This week: SpecificsEdited by: Robert Waltz
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I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.
I went to a general store but they wouldn't let me buy anything specific.
The more specific we are, the more universal something can become. Life is in the details. If you generalize, it doesn't resonate. The specificity of it is what resonates.
People are always asking me, "Hey, Waltz... how can I be funnier?"
I'll say, "Wear a horse mask." Horse masks are never not funny.
Unfortunately, when it comes to actually writing comedy, the horse mask might actually become a liability. It doesn't make you funnier if you can't be seen wearing it, and it can make viewing what you're typing somewhat difficult.
So, I turn to the next best thing, which is: Be specific. As noted in the third quote above, people will generalize if you give them specifics, but it doesn't work in the other direction. This may seem counterintuitive, but next time you're reading something that's supposed to be funny, or watching a stand-up routine, be on the lookout for specifics.
As it would be impolite for me not to suggest specifics while generalizing about comedy, I'll provide an example.
"I was driving down the road when..."
Nothing funny about this. It might be a setup for a joke, but there's no hook there. You were driving. So what? Lots of people drive, and some of them even do it on roads. No, to grab an audience, you have to give them something. In return, they'll give you their undying love. Or at least a couple of laughs.
First of all, don't use past continuous tense. It's passive and distancing. While I don't recommend it for longer works, you could give your listeners the sense that you're actually there by making it sound like it's happening, like, right now.
"I'm driving down the road, when..."
Present tense works for jokes. I won't read entire novels in that tense, because it's exhausting, but for anecdotes it works just fine.
Still not specific enough, though. What were you driving? It's going to depend on the rest of the joke, but let's get specific about it.
"I'm driving my AMC Pacer down the road, when..."
There, you're setting your narrator up as someone who hasn't updated their car fashion sense since 1977. Or maybe:
"I'm driving my rig down the road, when..."
A trucker story is about to happen.
But we're not done yet. "Driving" is so... boring. Maybe not always, but describing it as "driving" isn't very descriptive. Use a different verb:
"I'm burning my McLaren 600LT down the road, when..."
"I'm humping my Prius down the road, when..."
By now you're tired of reading "down the road," so let's change that up a bit, too. What road?
"I'm bumping my F150 along a gravel road, when..."
But even that may not be specific enough. Like I said, people will generalize from specifics. Better to include the road designation; whether it's a well-known highway or a back road out in the country, or even a subdivision street, your reader (or listener) will be better able to visualize it.
"I'm dodging my BMW through Beltway traffic when..."
"I'm screaming past the white picket fences on Davis Street in my Tesla when..."
As for the rest of the story, well, there isn't one. But now you want to hear it, don't you?
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JoeMiller : That was a fun read. Thanks for the article. Have a great Spring.
Thanks for reading and commenting!
Elle : Some of those pranks were very amusing, but I'm very glad no one pulled any of them on me!
So that's it for me for April - see you next month! Until then,
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