Log in

No account? Create an account
18 April 2012 @ 10:05 pm
How Not to Ask a Staggeringly Large Favor of a Writer on the Internet  
Once upon a time (September 2011), I received a Fanfiction.net private message that I didn't really know how to respond to. Some of you may remember that this was not exactly the most fantastic period of my life, so I eventually replied trying to sidestep the problem, although I like to think the alternative solution I offered was not entirely ungenerous.

But I kind of always wanted to say more. And I'm kind of a bitch. So today I went back and picked out all the things that really bothered me about that note. If you have any illusions that I'm a nice person, and you'd like to keep them, you should probably stop reading now. ♥

Here's the original message in green, with my rather brief reply in orange underneath:

I would still totally be down for a discussion on the matter of how to write funny stuff, if anyone around here is interested. I also stand by my assertion that humor cannot be taught or learned. Honed? Certainly. But all of the observations I've made indicate that you're either the kind of person who can pick out humor in the world around you, or you're not. Articulating it, especially in fiction, is very different from real-time, out-loud humor, but I maintain that funny is something that you are, not something that you learn.

This gets very complicated given how subjective humor is, but for me it always circles back to the question What IS humor? Why do we laugh? What the heck makes one joke hilarious and the other one lame? Why are puns funny to some people and not to others? It's easy to figure out whether a pun is sneakier or better-timed than another, and that often those things make one pun funnier than the next – but what the hell makes them funny in the first place?

BUT I DIGRESS. I'm here to tear this shit to pieces, not start the discussion that was never requested. The fact that she never responded kind of said everything, in the end.

And now, let the dream-crushing commence.

If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. The harsh reality is that if you can't put good food on the table, no one cares what kind of cook you think you are. I hold myself to that standard, and I hold everyone else to that standard, too.


Feeling: bitchybitchy
JD: Christina got specs appeallady_bracknell on April 18th, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
IDEK what to do with that message. I'd have just gone 'so I have this writing comm... Come join!'

I would totally be up for a discussion on whether humour is inate or not. I think to a certain extent, you have to decide to be funny (because to me funny is about being entertaining to others), but in order to have material, you do need to be able to see the ridiculousness of life, and that's not something you can be taught. If you have to be told 'a man accidentally running into a lamppost is amusing because of the look of shock and horror on his face when he bounces onto his arse on the pavement, and at once he triggers our wince gland and we're glad we're not him and illustrates a greater human concept about the importance of looking where you are going' it's probably not for you.
Vitamin C: Donna - XDtierfal on April 20th, 2012 04:39 pm (UTC)
In all honesty, I probably should have suggested something more positive instead of being like, "DREAM-CRUSH!!!! kbai ♥" – I was to a T that person once, and people being nice to me was basically the reason I got through that period. XD

I would definitely say that expressing humor is, like most social behaviors, a matter of practice – but yes, I'm certainly of the mind that there has to be a funny bone in you somewhere, or it doesn't matter how eloquent and clever you are; you won't be amusing.

Hahaha! Slapstick: A Reflection on Postmodern Humanity Via Profound Revelations Encapsulated in Ironic Pratfalls (Volume I)~
Rex: DN - light + you just lost the gameicequeenrex on April 18th, 2012 09:24 pm (UTC)
I lol'd hard here: So, I am asking, in a garrulous (spelling?) roundabout way...

As soon as anyone puts "(spelling?)" in any request for writing aid, or just whenever they're asking for help for anything...I just...cannot take them seriously. I cannot. XDDDD

I don't even know why that's so funny. It just is.

*hugs you hard,* you zany, hilarious, darling girl. ♥
Vitamin C: Elrics - PSST I LOVE YOUtierfal on April 20th, 2012 04:41 pm (UTC)
That… that… that is… the part where I kind of gave up. It's very difficult for me to respect people who aren't willing to check their own work; I go to a lot of effort that way. I mean, the "interesting" typo? Not a problem; everybody makes embarrassing typos, and that's a sneaky one I didn't even notice the first few times. I wouldn't even have minded so much if she'd just spelled "garrulous" in any way she saw fit and left it there, rather than drawing attention to the fact that she couldn't be arsed to make sure she was using her vocabulary properly. XD

/rant, sorry XDDDDD

*clings* :3 ♥
(Deleted comment)
Vitamin C: Master/Ten - BFFstierfal on April 20th, 2012 04:43 pm (UTC)
I lol'd.

