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    WOSSNAME - DECEMBER 2000 - continued - Part 3 of 3 6) COMEDY 101 by Geof Johns I try to write comedy.  It s a hobby not unlike making models of the Taj Mahal
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 28, 2000
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      WOSSNAME - DECEMBER 2000 - continued - Part 3 of 3

      6) COMEDY 101
      by Geof Johns

      I try to write comedy.  It's a hobby not unlike making models of the Taj
      Mahal by moonlight out of matchsticks.  I believe that humour is the greatest
      expression of the human spirit.  Alas, I am dutiful rather than inspired.
       Trying to write does have its compensations though.  One of them is a keener
      appreciation than I would otherwise have had of my heroes - people like Terry
      Pratchett and George McDonald Fraser - masters of the craft.

      I attend writing classes, whenever I can, and read books on comic writing.
       Quite probably, my author heroes just do it naturally with no tuition at
      all.  Still, it's interesting to see how close Terry Pratchett comes to the
      book theory, especially in the early novels, and how he has transcended it,
      in the later ones.

      The first lesson in "Comedy 101" is to create a character with basic comic
      contradictions.  Think of it this way.  It's like the opening moves in a game
      of chess.  In the opening game there are rules and precedents.  Push a couple
      of pawns forward, develop a few pieces and then, in the middle game, the
      realm of intuition, the dazzling combinations WILL be there.  You just have
      to search for them.  Create a character with comic contradictions and the
      jokes will be there.  You can search for them or steal them.

      In "The Colour of Magic", Terry Pratchett created Rincewind, who seems to owe
      a little to George McDonald Fraser's Flashman.  The comic contradiction in
      Flashman (plucked with incredible insight from Tom Brownes' Schooldays) is
      that he is a lecherous bully, toady and coward with a very modern cynicism
      set in the mythical world of Victorian derring-do and valour.  The humour
      flows from this.  

      To make the story work, Fraser gives Flashman a minor virtue or two.  He is a
      good horseman (so he can get around fast enough to keep pace with the plot),
      a good linguist (so the story doesn't flounder while he fumbles with his
      phrasebook).  He is a good-looking and plausible villain and an excellent

      Now put Rincewind under the microscope.  There are two basic comic
      contradictions.  He is a coward in a world of high fantasy and a totally
      inept wizard in a world of magic.  Yet, if there is one thing Rincewind
      clings to it is the utter belief that at the core of his being he IS a

      Like Flashman, Rincewind sees things, a reports them to the reader, as they
      are.  Unlike Flashman, Rincewind has a basic empathy with the human
      condition.  This empathy permeates Terry Pratchett's work.  Possibly, it is
      his best claim on greatness.

      There are several other amusing correspondences between the Discworld and the
      Flashman series.  Lord Elphinstone's insistence of British Officers lining up
      within sniper fire at the retreat from Kabul to show that they were not
      intimidated is pure Lord Rust. It would not be believable in a fantasy novel
      but happened in real life.

      Flashman's character can be relied on to get him into trouble.  In the
      textbooks I read this is called "conflict".  Rincewind prefers a quiet life
      and so needs a little prodding by the author.  No problem, the Discworld is
      driven by narrative causality, or at least coincidence.  Enter Twoflower, the
      tourist.  His job is to get Rincewind into trouble - conflict, whatever.
       Twoflower's comic contradiction is that of the insatiably curious optimist
      in a world of danger.

      A third comic creation is The Luggage - comic contradiction - an magical
      artefact with attitude.  One of Terry Pratchett's most enduringly popular
      creations, The Luggage appears to be unique in that it was created for a game
      (Dungeons and Dragons) and somehow escaped into literature.  (Guilty of
      literature?  Yep, I am a witness for the prosecution.)

      And so "The Colour of Magic" and "The Light Fantastic" unfurl.  Pratchett
      only has to manoeuvre Rincewind in and out of the cliches of the genre and
      the jokes appear to come out of nowhere.  

      At this stage, Terry Pratchett is something of a "kitchen sink" novelist.
       Not in the sense of sordid (if you are prepared to overlook most of the
      acreage of Morpork) but in the sense of throwing in everything, including the
      kitchen sink.

      The airplane scene in the "Colour of Magic" seems a direct steal from an
      earlier and long forgotten (I can't remember its name anyway) ribald fantasy.
       (For those with long memories, it's the one with dwarfs that had rifled
      genitalia so it was vitally important to marry a dwarf with the right
      thread.)  It is a scene that doesn't seem to fit into either novel but there
      it is.

      "The Colour of Magic" is three loosely connected novellas.  "The Light
      Fantastic" is a somewhat more extended reworking of the same themes.

      For all this though, you get the impression that Terry Pratchett was
      discovering a world, a world that somehow works.  It is more than an assembly
      of disconnected jokes.  It seemed to evolve around an ecosystem of humour.

