Who Can Forget A Gag

For the past few months I have been posting articles about writing, something I love to do most and talk about most, but as Hillaire Belloc writes:

“Of all fatiguing, futile, empty trades, the worst, I suppose, is writing about writing.”

I kind of agree with Hillaire in the sense that when I sit at my desk to write about writing I keep thinking that somehow I am repeating myself. As I jot down the points that I want to write about, a little voice in my head keeps telling me, “Oh no not that you’ve said that before, you’ve made that point before.” So I put my pen down and walk away from my work to do something else. Usually it’s the dishes or cooking and while I am at it I start thinking about my article and then the subject comes around and it seems to break open in a different way. This morning when I sat down to write I thought to myself, well, I’ve spoken almost about every aspect of writing so what is it going to be today? Then I realized I have not rambled on about the core of all writing: words, and the sentence.

‘Line’ is slang for sentence. Comedians are best known for their gag line. A line, as in a comedy routine or speech, is intended to provoke laughter. It’s what comedians deliver in a sentence that makes them known, makes them who they are and distinguishes them from others. It is the same with films. Most of the time there is some kind of expression, some line that will be remembered from a movie and be repeated by those who’ve watched it. How many times have you heard impersonators repeat Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous line, “I’ll be back!” or Robert De Niro’s “Are you talking to me?” or Clint Eastwood’s “Go ahead, make my day.” or Jim Carey‘s “Somebody stop me!” from the film The Mask. Julia Roberts’s “After all… I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” from Notting Hill.

Aren’t we writers also looking for that line? That one line in our book, in our story, that will be repeated, that will get quoted and stay alive? Like Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be” or “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” or Charles Dickens’s “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” A good line has all the qualities we look for in a sentence. It amuses, it saddens, it surprises, it gives a refreshing view and clarity to things. Simply put it engages all our senses. Every sentence doesn’t have to be a gag, but every sentence can have the tension and balance and economy of good comedy writing- plain good writing, in other words.

Aristotle wrote:
“True intelligence is marked by the ability to make metaphors.”

How many times have you heard your English teacher repeat in class “Every word is a metaphor, all words are metaphors?” It is the word that makes us so powerful, and at times prevents us from seeing the truth.

On the effectiveness of metaphor and the sentence, here’s a story that I find interesting and would like to share. It is from the book ‘Discovering The Writer Within’ by Bruce Ballenger and Barry Lane.

“A few years ago, I was watching a public television program about a local poet. He spoke to a class of second graders, and before reading one of his poems he asked the students, “Now, what is poetry? Does anybody know?” Hands sprouted everywhere. The poet pointed to a boy in the back, who leapt to his feet and said confidently, “Poetry is words that sing.”
A few days later, I asked my college English class the same question. There were no sprouting hands, not even a murmur. I called on Alice, who had at last tentatively raised her hand. “Well, I’m not sure exactly what you mean by the question, but I think that maybe poetry could be described as a limited form of prose where the line is the basic unit instead of the paragraph and meaning is often implicit.”
Not a bad answer, but I thought the second grader was more on the money.”


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2 Responses to Who Can Forget A Gag

  1. Yes, I think I like the 2nd grader’s answer the best, too! 🙂

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