Aug 02 2008

Writing Tip of the Day: Don’t Mismarket Your Work as a Parody

When you try to sell your work to a publisher or readers, please do not use the word “parody” interchangeably with “comedy.” A parody imitates the style or plays on the conventions of an author/genre /work to make fun of it.  Most comedies are not parodies. There are two common reasons that authors may misuse the word parody…

1) The author feels uncomfortable about plagiarism charges. If your work closely resembles better-known stories, it may tempt you to claim that yours is a parody. For example, if a few of your characters are essentially Superman and Wolverine, claiming that your work is a superhero parody may encourage readers (and lawyers!) to forgive you for drawing on those characters. However, to actually parody something you have to provide some commentary or spin on the source material. What are you attempting to suggest to us about Wolverine, Superman or superheroes in general?

For example, Superhero Nation is not very parodical, but we do try to lampoon the way in which superhero stories generally portray police forces as overwhelmingly incompetent. For example, Mary Jane gets kidnapped about twice a year and no one seems to notice. We try to subvert that by having characters mention “that’s the fourth time this month!” and not draw the obvious inference that someone is obviously after the damsel in distress for some reason. Our mostly fictional police agency actually puts the pieces together and keeps a file on every repeat-kidnap victim, because they’re obviously close friends of superheroes in disguise. (There really isn’t any other reason someone would randomly get kidnapped repeatedly. I doubt anyone in the United States has been).

2) The author isn’t quite sure what a parody is. Our contributors can certainly relate to that! Is your book really a parody, or is it in fact some other kind of comedy? If the comedy of your book comes from generally absurd situations, it’s probably more correct to call it a farce than a parody. Alternately, it may be more precise to say it’s a dark comedy, slapstick or satire (like a parody but usually higher-brow). Using the correct word will help ensure that publishers and readers won’t feel jilted.

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