      In the writing class I attend, we are continually reminded that a story
      should be about the journey of the main character, about how they learn to
      find a viable place in the world.  I sometimes think that the Discworld
      series is less about the journey of any particular character than about the
      evolution of the world itself.  Yes it is a mirror of worlds but also a
      mirror of its author's mind.

      In any event, what happened next surprised me.  For his next novel in the
      series, Terry Pratchett dumped his popular main character and zeroed in on a
      new corner of his world.  Perhaps it seemed to him that the basic
      "two-contradiction" character of Rincewind had run out of comic steam.
       Perhaps it was something else.


      Stephen CMOT Briggs is delighted to be able to let
      his customers - particularly those outside the UK -
      know that, at long last, he can now accept payments
      by Visa, Mastercard and Switch!

      He recognizes that getting sterling bank drafts has
      been an increasing problem, and an expensive one,
      for non-UK fans.  This should make things easier.

      Details of his current merchandise - including the new
      Complete Fool's badge and Harga's apron - can be
      had from sbriggs@... or by s.a.e. to him at
      PO Box 147, Oxford, OX2 8YT, England


      Here's a useful web site that helps Americans
      understand such arcane English colloquialisms
      as guff, Durex, pillock, and quid with over 300 entries:


      -- Matt Harris


      Andrew MIllard writes that the last few NADS
      T-shirts have now been sold and that the club
      has donated $120 (or $1 per T-shirt) to the
      Orangutan Foundation International, Terry's
      favorite charity.

      8)  === ACCUSATIONS of LITERATURE ===
      © Michael Jones 2000
      (Discworld and individual characters
      © 2000 Terry and Lyn Pratchett)


      There is nothing more powerful than the quote.

      Well, perhaps there is. The quote, used correctly, is a powerful weapon.
      Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that there is nothing more
      accessible than the quote. For while some of the greatest sagas of our time
      may have moved us with their sweeping imagery and clever techniques, it is
      the timeless quotes that they yield which define them.

      It is an interesting biological fact that humans can only accommodate a
      number of pieces of information in their limited brains at once. Scientists
      have measured this, and assigned it the magical number of seven. Seven
      names. Seven numbers. Seven rings. Seven "chunks" of information. So it is
      perhaps not surprising that of the many truly great works of fiction that
      exist in the world, we remember only those few one-liners, those set
      pieces, known as quotes.

      After all, most people are aware that they should not meddle in the affairs
      of wizards, because they are subtle and quick to anger, even though most of
      the time they forget about the seamless world that J. R. R. Tolkein created
      for his wizards to inhabit. The Lord of the Rings defined High Fantasy, and
      J. R. R. Tolkein created a virtual reality called Middle Earth nearly half
      a decade before the Internet was even conceptualised. We remember that
      Dragon Riders must fly when Thread is in the sky, but we forget the sense
      of childish abandonment, wonder, guilt and angst that Anne McCaffrey
      created in the girl Menolly, and we also forget how her growth and
      development, both as a girl into a woman and as an apprentice into a
      Harper, reflected the growth and development of Pern itself. We remember
      the ineptness of Fizban and our first stirrings of suspicion that he was
      not as he seemed; we remember the curiosity of the Kender; but we forget
      the way that Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman managed to weave the essence
      of family love - between two twin brothers - into a world fractured and
      torn apart by war, and the terrible price both brothers paid for their
      lives they led. We remember exultant cries of "Done then!" in two separate
      worlds, from two separate heroes, and yet we forget that David Eddings
      managed to capture the hearts of younger readers with his whimsical
      fantasies and coming of age heroes.

      Perhaps that is what makes the Terry Pratchett's Discworld books so
      successful. To read - to really read - a Discworld book, can take years,
      and many re-readings, and even then the most avid fan is perpetually
      haunted by the fact that he hasn't ferreted out every single obscure
      reference or annotation that there is to find. Discworld books are layered
      with complexity like an onion, and exposing each layer simply makes the
      next that much harder to unravel. This alone raises curious questions about
      Terry Pratchett's state of mind while writing these novels...

      However it is the quotes we remember, because Terry has a habit of using
      his quotes as the barbs on his literary arrows, so that when the words
      fade, the quotes remain. A Discworld book can spend an hour building us up
      with it's comedic cadences, it's glorious characterisations and the charged
      interactions between these characters, and then the entire scene can
      explode before us with the impact of a single quote - a single sentence
      into which the entire energy of the entire section, the entire passage, or
      sometimes the entire book, has been poured.

      I personally think it's interesting that my favourite quote does not come
      from my favourite book. My favourite book is Lords and Ladies (although The
      Truth is vying for the position as we speak) and yet my favourite quote
      comes from Feet of Clay, when Dorfl, falling apart, scribbles a few last
      desperate words onto a pad of paper -

      "words iN thE HeaRT Can noT Be taken."