I like to think that it's possible to be a horrible person but also to be nice to people I like. So much of niceness, to me, is just NOT SAYING HORRIBLE THINGS even if I think them? I don't know, I'm probably not helping my case at all here. :'D
roh_wynroh_wyn on April 18th, 2012 09:50 pm (UTC)
Wow. I sort of feel like I could be the one who sent that PM, except that I would never admit to needing help. I will now proceed to use an obnoxious smiley, so you know I'm being friendly and attempting humor. ;)

I admit I'm now sort of scared to comment here, in case I end up all annotated later, lol.

I would still totally be down for a discussion on the matter of how to write funny stuff, if anyone around here is interested.

I'm interested. Mostly, I'm curious about how particular social and/or cultural constraints operate on humor. Enjoyment of humor seems to be universal (a guy slipping on a banana peel is funny everywhere), but other things don't necessarily translate. For example, if English isn't your first language, is Woody Allen still funny?
I MUSTsabriel75 on April 18th, 2012 10:12 pm (UTC)
English is my first language and much of Woody Allen is NOT funny. He's a pretentious, hypocritical twit who gets way too much kudos for stating the obvious. That said, his command of this talent is remarkable, but personally I think Wes Anderson does it better.
roh_wynroh_wyn on April 18th, 2012 10:19 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm happy that English isn't the reason I don't find Woody Allen unfunny then!


I meant to say I didn't find him funny, and I should have just said that. My one brain cell is dodgy.

Edited at 2012-04-18 10:42 pm (UTC)
apple_pathwaysapple_pathways on April 19th, 2012 01:53 am (UTC)
+1 to not finding Woody Allen funny. Even that one light-hearted musical he did in the 90s that all my friends just adored, I could not stand. I'm always relieved when other people don't find him funny, because for a large group of people, he is the marker of sophisticated humor! (Really? Masturbation gags? All right then...)
Vitamin C: Elrics - Basically Ninjastierfal on April 20th, 2012 04:52 pm (UTC)
Gahhhh. XD It wasn't the subject matter that did me in with this one; it was the tone, I swear! eltea was noting that if the girl had just been like, "Hi, this is awkward, but I'm a writer who has trouble writing funny stuff, and I'd really like to. Do you have any tips? Thanks either way," I'd've been all over it. Generally I love internet strangers! Generally I put up with all kinds of craziness from them! (I believe in giving back, too, apparently. XD) But… not this one, I guess. XD

I can assure you, with 100% honesty, that that would never happen. :3 My LJ friends are sacred to me, and that's the truth. XD

There seems to be an impromptu one spread about the comments, which leads me to believe there is much to be said on this subject. :D

The whole culture/language question is FASCINATING to me. I haven't seen enough Woody Allen to be able to pass judgment (apparently everyone on my F-list hates him regardless of their native language; good to know XD'), but I've heard that, for instance, German audiences love Mr. Bean… whereas I saw the last Mr. Bean trailer and just stared at the screen with this sort of awkward rictus-grimace of despair. And I'd expect that very different cultures would foster very different senses of humor – but should I attribute my step-father's totally zany sense of humor to something ingrained in his Chinese heritage, or to the several decades he's been living in/adjusting to the States? And I, by and large, find translated Japanese humor hilarious. Fascinating! :D
I MUSTsabriel75 on April 18th, 2012 10:24 pm (UTC)
You are nice. You are nice. You are nice.

(Lalalalalalalalalalalala... I can't hear you.)

You are nice. You are nice. You are nice.

Also, much of humor, depending on what kind we are discussing can be taught I believe. As you have eloquently (watch me suck up here) pointed out, practice does indeed make one a better writer and if your humorous anecdotes fall flat, then best go about writing more of them, testing them out on a third party and even stepping away and reading someone who does it really well before writing more.

