Writing Tip for the Day: Don’t Write Like Jack Handy
Jack Handey made his career as a humorist by being vague. Here’s an example of one of his “Fuzzy Memories.”
When I was a kid, the people next door had this little yappy poodle that I used to make fun of all the time. I thought it was real stupid-looking and annoying. But let me tell you, I didn’t make fun of it after the time it saved my life. How did it save my life? It’s a long story. Too long to tell here. But I can tell you it was full of excitement and danger, and afterwards I never made fun of that poodle again.
Well, I suppose I can at least try to tell the story. I’m still not sure I believe it myself, so many strange and fantastic things happened. Briefly what happened, though, is this: I was walking across a vacant lot near my house when I heard a noise. I turned. You know what? This story is just too hard to try to tell here. Just believe it when I say that the poodle came out of nowhere to attack a cobra.
Where did the cobra come from? Okay, I guess I can at least tell that part. No, I’m going to change my mind again. It’s just too hard to explain–although if I did explain it, you would be glued to the edge of your seat.
Maybe someday I’ll tell the story of the poodle and the cobra. No, I won’t. It’s a good one though.
Jack Handey’s story is so vague, so absolutely lacking in detail, that it’s funny. But that’s not amusing in a real story. The reader needs details in order to create pictures in their heads as they read. Research has proven that:
Good readers construct mental images as they read a text. By using prior knowledge and backgroundexperiences, readers connect the author’s writing with a personal picture. Visualizing is the creation of mental images while reading or listening to text. Mental images are created from the learner’s emotions and senses, making the text more concrete and memorable. Imagining the sensory qualities of things described in a text can help engage learners and stimulate their interest in the reading. When readers form pictures in their minds, they are also more likely to stick with a challenging text.
Book or Movie?
This is why sometimes after reading a good book I can’t remember later whether I read the book or watched the movie. As for the following story–well I wouldn’t remember it at all. It’s as vague as a Handey’s fuzzy memory only without the humor:
It was a nice day. Everyone was happy because the weather turned out to be good. Since we made the time pass by doing some interesting things, even the ride was a lot of fun. We gotthere at lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon having a terrific time. Although everyone was tired at the end of the day, we agreed that we’d like to do the same thing again next year.
Can you even guess what event the writer is “describing”? I didn’t think so. The only picture I formed when reading this was of a bus and that’s just a guess. But I have no idea what time of year it was, what the weather was like, what the group did on the bus or at the lake, much less what they want to do next year because the writer didn’t use specific words.
It would be so nice of you to share!