      Eight words which, in the midst of our sadness for Dorfl's demise, hit home
      with the force of a sledgehammer and bring the last 373 pages to life.

      We love Discworld quotes because sometimes they say what we've always
      thought but hadn't been willing to put into words...

      "In the Beginning, there was nothing, which exploded."
      "Animals can't murder. Only us superior races can murder. That's one of the
      things that sets us apart from animals."
      "'Quite. Real children don't go hoppity-skip unless they are on drugs.'"

      Discworld quotes illuminate the races and characters of Terry's creation in
      ways that we all recognise...

      "It's a metaphor of human bloody existence, a dragon. And if that wasn't
      bad enough, it's also a bloody great hot flying thing."
      "All dwarfs are by nature dutiful, serious, literate, obedient and
      thoughtful people whose only minor failing is a tendency, after one drink,
      to rush at enemies screaming 'Arrrrrrgh!' and axing their legs off at the

      Discworld quotes sometimes find a way of putting us inside Terry's

      "'Sometimes," Vetinari said testily, "it really does seem to me that the
      culture of cynicism in the Watch is ...is...'
      'Insufficient?' said Vimes."
      "You make us want what we can't have and what you give us is worth nothing
      and what you take is everything and all there is left for us is the cold
      hillside, and emptiness, and the laughter of the elves."

      And finally, Discworld quotes take the essence of the world that we live
      in, and twist it into new shapes to delight and astound us.

      "'Right, you bastards, you're... you're geography'"
      "Million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten."
      "They felt, in fact, tremendously bucked-up, which was how Lady Ramkin
      would almost certainly have put it and which was definitely several letters
      of the alphabet away from how they normally felt."
      "Violet Frottidge was walking out with young Deviousness Carter, or at
      least doing something within ninety degrees of walking out."

      And these are just a very small few. They aren't even the best. For as I
      curse my limited brain, that manages to only hold seven or so chunks of
      information at a time - and one wonders how Terry Pratchett can be subject
      to the same limitation and still create a world as varied and complex as
      the Discworld - I know that the best simply haven't made their way to the
      front of the queue yet, to be included in that magic seven.

      Happy quoting. And remember, as Apatite the Troll would say - "'Av an 'appy
      Hogswatch, an' a good Year of the Shrinking Tree-Frog. Or whaddever year it
      is. An' keep your nose clean."

      PS: I'd like to apologise to all of the fans who emailed me after the last
      edition of Wossname - I simply didn't have time to do a humourous article
      this week. Rest assured, more will be forthcoming. I need ideas! Any ideas
      for columns (both humorous ones, and Accusations of Literature) can be sent
      to me at sistermick@.... Also, anyone interested in
      helping me with a project to create a comprehensive database of Discworld
      quotes from all of the Discworld books, feel free to contact me at
      sistermick@.... Please include QUOTES in the subject line.

      -- Michael Jones


      One of the smaller jokes in Interesting Times is the names of the four
      most powerful families in the Counterweight Continent: the Hongs, the
      Sungs, the Tangs, the McSweeneys and the Fangs.

      I quote from the Annoted Pratchett File (APF):

      > The presence of the McSweeney name ("very old established
      > family") in this list is used as a running gag throughout
      > the book. It also reminded me of James Clavell's Hong Kong
      > novels (Tai-Pan, Noble House and Gai-Jin), which chronicle
      > the Asian business empire founded and headed by various
      > generations of the Scottish Struan family.

      There is, however, another annotation, one which so-far seems to have
      escaped everyone.

      In the north-western area of China have been found the well-preserved
      mummies of people, dating from around 2000 BCE. These mummies show many
      signs of being related to Celts. Furthermore, their modern day
      decendants are totally unlike all the other people in the area: they are
      fair-skinned, light-haired Caucasians. The possibility of genuine Celts
      living in China during the Bronze Age cannot be discounted.

      These mummies are known as the Urumchi mummies, or sometimes the Tarim
      (after the Tarim Basin in the Taklimakan desert where they were found).
      The history of these people is rather confused and not known exactly:
      the Bronze Age was a time of vast population movements, and many
      population groups were wiped out or integrated into others. But it seems
      likely that these people were Tocharians, proto-Celts from Iran.

      The situation was complicated by the arrive of Turkish-speaking
      (actually Uyghur-speaking, but that language is related to Turkish)
      people about 1000 BCE.

      While I'm sure archaeologists would be horrified by my
      over-simplification, it seems that there was, once, a Celtic (or
      proto-Celtic) civilization, complete with tartan, living in China.

      It's not likely that any of them were called McSweeney though :-)

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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