However, like everything in regards to humanity -- the truly original, natural timing, just flows, hit it out of the ballpark kind -- is an innate gift like all talent tends to be. It's why we all can claim to be uniquely us.
Vitamin C: Eleven - Man in a Boxtierfal on April 20th, 2012 04:57 pm (UTC)
I hope I come off as nice MOST of the time. When I'm not ripping up well-intentioned letters from innocent people on the internet. Um, it… doesn't… happen… often? >____>

I'm a little bit on the fence about teaching humor. I think that if I, for instance, made a list of ways that humor occurs to me, the kinds of observations I make, the types of running gags that I've had work excellently – certainly that would inspire someone. In print, at least, the spacing of paragraphs and the use of punctuation make a HUGE difference in humor, since so much of it is about timing.

an innate gift like all talent tends to be
In the end, though, yes, this is ABSOLUTELY what I think about it. There's got to be a little germ in there to start.

That said, I don't know that I've ever met someone who was entirely humorless. Plenty of people whose sense of humor I didn't agree with, yes; humorless ones, not really. So I like to think there's hope for anyone who wants to be comedic. XD
Eltea: Ed - Readingeltea on April 18th, 2012 11:27 pm (UTC)
Hi. You totally know me, so obviously it would be a total dick move to refuse this request. And I know you're not inclined to help someone when they call you a dick, usually, but hear me out, okay?

I've read some of your annotations on this post, and it's been a very long time since I've read something I deign to praise. You should feel lucky. Honestly, though, SERIOUSLY, your sense of humor is dead. Dead FUNNY, that is! Ha, ha, h… okay, this sort of neatly brings me to my problem.

I've been writing for a long time, like, seriously, and recently I've found myself face-to-face with a giant hurdle. I want so desperately to leap over it through the air so I can score a point and win my team the Masters Tournament, but I simply can't climb up it or go around it, because the referees say that's against the rules. So I just stand there staring at the hurdle while my teammates yell at me to go.

To put it plainly, I can write well, better (I assume) than most people I meet whose writing I've never read, but I assume I can write well, better than them, because… I assume so. But my writing is lacking that extra special pungency that I know making fun of stupid people will give it. Right now, it's just good all-around, but that's not ENOUGH for my extremely high standards.

So, I am asking, in an circumlocutory (spelling?), circuitous, verbose, protracted, pleonastic, loquacious, voluble way, if you would teach me…your snark. Or at least how to make fun of stupid people. Yes, this is ridiculous, but according to a hobo I talked to outside of Denny's, sarcasm is a learned… skill, if you will.

I'm sorry if this is creeping you out, or if you feel insulted that a stranger would even CONDESCEND to ask another stranger something so huge, but I would just really appreciate it if you would help me out with this, and maybe even give me some comebacks to use on people. I NEED some funny lines, and I'm incapable of making them up myself, but if I don't have them I'm going to kill the next person who talks to me and write my next story in their blood.

I read your bio and realize you live in England. I, personally, prefer it if you would fly out and tutor me at my house, but if you're willing to help me out with this, I can give you my address and you can just send me illustrated notes. Or I could, like, do the work myself.

Thank you for reading my rambling.
The Little Zombie Who Could1_rhiannon_1 on April 19th, 2012 06:19 pm (UTC)
*dies laughing* You win XD
Miz J: oh your godmissusjackson on April 19th, 2012 06:48 pm (UTC)
It hurts. The laughter, it hurts so much. XD
Vitamin C: Al - HELL TO THE YEStierfal on April 20th, 2012 04:59 pm (UTC)
You can call me a dick all you want, baby.


I need a "A hobo outside of Denny's told me" icon. XDDDDDDDDDD
alias_amyalias_amy on April 19th, 2012 12:46 am (UTC)
This would be a good discussion! We should have it on PF :D

Ok, here's my two cents re: teaching humor. I think its actually the rare person who doesn't find anything funny, but lots of people don't know how to translate that into their writing. I know people who love to tell stories that they certainly think are funny, but they kill the delivery so dead that you want to back away from the rotting corpse smell. I think those people can be helped. Then there are those writers who think they are funny, and they don't understand that their humor is thinly disguised seething hatred for everything in the world. I don't think they can be helped, honestly.

re: the appropriateness of that letter. OMFG. No.

re: your niceness. Niceness is overrated, I think you're plenty nice, to people who've actually taken the time to get to know you before asking you to shortcut the entire process of becoming a writer and make them BRILLIANT.
apple_pathwaysapple_pathways on April 19th, 2012 02:02 am (UTC)
I agree that humor can be taught--or at least learned. I definitely learned to be funny, as a coping mechanism, mostly. I think that's a common theme among humorous people--you learn to be funny as a social strategy.

