Saturday, July 14, 2007

Noble efforts that don't quite work

Sometimes an experiment is interesting even if it doesn't work. Colin Watson's Kissing Covens (also published as Broomsticks Over Flaxborough) includes a tasty send-up of advertising-speak. Some excerpts:

"So he's absolutely integral — but integral — so far as local product acceptance is concerned."
"In an above-the-line situation, Gordon."


"Hang on. We'll just kick that one around a bit, shall we? One — have we really lost him, disappearance-wise? Or is he just temporarily snarled up in a bottle situation?"

That's good stuff, but five pages of it is too much. Pompous abbreviations for the men's company and titles are funny on the scene's first page; on its fourth, "TEAK'S DCBV nodded" is tedious piling-on.

On second thought, perhaps length is not entirely to blame. Perhaps the scene, published in 1972, doesn't work in 2007 because so many people really do talk and write that way these days. Conversation-wise, that is.

OK, readers, now you weigh in. What crime-fiction scenes, tricks, devices or tactics have you read that are clever but don't quite work?

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Blogger Dave Knadler said...

While the example you gave works pretty well for me (unless, as you say, it just never let up), not every writer is good at humor. I've mentioned Harlan Coben's "Promise Me" -- the guy undermines his story every time he tries to make his series character Myron Bolitar witty or amusing -- which is way too much of the time.

Here's an exchange that was like fingernails on a chalkboard:

"Hey" -- he pointed at Myron -- "I don't like your attitude."
"You don't?" Myron gave him a wide game-show-host smile and waited. Big Jake looked confused. "Is this better? Rosier, am I right?"
"Get out."
I would say, 'who's going to make me,' but really, that would be sooo expected."
Big Jake smiled and stepped right up to Myron. "You wanna know who's going to make you?"
"Wait, hold on, let me check the script." Myron mimed flipping pages. "Okay here it is. I say, 'no , who?' Then you say, 'I am.'"

Ugh. If you have a tin ear for amusing dialog, you shouldn't do it. Stephen King, has great a storyteller as he is, has no concept of humor. When he tries it, with his characters cracking up over lines that aren't remotely amusing, it's just painful.

July 14, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Where's a good editor when you need one? I should tinker with the post to make clear that I was singling out snippets that worked within a larger scene that failed because it just went on too damned long. It's hard to convey that excessive length without going on too damned long myself. I liked Watson's idea and some of the lines, but when, on the fifth page of the thing, Richard says, "In any case, we'll have to stick to format until D-F and TEAK can conferencize," I've long since gotten the point.

My task would have been easier had I come up with an example as bad as yours, whose awfulness shines through in a few short sentences.

July 14, 2007  

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