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Home » Archives » February 2008 » Holding Down Your Chowder
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02/02/2008: Holding Down Your Chowder

In looking over my last post, I think I should point out that the examples I cited aren't only used to delay the arrival of a pun. They're also generally part of a joke in themselves, in which a character, searching for a polite way to say something, comes up with the most impolite way possible. It usually looks like this:

He was -- how can I put this delicately? -- a rat-bastard.

Again, I object on the grounds that the joke is painfully familiar and hopelessly telegraphed. Once you hit the word "delicately," you know what the joke is. The only possible pay-off that'll surprise the reader/audience is the particular choice of epithet that's coming along next. And they're still going to wince at the utter clamminess of the set-up.

That doesn't mean that you can't mine this joke area. The idea of someone trying to find an inoffensive word and failing has some humor potential. Just put in the extra effort and see if you can find another way to get there. For example, maybe you could have your character, realizing they're in mixed company, suppress the word they're looking for, then scream "rat-bastard!" half-way through the next page in the middle of someone else's heartfelt line. Same joke area, much bigger pay-off.

There's a good general lesson there, of course. Don't throw the chowder out with the clams. Often the general idea of a joke is good, even if the execution of one particular take on that idea has gone bad.

Lunch: cheese and crackers with real-sugar Coke, not corn-syrup Coke. It's imported from Mexico. You can find it if you know where to look.


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