There was a fashion in the closing decades of the last century for books aimed at businessmen based on the great military strategists of the past. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for HR managers, that sort of thing.
Picasso I famously said, ‘Good borrow, great artists steal’. Here’s a guide to writing comedy based on maxims from Carl von Clausewitz‘s seminal post-Napoleonic military tactical discourse, On War. The internet is full of people giving #writingadvice while they should be #amwriting, so why shouldn’t a Prussian major-general get to stick his oar in. After all, he’s written as many sitcoms as Robert McKee and Syd Field combined. None.
So, does Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), who served at Borodino and Waterloo, know anything about today’s comedy industry? Check out this inspirational-meme-style quote.
So he’s clearly been involved in developing a sitcom. He also has something to say about planning your sitcom.
What about taking notes? The Prussian who never saved a cat but probably shot a few Frenchmen presents us with this excellent maxim.
Notes are a stage in the collaboration not the passing of Old Testament judgement. Engage with them. However, it’s important not to be a dick about it.
For it’s also important to remember that, like thousands of men exchanging musket fire at 50 paces, this business can be rough.
Before you can get to the notes, of course, there’s the writing to get though.
Don’t play safe.
Obviously, for ‘war’ read ‘sitcom writing’ throughout. The thinking-Junker’s William Goldman also has wise words about brevity in scripting that doubles as sage advice to the self-employed to get their finger out and stop mucking about with dead Germans.
Though his magnum opus went unfinished at his time of death and he was never asked to do a blogpost for BBC Writersroom, Carl von Clausewitz knew how important it was to write regularly and freely.
Forget Aristotle, Clausewitz is the patron saint of writing theorists. He even had time and foresight to address Dapper Laughs.
Remember though, when reading all these writing advice things (including this one), a final quote from Carl von Clausewitz:
So can I have my book deal now?