I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch.
– Gilda Radner
When searching for an amusing line, you can sort through the different types of humor to see if anything pops; maybe a little innuendo, maybe some irony, etc. However, if not successful, you still have options.
One Answer: Angles, Bangles and Tangles
Let’s consider a crime novel scene: We’ll call our main character, Tony. He’s a no-nonsense, old school Italian—a hardboiled police detective. The villain breaks into Tony’s apartment bent on revenge. Then, life-threatening chaos! After a bit of rough and tumble, Tony cracks the bad guy’s skull with a lamp, sending him crashing to the floor.
You’ve written your scene. It’s edge-of-your-seat thrilling, and you certainly don’t want to change that. However, Tony now needs one of those fabulous (hopefully iconic) James Bond-type amusing lines, a little mild comic relief for this tense situation.
A change in perspective (angle) is often much more successful than struggling repeatedly to beat your frontal lobe into submission…and productivity.
“Last night, I gave my wife a piece of my mind.”
“I gave mine a diamond tennis bracelet. Works much better.”
You don’t need to change your character or scene. You don’t need to change anything. However, if Tony’s personality is not delivering the funny, why not try someone else? No two people have the same view of the world.
What response would come out of the mouth of:
- Your grandmother: “That was a Tiffany lamp!”
- A 1960’s hippie: “I got some ointment that might help that. It’s organic.”
- An alien: “Red blood. Who’d have guessed?”
- Your garbage man: “Dude, don’t lie there. The Dumpster’s out back.”
- Your local grocer: “Cleanup, aisle five.”
Sort as you go. Note, grandma’s line doesn’t fit a tough police detective. The hippie, grocer and garbage man’s lines are much too trite. The alien…snarky and amusing; that just might work.
Can we beat it? Probably, so keep going.
Keep changing the perspective until you find the best line. What would a hot babe say? A personal trainer? A physics professor?
But, if this fails:
Every character is decorated (bangles) with personality traits, behind the scenes actions, and quirks. Every scene is decorated with objects, weather, scenery, etc. Almost any minor detail can be altered without changing the character or scene as a whole. The devil may be in the details, but the funny may be also.
What detail can be altered when a police detective arrests a bad guy who just trashed his apartment?
You get one phone call, and it damn well better be to a maid service.
You can add an extra touch of conflict (tangles) to almost any scene. This doesn’t have to be mean or nasty, it can be entirely playful.
Perhaps, our bad guy, although stunned, tries to reach for a backup gun in an ankle holster. How would our detective handle this added conflict?
I snatched the piece, a snub .38, away from the bastard. “I’ll hold that for you. Don’t worry, you’ll get it back when hell freezes over.”
If our bad guy is dead, use external conflict:
“Damn! I promised the captain I wouldn’t kill anyone this week.”
Angles, Bangles, and Tangles
Is this mnemonic silly? Who cares?
When trying to find your funny, mildly amusing as above or a hearty belly laugh, a silly, little mnemonic may be exactly what you’re looking for.
Next Up: Modus Operandi: Ridiculous!