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Cutting jokes and other painful experiences

August 31, 2011

A couple hours ago, I put a shortened version of “Excuse Me” in the mail to Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader: Flush Fiction Anthology.  I love Uncle John’s stuff and I couldn’t resist the opportunity.  (Subs must be postmarked today, by the way.)

The book will be all flash fiction.  “Excuse Me” was originally published at 1500 words, 50% beyond the flash fiction count.  And while I did have other flash stories lying around, none seemed quite right for a non-genre audience (captive though that audience might be).  “Excuse Me” seemed a good fit, particularly since there were bathroom-related functions involved in a less-than-gross utility.  So I set about trimming it to length.

It hurt.  It’s one thing to cut edgy character building or riveting backstory or eloquent description — those are all tough to do — but cutting genuinely funny jokes is like removing an appendage.  In my experience, only about one in ten of my jokes actually ends up being funny.  Occasionally I’ll string a few good laughs together and endure a long dry spell afterward to balance the universe, but one-in-ten about covers it.  So in a story with roughly twenty (alleged) jokes that are (allegedly) funny, I have to write 200 jokes.  Yes, really.  (Mostly it’s issues of rewording and timing, but there’s a distinct difference between funny and flat.)  So cutting a joke that is actually funny feels like cutting ten times as much.

So how did it end up?  Better?  Not in my opinion.  Dr. Kwack isn’t as zany and Gary doesn’t seem quite so disturbed.  And for purposes of plot continuity, I had to leave in some weaker jokes and remove some stronger ones.  I also cut the racier references to sex, diminishing Kwack’s Freud obsession.  But it’s still punchy (probably a little punchier) and still has the best bits of humor (snow cone maker, lingerie shop, Vaudevillesque stinger at the end), so I think it has a shot.  Humor is very subjective, after all.

Speaking of things that hurt, it looks like I’m missing Dragon*Con again this year.  The timing just sucks.  My wife is spending all this week working at the County Fair and I barely see her and I get to play both parental roles this week.  Exhausting.  Plus I have so much else to do and so little cash to fling around.  I wasn’t going to go down for more than a day anyway, so the loss is minimal, but it still sucks.

I haven’t been much of a writer the past few weeks.  The days have just been packed to the gills with stuff to do.  There have been small gaps that I didn’t exploit to their fullest — this one, for instance — but even those have been few and far between.  This evening represents the biggest clearing in the past two weeks and it’s being dedicated to catching up on the day job.  Must…write…soon…or…ex-…plode…


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