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When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Tell Jokes To Let Off Steam Normally

By Author: peter
Total Articles: 191

Clichés are the bane of readers everywhere, and we struggle to help students recognize why including overused phrases weakens their writing. This activity attempts to turn the negative into a positive, showing students how to transform clichés into effective humorous moments. The problem with clichés is that there is no moment of surprise Replica Hublot or freshness, so we need to alter the cliché in such a way that it ends with a surprise. First, take a cliché or short aphorism: If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Then brainstorm alternative endings that will surprise the reader. W. C. Fields offered: If at first you don't succeed, then quit. There's no sense being a fool about it. (qtd. in Helitzer 78)
The surprise ending might replace part of the cliché or it might follow. Lily Tomlin gives us the following:
Whatever goes up must come down, but don't expect it to come down where you can find it. (qtd. in Helitzer 79)

And students might find it easier if they add the word "if to the beginning of the cliché to help set up the surprise, as my eighth-grade son, Russell, does in this example:
If the entire world's a stage, it's time to change the director.
Have your students search for clichés to tweak at Cliché Finder

LaughWhile clichés set up their own expectations, ones that are relatively easy to alter, the comic writer often has to turn to other strategies to set up the reader for the big surprise. Many turn to the Rule of Three. Simply put, the writer creates a list or series of three ideas or things: the first sets the theme, the second confirms it, and the third twists it into a moment of surprise. Woody Allen uses the rule of three frequently. A passage complaining about the narrator's declining health sets up the reader with "My room is damp and I have perpetual chills and palpitations of the heart," and then he surprises the reader with "I noticed, too, that I am out of napkins. Will it never stop?". Sherman Alexie is fond of using this strategy for a kind of dark comic effect. In his short story "Traveling," he uses the line: "The Trooper walked up to my father on the driver's side cool and sure, like he was ordering a hamburger and fries or making a treaty", surprising us with the absurdity of the last phrase.

The three items can be single words—"He was my dream date—tall, dark, Patek Philippe Replica and dumb"—short phrases, or complete sentences. In The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even if You're Not, John Vorhaus recommends an activity in which student writers complete the sentence starter "Three things you should (never) ..." by listing two expected answers and following those with a truly unexpected answer. For example:
Three things you should never say to your English teacher:
"I don't have a pen."
"This book is boring."
"Is that your hair, or is a porcupine on your head?"

Recognizing the value of such surprises and practicing it a bit in a variety of forms will allow students to work unexpected humor into their writing.

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