I know people who love to tell stories that they certainly think are funny, but they kill the delivery

This reminds me of a game night I went to a couple years ago. One of the women there was a reporter for the Detroit Free Press, and she kept telling these loooong, drawn-out stories that I think she believed to be humorous or charming or something... One of them was about her and her WACKY FRIENDS playing Boggle in between interviews at a job fair (it was seriously WACKY--people were WATCHING them!) and another was about some ice cream party she and her roommates had that left them with a lot of leftover whipped cream--so they put it in their coffee the next morning! CRAZY!

Not only were her stories boring, but she told them in such a way that everyone had to stop their own conversations while she had the floor and listen to her draw out all the lackluster mediocrity in achingly boring detail.


Anyway, I like to think she's a person who could be helped! She was friendly and pleasant enough otherwise. :P

Edited at 2012-04-19 02:03 am (UTC)
Vitamin C: Selim - Fanboytierfal on April 20th, 2012 05:05 pm (UTC)
I just… love… everything… in this entire comment. *gazes at it adoringly*

As far as my experience can tell me, humor evolves. And humor in writing is absolutely a skill one learns by doing it (and analyzing failures and successes) until one has figured out where the gears go and how to oil them to make the machine run with maximum efficiency. To complicate things a bit more, that's an entirely different skill-art than live, spoken, real-time humor. The only way to handle them is to try until you get each one right, unfortunately, which is… pretty much what I should have told that girl. *pats self on back for belated revelation*

Eugh. Just hating everyone is never funny. :/

ajfkldsjalfjdskljfsdl have I told you today that I love you? ♥
(Deleted comment)
Vitamin C: Kurt - I love scarves.tierfal on April 20th, 2012 05:09 pm (UTC)
I would have preferred an honest, careless misspelling to this whole drawing attention to the fact that she was too lazy to look it up. I would have preferred "I have a capacious vocabulary that encompasses a plethora of words" as a reason why she was a good writer, even though that would have been a n00b move (a sin which I have also personally committed seven ways from Sunday). XD Anything other than the "LOOK AT ME" vibe I get from the whole thing, really. XD
The Little Zombie Who Could1_rhiannon_1 on April 19th, 2012 06:20 pm (UTC)

You know I love your FMA-related crack posts but this post is EPIC!
Vitamin C: Misatierfal on April 20th, 2012 05:10 pm (UTC)
lol, you are wondrous, honey; TRULY. ♥
The Little Zombie Who Could1_rhiannon_1 on April 20th, 2012 05:17 pm (UTC)
Love ya *mwah*
Miz J: hell's bellsmissusjackson on April 20th, 2012 03:56 am (UTC)
Honey, you're so freaking nice all the time, you deserve to cut loose.

And IMHO, natural humor isn't something that can be taught. It's kind of like the compulsion to write, you either have it or you don't. And you can't be tentative about it - attempting to write something funny takes a certain amount of courage, which this person clearly lacks.

Keep writing until the story is good enough for you or you're good enough for the story.

You're my hero. ♥
Vitamin C: Matsudatierfal on April 20th, 2012 05:12 pm (UTC)
…uhh, I love you. Just btw. I will probably type that into this comment box several more times before I click to submit it.

EXACTLY THIS. If she wants an example of how flat forced humor falls, I'd be happy to recommend her several recent "comedy" films, haha. XD And omg, totes – putting one's sense of humor out there to be criticized by the internet masses is very personal. I've had people tell me point-blank that something was stupid instead of funny, and I have to grant it to them; that's called "subjectivity", and that's why this crap isn't easy and everyone doesn't do it. XD

I love you I love you I love youuuuuuuu ♥