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Bradel


Ceci n'est pas un cheval.

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Feb
20th
2016

Bradel Bookwork – A Character and Comedy Case Study · 12:43am Feb 20th, 2016

Hello my readers perspicacious and pulchritudinous![1]

Let's just assume that I've made the requisite announcements[2] and disclaimers[3], shall we? Then we can continue.

I've been enjoying a spot of non-pony reading this week, and I happened to come across a passage from a new Brandon Sanderson book today. Y'all may remember how thoroughly I dig his writing advice. I'm not planning to offer a whole lot of commentary here, but I was so impressed with the energy, voicing, and characterization in this passage that I thought I ought to share it[4]. I'm also a big fan of the type of comedy being used here—attempts at which made up a good half of my own fanfiction work prior to joining the pony fandom.

In particular, the following passage is from Bands of Mourning, a book in Sanderson's "Mistborn" setting. Spoilers are minimal. I'm not going to tell you anything about the characters or the setting, because I'm curious to hear what uninitiated readers infer from this passage.

"With this suite and the others, you'll basically have the entire top floor to yourseles." The hotel owner—who insisted upon being called Aunt Gin—beamed as she said it.

Wayne yawned, rubbing his eyes as he poked through the lavish room's bar. "Great. Lovely. Can I have your hat?"

"My... hat?" The elderly woman looked up at the oversized hat. The sides drooped magnificently, and the thing was festooned with flowers. Like, oodles of them. Silk, he figured, but they were really good replicas.

"You have a lady friend?" Aunt Gin asked. "You wish to give her the hat?"

"Nah," Wayne said. "I need to wear it next time I'm an old lady."

"The next time you what?" Aunt Gin grew pale, but that was probably on account of the fact that Wax went stomping by, wearing his full rusting mistcoat. That man never could figure out how to blend in.

"Do these windows open?" Wax asked, pointing toward the penthouse suite's enormous bay windows. He stepped up onto one of the sofas and shoved on the window.

"Well, they used to open," Aunt Gin said. "But they rattled in the breezes, so we painted them shut and sealed the latches. Never could stand the thought of someone—"

Wax shoved one of them open, breaking off the latch and making a sharp cracking sound as the paint outside was ripped, perhaps some of the wood splintering.

"Lord Ladrian!" Aunt Gin said with a gasp.

"I'll pay for the repairs," Wax said, hopping off the couch. "I need that to open in case I have to jump out."

"Jump—"

"Aha!" Wayne said, pulling open the bar's bottom cabinet.

"Alcohol?" Marasi asked, walking by.

"Peanuts," Wayne said, spitting out his gum and then popping a handful of nuts into his mouth. "I ain't had nothin' to eat since I siped that fruit in Steris's luggage."

"What are you babbling about?" Steris asked from the couch, where she was writing in her notebook.

"I left you one of my shoes in trade," Wayne said, then dug in his duster's pocket, pulling out the other shoe. "Speaking of that, Gin, will you swap me your hat for this one?"

"Your shoe?" Aunt Gin asked, turning back toward him, then jumping as Wax forced open another window.

"Sure," Wayne said. "They're both clothes, right?"

"What would I do with a man's shoe?"

"Wear it next time you gotta be a fellow," Wayne said. "You've got the perfect face for it. Good shoulders, too."

"Well, I—"

"Please ignore him," Steris said, rising and walking over. "Here, I've prepared for you a list of possible scenarios that might transpire during our residence here."

"Steris..." Wax said, forcing open the third and final window.

"What?" she demanded. "I will not have the staff unprepared. Their safety is our concern."

"Fire?" Aunt Gin asked, reading the list. "Shoot-outs. Robbery. Hostage situations. Explosions?"

"That one is completely unfair," Wax said. "You've been listening to Wayne."

"Things do explode around you, mate," Wayne said, munching peanuts. Nice bit of salt on these.

"He's right, unfortunately," Steris said. "I've accounted for seventeen explosions involving you. That's a huge statistical anomaly, even considering your profession."

"You're kidding. Seventeen?"

"Afraid so."

"Huh." He had the decency to look proud of it, at least.

"A pastry shop once blew up while we was in it," Wayne said, leaning in to Aunt Gin. "Dynamite in a cake. Big mess." He held out some peanuts toward her. "How about I throw in these peanuts with the shoe?"

"Those are my peanuts! From this very room!"

"But they're worth more now," Wayne said. "On account of my being real hungry."

"I told you to ignore him," Steris said, tapping on the notebook she'd handed Aunt Gin. "Look, you only read the table of contents. The rest of the pages contain explanations of the possible scenarios I've outlined, and suggested responses to them. I've sorted the list by potential for property damage."

