Today I’d like to tell you a joke, or at least the first line of a joke. I think you may have heard this one. It starts, “A dog walks into a bar. . . .” I’m going to interrupt the joke now. Sometimes I’m like that, but you should know that I would never interrupt a joke unless it was very important. It is. I want to talk about writing.
That joke’s first line could be a lot better, but I know how to fix it. What kind of a dog is it? A Dalmatian would create different humor than a French poodle. I’ll laugh harder if I can see the dog, picture its fur or spots. I also want to know how it is walking into that bar. A galloping Dalmatian would look a lot different than a striding bulldog. Would Pekinese parade? Would golden retrievers waltz? I need to know that.
I also need to know what kind of a bar it is. A disco is a lot different than a honky tonk. A dive bar and a fern bar are miles apart in clientele. If you show me all that in a few words you can tell me a whole story in a few sentences. I will be ready for that punch line. Now I’m ready to let you have a little more dialogue. Listen in with me. . . .
“I’d like to tell you a story,” she intoned.
“Please do,” he whispered.
“I shall,” she imparted.
“And I shall be grateful for it,” he opined.
Are you getting annoyed yet? I was starting to feel aggravated even writing it. If I’d been reading this I might have hurled the book across the room. I think it’s very important for writers to choose every word carefully, but the word “said,” is sacred. Use anything else in dialogue, except as an occasional seasoning, and you too shall write prose worthy of becoming a projectile. Know your limits, and don’t overdo it with the thesaurus. Some words should blend in to the sentence, and some should stand out. Practice will teach you which ones are which. I’ll tell you more another time but right now I have a German shepherd with a ripped tutu. You know how they get—I’ve got to go.
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
64. Find an old joke and modify it by being more specific, or by changing the specifics. Go tell it to someone. Did it work? Why or why not?