Monday, April 28, 2008

Delivering the Unexpected

By C. Lynn Beck
© 2008

Two men are at a batting cage. The one, in his forties and obviously klutzy, is trying to learn how to hit a baseball. The other is trying to teach him. After several swings and misses—one that includes falling on the ground in a heap, and another that sends the baseball bat flying out of his hands to ricochet off the wall—the batter says, “I’m quitting; I’m terrible at this and I’ll never learn to hit a ball.”

The second man, trying to be encouraging, says, “Come on, you’re doing good! You’ve done it six times in a row without hitting yourself in the kidney on the follow through.”

The audience watching the show roared with laughter—me included. Then I found myself wondering why it was so funny. Was it the slapstick nature of the guy, swinging a bat and missing? That was at least a part of it, but the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced it was the writing. The writer of that particular show consistently gave the audience an unexpected punch line.

Read it over again and see for yourself. When the second man starts to give encouraging words, you’re expecting him to tell the batter something like, “You’re getting closer.” Or, “You got a little piece of it last time.” Or, “You almost hit it twice in a row.” Instead, the writer gave the audience a line that was the last thing expected … the batter was getting better because he didn’t hit himself in the kidney with the bat.

Delivering the unexpected is what keeps the humor writer’s audience in stitches. It’s what keeps the romance writer’s audience in love, or the mystery writer’s audience in suspense.

And it’s what keeps the cookbook writer’s audience … in hot water.

C. Lynn’s other work:
Cup of Comfort for Horse Lovers, "Horse on Lap"
Life is Like Riding a Unicycle by Shirley Bahlmann, "Priming the Pump, pg. 79
Newspaper Column
Ensign Magazine, Dec 2007-Q&A
2007 League of Utah Writer's Award-Historical Fiction

What books C. Lynn recommends:
Publishing Secrets by LDS Storymakers (BJ Rowley and others)
Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by Jon Franklin
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Rennie Browne & Dave King


Unknown said...

I agree with this theory.

If you want a good laugh, check out my post about Matthew Buckley today :-)

Cindy Beck, author said...


Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I'll have to check out what you had to say about Matthew. I'm sure it'll be good!