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Home » Archives » July 2006 » the downside of clarity
[Previous entry: "The Heady Thrill of Obeying the Law"] [Next entry: "A Happy Medium"]

07/17/2006: the downside of clarity

When I decided to try to get onto the staff of a drama -- when I set my sights on Buffy -- I needed a drama spec. So I wrote a spec NYPD Blue. In it, I had Andy Sipowicz believe in the innocence of a young suspect. "If that boy's guilty," he told the lieutenant, "then he's the best actor since Charles Bronson." Later on, when Andy was alone with his partner, the partner turned to him and said "Charles Bronson?"

When I got my Buffy meeting, Joss talked with me about this spec. He loved the fact that Bronson was Andy's yardstick of acting ability. He went on: "I know why you did it," he said, "but I wish you didn't have the second reference." He was right. If I were writing a similar line today, I wouldn't have the partner call Andy on it. The line was only there to call attention to the joke like a little arrow pointing back at it. It didn't further the joke.

Watch out for this tendency to want to put arrows like this into your specs. For example, if you have a character say something like: "Half of me is touched and half is sad and the other half wants to kick her ass," then it's very tempting to have another character point out the arithmatic mistake. But the joke is almost always better, subtler, funnier, if it goes uncommented-upon. If you think it won't be clear enough, call attention to it in a stage direction, as in "Marjorie hesitates, but doesn't point out the arithmatic error."

A joke that the reader misses will slide past them painlessly, but one that is over-explained, over-talked-about, will drive them nuts.

Lunch: The "Cabbo-Cobbo" salad at Poquito Mas


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