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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Grist for the Mill » Reversals

   
Author Topic: Reversals
Natej11
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I've been recently reading a book on the art of writing comedy, and one of the biggest things is taking your topic in one direction, and at the last second (ie punch line) reversing it to surprise the audience. Most genuine laughter comes from some sort of surprise.

So I figured I'd try a few myself:

One thing I can say about my wife, she's always here for me. Whenever I make a stupid mistake she's always ready to take me back. She knows me so well I can always count on her help when I'm filling out paperwork. And when things get rough I can count on her to be there to give me a pack of cigarettes.

Yup, she's good police.

...

Girls are always happy when a boy calls them cute, and boys are always happy when a cute girl calls them.


Anyhow those are a few I thought up this morning. Anyone else think up any good jokes recently?


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snapper
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I would term those as axioms. Not the kind of thing that gets one to laugh, more like smirk.

Writing and selling humor is difficult. It can be so subjective that readers opinions will swing from one end of the spectrum to the other. I have written six to seven thousand word pieces that were written to make the reader laugh first. On teh critique sight critters the opinions will range from 'funniest thing I ever read!' to 'I don't get it'.

Editors will have the same opinion. I wrote a Sci-fi humor that I think is one of my best. It has yet to find a home but it will almost always will get comments from them. Here are a few...

quote:
Intergalactic Nuisance is a good story. I just didn't find it to be humorous.

This is hard one. It is a well written story, engaging and interesting but those aliens are the most annoying things I've ever come across and I hate them.

This is a fun story, although marred at times by difficulties with the prose. Where it falls down (opinion) is that the fun seems to be merely for fun's sake, rather than to explore a more serious issue.

This piece contains some nice touches of humor and some striking visuals. That being said, we were never quite sold on the overall premise, I'm afraid.


A few observations on what I have learned

Horror is the easiest. It makes a good companion with humor. Horror readers are the most willing to except the ridiculous.

Fantasy readers will get hung up on a characters motivations. They are willing to buy into things like flying-fire breathing dragons but if the dragon likes to play with his food or make a clever quip than suddenly the reader has trouble with the premise.

Sci-fi readers are the toughest. They almost get insulted when you try to make them laugh, as if your not taking the genre seriously.

A few techniques...

Puns get smiles but beware on overdoing them. A lot of people complain that the laughs are 'too easy' but too few are able to master it.

Slap stick gets scoffed and praised. Visually doing this well takes practice and a lot of set up.

Clever dialog coupled with visual descriptions is most appreciated, its the easiest to fall flat as well. This is the one technique that you may think is great but others will not.

Sarcastic characters are funny but unlikeable. Unlikeable overrules all else in an editors opinion. Making a character funny yet likeable is the hardest thing to accomplish.

They say humor makes a story easier to sell but it is a balancing act. Over do it and you will be more likely to ellicit groans. Master it and...well I do not know what. Harry Harrison jumped started his career by writing one of the funniest openings that I ever read. It can take several hundred words to set up one joke. Fail there and your story can be in trouble.

Writing a joke off the top of ones head can be difficult but I'll try anyway.

(apologies to all the tatoo artists I know in Maine)

What do you hear when you read an unreadable plot out loud?

Inarticulate Babble

[This message has been edited by snapper (edited July 06, 2009).]

[This message has been edited by snapper (edited July 06, 2009).]


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DWD
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Recently, on the same day that Bea Arthur passed away, the Pontiac was discontinued. I tell you, I'm going to miss that sporty, masculine look and that low, powerful, rumble.

The cars were OK too, I guess.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Sarcastic characters are funny but unlikeable. Unlikeable overrules all else in an editors opinion. Making a character funny yet likeable is the hardest thing to accomplish.

I submit that one thing that can make a sarcastic character likeable is when that character is sarcastic in the face of death (or even just serious danger). Being able to laugh, or at least wise off, when scared or threatened can be very attractive in a character. I think that's one of the appeals of the characters Joss Whedon created in BUFFY and ANGEL.


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Natej11
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I have to mention Tyrion Lannister from George R. R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series. As an unattractive midget he's constantly poking fun at himself and making light of everything, almost to the point of behaving like a jester or fool.

But in spite of that he's one of the most likable, deep, and powerful characters I've ever found. He's also quite often funny.

I suppose witty is a bit different from sarcastic, so it doesn't really apply.


