Quick Glimpse: Evolution of Humor

You may think I’ve forgotten about the article I promised about tech writing, but I’m still chugging away. I spent quite a bit of time on it today, actually. It just keeps getting bigger. I’ve decided I have to split it into two parts: what’s wrong and why for part 1, and specific ideas for how to improve your writing for part 2.

To give you an idea of how large I’m talking, the first part’s already 1600 words and still not complete, and I pulled some stuff out for the second part. The stuff I cut out comes to 650 words by itself. Perhaps I’m too ambitious. But I promise it’ll get done soon.

In the mean time, I thought I’d share a little related tidbit that you writers and aspiring writers might find useful. I’ve begun writing an article about using Scriptaculous’ drag & drop capabilities and I got the idea in my head that I’d track the progression of a single sentence to show a bit about my writing process. You can see how I may start with an ordinary textbook sentence, attempt to punch it up, try to capture the funny thing I’m thinking, and adjust the timing and whatnot to make it actually amusing.

Of course, I’m not a PhD in Funny so your actual laughter mileage may vary. YALMMV.

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Before you’re tainted by the initial bad sentence, let me show you the final:

I’ve been almost exclusively hand-coding my Javascript these past 4 or 5 months, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this experience has permanently altered my neurochemistry in some strange, pseudo-Stockholm Syndrome kind of way.

Now, the progression:

Start: I’ve been hand-coded Javascript these past 4 or 5 months, and it’s really influenced the way I think about the language.
(Oh really? Influenced how you think?? Amazing! I am rapt!)

Intermediate A: I’ve been hand-coding my Javascript almost exclusively these past 4 or 5 months, and despite Rails’ many many attractive Javascript features, I usually prefer it now.
(It’d be hard work to come up with a sentence with a less climactic ending than this one. Bravo me.)

Intermediate B: I’ve been hand-coding my Javascript almost exclusively these past 4 or 5 months and it has to some degree changed the way I think about the language, and despite Rails’ many many attractive Javascript features,
(You may think this is a copy and paste error, but it’s not. I never finished this sentence. I gave up at the comma because I could see it was going nowhere good.)

Intermediate C: I’ve been hand-coding my Javascript almost exclusively these past 4 or 5 months and it has, in some strange pseudo- Stockholm-syndrome kind of way, shaped my brain.
(Not horrible but the joke has no impact in the middle there. Humor peters out by the end.)

Intermediate D: I’ve been almost exclusively hand-coding my Javascript these past 4 or 5 months and it’s permanently altered my neurochemistry in some strange pseudo-Stockholm Syndrome kind of way.
(Almost! Needs better timing.)

Final (again): I’ve been almost exclusively hand-coding my Javascript these past 4 or 5 months, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this experience has permanently altered my neurochemistry in some strange, pseudo-Stockholm Syndrome kind of way.
(The extra linguistic padding alters the tempo of the sentence and thus the delay before the joke itself, making it more of a surprise and therefore funnier.)

So there you have it. My secret is out: You may like most of what I write and it may seem effortless, but gosh can I write some utter crap. It’s just that I usually edit it out before I publish. (Although I will admit that sometimes the funny comes out effortlessly, fully formed the first try, but sometimes I can work a sentence 10 times before I’m satisfied or I give up and cut it out.)

No Comments

  1. Stefan says:

    this is a really cute posting actually, thanks for so much openness!

  2. Brilliant! It makes me really, really look forward to the longer posts.

    I am afraid I don’t really have this ability to edit the utter crap I write to make them into such beautiful gems. I’ll just have to spend the rest of my life with the knowledge that I’ll never manage to make my posts as entertaining as yours.

    Thanks.

  3. Amy Hoy says:

    Hey guys :) Thanks for reading!

    Stefan, my goal is to prove to people that "writing ability" is not some innate talent you are born with. I want people – geeks especially – to realize that it’s like any other skill.

    Haris, you are my target audience, man! I want you to realize you CAN write better. Nobody lacks the ability to edit their work to be better. And it’s a continuum, because you can learn more and more about how to be a good writer and you will get better all the time. I’ve been writing and editing my own stuff for years, that’s the only reason it’s any good today!

  4. I wish I had the patience to evolve me sentences like this :)

  5. Dustin says:

    Even better:

    I’ve been almost exclusively hand-coding my Javascript these past 4 or 5 months, but I had to stop as suddenly as I started…

    I could blame it on any number of things. Yes, it’s true that I created a crocodile apocalypse. Yes, I also learned that scaffolding a shotgun is much quicker than hand-coding one. However, ultimately I would pin my reasoning down to Pastrami… it’s much too finicky and a bitch to debug.

    Where was I… oh yes, drugs are good for you. Do drugs.

  6. Dustin says:

    On a closing note, Pastrami was capitalized because I think of it as more of a person than a lunch meat. It means that much to me.

  7. Amy Hoy says:

    Ah, Dustin. You remind me of _why, only more understandable.

    Being totally surreal in technical writing can only be carried off by a few elite individuals. I could probably be one, but it just feels wrong to me.

  8. Dustin says:

    It’s a necessity, you see… without surrealism, everything would be much too real.

    Who wants to think about code when they can think of hungry balloon-monsters?

    Nobody!

  9. Brian Ritchie says:

    There is a strange sense of wisdom in Dustin’s comments. Strange, I say.

    Amy, I definitely appreciate any insight into the creative process, whether it’s writing, drawing or cake decoration. Feel free to share more examples like this, if you please.

  10. Dustin says:

    Argh, you need a Captcha to stop that annoying spam.

  11. Amy Hoy says:

    Dustin, totally right, unfortunately… Any recommendations? Right now I’m using Typo (RoR) but I’m willing to switch…

  12. Camilo says:

    The whole post is a meta joke, if I am right?

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