Writing

iLesson: Don’t hammer the funny

Mosquitos Suck contest update. Thanks to your generosity, and helping me spread the word, we contributed hundreds of dollars to the efforts to end malaria. I have the winners of the drawing, and I’m contacting them via e-mail. I’ll post those that are cool with my putting their name on the blog (hey, not everyone is) when I’ve heard back from everyone.

Nothing but Nets continues their efforts to stop the spread of malaria and mosquito borne diseases in Africa. Click here for more information on this cause.

Ironically, mosquitos factor into the inspiration for today’s lesson. I couldn’t sleep the other night, and The Land of the Lost was on. The recent movie, I mean. (Don’t judge. It was 3 am.)

I must have been really tired or desperate for distraction, because I ended up watching the whole thing. Every time I reached for the remote, something juuuuust amusing enough to give me hope would stay my hand, until I got to the point that I figured I may as well watch to the end.

Funny bits? Grumpy the dinosaur, don’t trust anyone wearing a tunic, Matt Lauer’s deadpan self-portrayal.

Unfunny bits? Giant mosquito and other bloodsucking insects. *shudder* Not. Funny. Ever.

One of the problems with this movie (among many) was that the jokes weren’t allowed to stand by themselves. They had to be spotlit, underlined, italicized and beat to death.

This is something I notice with writers in my critique group who are good writers but haven’t learned to trust their own writing yet. They’ll write something funny or evocative, then immediately explain the joke or metaphor.

Going back to Land of the Lost. There was this bit with the T-Rex, where Will Farrell, et.al, had escaped over a ravine and the dinosaur couldn’t follow. He was turning away in resignation when “Dr. Marshall” goes, “Don’t worry about him, he has a brain the size of a walnut.” There’s a nice, full-stop beat of reaction from Grumpy, and he resumes the chase.

Then later, while the humans are hiding in a cave, there’s this thump of something heavy hitting the ground outside the entrance. They go outside, and there is a leaf-wrapped gift on the figurative doorstep. A walnut the size of a kitchen table. Cut to Grumpy, watching. Waiting to exact his revenge.

I laughed out loud, not just at the walnut, but the image behind it, of this dinosaur planning and executing this message/threat, grumbling to himself, “Walnut my scaled ass. There’s a day of reckoning coming, you human butthead.”

Then the actors had to open their mouths: “Wow, that’s a big walnut. Oh, we get it. You’re smart.”

They’d just show me Grumpy was smart. They didn’t have to tell me. Apparently they didn’t think *I* was smart enough to get it.

The lesson here is this:

  • Trust your writing.
  • Show it. Don’t show, then tell me what you’ve just shown.
  • Give your readers some credit, too.

It’s a balancing act, like everything else in writing. The only way to find that balance is to keep writing, and keep experimenting!