as well, parodying entire genres. One of my favorite movies, Austin Powers, parodies spy movies in a broad sense.
Satire, on the other hand, uses humor to ridicule or expose stupidity or injustice. Satires are often political in nature because—let’s face it—there’s a lot of stupidity and injustice within politics to expose. Examples of satires include George Orwell’s 1984 and the Warren Beatty film Bulworth.
My new book, The Day of the Donald: Trump Trumps America, is both a parody and a satire. Its satirical content is obvious—one glance at the cover, and the reader can guess there will be some shots taken at either Trump or his opponents. At the same time, I’ve parodied the thriller genre, exaggerating genre conventions for humorous effect.
There are some pitfalls to watch for when writing parody and satire. If parody isn’t exaggerated enough, it comes off as a clumsy copycat of the source material. When I’m writing a parody, I push things as far as I can…and then push them even further. The more ridiculous the better.
When writing satire, you run the risk of being too heavy-handed. Don’t ever forget that satire is, first and foremost, supposed to be humorous. If it’s not funny, that “message” you’re trying to convey won’t reach its audience—they’ll feel like you’re hitting them over the head with it. Make it funny, though, and they’ll gladly hit themselves over the head with it.
Andrew Shaffer is the New York Times bestselling author of The Day of the Donald: Trump Trumps America, available now at www.dayofthedonald.com.
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