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shimiqua
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Tyrion Lannister is pretty awesome, but I think it is all because he is a dwarf. Martin had to make him short to almost the point of handicap in order for people to like him. He is the one you expect to be mocked, so that when he sets people down a notch it makes him remarkable.

He isn't a bully, he is just one of the nerds who stands up against the schoolyard, and makes a new group just for himself. That's why we like him, and why you need to be careful when writing sarcasam. First, because not all humor transfers to the written page, and second, it makes bullies out of people, and no one likes a bully. Least of all us nerds.

As for reversals. When writing a reversal, to me the lead in is the most important thing. The Bea Arthur thing to me wasn't a reversal. A reversal is having Indiana Jones evade arrows, be adored by his students, find treasure and win the girl without breaking a sweat, and is afraid of a garden snake.

That's why you laugh. These axioms make you grin, roll your eyes if you see it coming, and personally remind me too much of a bad Vegas comic. A real reversal is unexpected and makes you love the characters.

Here is my favorite Joke...(drumroll)...

What do you call a dehydrated frenchman?

Pierre.

[This message has been edited by shimiqua (edited July 10, 2009).]


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Unwritten
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I just spent a lovely half hour looking up "Jace" quotes. The Mortal Instruments had some of the funniest quotes I've read in a long time.

I'm not funny at all, so here is one of hers:

quote:

..."Somehow I thought it would be bigger"
Clary looked at the Cup in her hand. It was the size, perhaps, of an ordinary wineglass, only much heavier..."It's a perfectly nice size," she said indignantly.
"Oh it's big enouugh," Jace said patronizingly, "but somehow I was expecting something...you know." He gestured to indicate something roughly the size of a house cat.
"It's the Mortal Cup, Jace, not the Mortal Toilet Bowl," said Isabelle. "Are we done now? Can we go?"

[This message has been edited by Unwritten because whoever originally typed it on the website I was looking at didn't actually speak English (edited July 10, 2009).]

[This message has been edited by Unwritten because I just keep finding typos(edited July 10, 2009).]

[This message has been edited by Unwritten (edited July 10, 2009).]


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snapper
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Well since we are quoting literary works that we find humorous, here is the opening to Harry Harrison's A Stainless Steel Rat published in Astounding in 1957. The voice is very sarcastic. Tell me if you think it is likeable.

quote:
When the office door opened suddenly I knew the game was up. It had been a money-maker - but it was all over. As the cop walked in I sat back in the chair and put on a happy grin. He had the same sombre expression and heavy foot that they all have - and the same lack of humour. I almost knew to the word what he was going to say before he uttered a syllable.

'James Bolivar diGriz I arrest you on the charge-'

I was waiting for the word charge, I thought it made a nice touch that way. As he said it I pressed the button that set off the charge of black powder in the ceiling, the crossbeam buckled and the three-ton safe dropped through right on the top of the cop's head. He squashed very nicely, thank you. The cloud of plaster dust settled and all I could see of him was


The novel opening was altered a bit. Still funny, IMO.

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited July 10, 2009).]


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philocinemas
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I came up with a great reversal in the middle of the night a few days ago, and now I can't seem to recall it. It reminded me of something one of my favorite comediens might say. Since I don't remember it, I'll just give some of the shorter quotes from Steven Wright:

quote:

It doesn't matter what temperature the room is, it's always room temperature.
I'm not afraid of heights. I'm afraid of widths.
I parked in the tow-away zone, and when I got back, the entire neighborhood was gone.
I once put instant coffee in a microwave and went back in time.
I spilled spot remover on my dog...now he's gone.
I made wine out of raisins so I wouldn't have to wait for it to age.
My house is made out of balsa wood, so when I want to scare the neighborhood kids I lift it over my head and tell them to get out of my yard or I'll throw it at them.
Right now I'm having amnesia and deja-vu at the same time. I think I've forgotten this before.
I got pulled over by a cop, and he said, 'do you know the speed limit here is 55 miles per hour?'. So I said, 'oh, that's OK, I'm not going that far.'
My girlfriend asked me if I slept well. I said no, I made a couple mistakes.
I stayed up all night playing poker with tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died.
I went to the museum where they had all the heads and arms from the statues that are in all the other museums.
What's another word for Thesaurus?


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philocinemas
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Ooh! I remember it now -

Have you ever noticed that Wal-Mart discriminates against homes that don't have steering wheels?


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