Wax leaped into the center of the room, then thrust his hand forward. The door quivered.

"What... what is he doing?" Aunt Gin asked.

"Checking to see where the best places in the room are for slamming the door with his mind," Wayne said. "In case someone bursts in on us."

"Just read the notebook, all right?" Steris requested in a pleasant tone.

Aunt Gin looked toward her, seeming bewildered. "Are these things... threats?"

"No, of course not!" Steris said. "I only want you to be prepared."

"She's thorough," Wayne said.

"I like to be thorough."

"Usually that means if you ask her to kill a fly, she'll burn down the house just to be extra sure it gets done."

"Wayne," Steris said, "you're needlessly making the lady concerned."

"Flooding from a diverted waterfall," Aunt Gin said, reading from the book again. "Koloss attack. Cattle stampede through the lobby?"

"That one is highly unlikely," Steris said, "but it never hurts to be prepared!"

"But—"

The door to the adjoining suite slammed open. "Hello, humans," MeLaan said, stepping into the doorway wearing nothing more than a tight pair of shorts and a cloth wrapped around her chest. "I need to put on something appropriate for tonight. What do you think? Large breasts? Small breasts? Extra-large breasts?"

Everybody in the room paused, then turned toward her.

"What?" MeLaan said. "Picking a proper bust size is vital to a lady's evening preparations!"


[1] Wait, no, wrong author. Oh, whatever—let's continue.

[2] I am alive, and all is well. I have, in fact, been trying to do a little pony writing. Y'all will eventually see it. Hopefully it'll be sooner rather than later. I know, I suck at this writing thing.[5]

[3] I'm not sure there was anything I really needed to disclaim. Perhaps, in a moment of drunken excess, I may have said certain things I can neither remember nor endorse by the light of day? Who knows? Clearly I don't, because it has been axiomatically stated that I can't remember them. Remember kids, always be careful about the axioms you use. If you're having a hard time choosing, I suggest going with Banach-Tarski. That's always been my axiom of choice.

[4] For educational purposes, obviously. I'm invoking the fair use clause, bitches!

[5] Oh yeah, also: original fiction minific Writeoff this weekend! Y'all should participate. I might, too!

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Comments ( 16 )

Ok, my mind has now been warped. Well, warped even more. Are you sure that's not a Third Rock From The Sun crossover?

3765362
I am very sure! (Because I just had to retype it all by hand from the book I was reading. Thank goodness my typing speed has improved from what it was 20 years ago.)

1) At least some of them are shapeshifters.

2) They are delightfully eccentric or cheerful sociopaths. Or both. Also, adventurers. Or as we like to call them, murder hobos.

3) Nothing in this was terribly hard to understand.

4) Nothing in this section of prose seemed beyond the ability of a number of writeoff writers.

5) I really need to get around to reading Sanderson's stuff.

I love that excerpt so much, but I'm already highly familiar with the characters in question so I can't really offer an outsiders perspective.

3765370 1) Not as many of them as you would think!

3765370
Actually, Steris is neurotic, a bit OCD, and paranoid—but not sociopathic. The rest of them are.

Also, I always love seeing comments like:

4) Nothing in this section of prose seemed beyond the ability of a number of writeoff writers.

I'm afraid a lot of the humor didn't land for me. It's pretty standard fare of recontextualizing the main cast's personalities and professions inside their actual setting, for both humor as well as world-building for what sort of things are considered normal and what goes on with the civilian sorts, which isn't always apparent in fantasy/spec fic settings, which this does a handy job of, but I feel like there are too many characters and there's not enough focus for the humor to really land. To me, Steris' Twilighty checklist of things that might go wrong (which I am picturing as a three ring binder with color-coded tabs) is the funniest element, while the peanuts/hat trading/shapeshifting distracts from the focus too much. The telekinetic door-slamming and the window property damage tie into and reinforce the theming of the checklist and would stay in 'my version' of it, but I'd probably trim down the rest of it quite a bit so it doesn't drag quite as long and the humor could be more finely focused.

I would assume that my issues are partially caused by not being familiar with the characters. While nothing was confusing and it was easy to follow who was who, get a rough idea of what they're like, and get some good context clues about the setting (all of which are definite positives), without any previous reason to care about the characters there's nothing to really grease the wheels of the scene for me, which would lead to it feeling a little unfocused and draggy to me where familiarity might keep things feeling punchier. Also I am, admittedly, not much of a fan of Sanderson in general. I haven't read very much, which is on account of being left cold by the few things of his I've tried, so it could just be my personal taste getting in the way. It is definitely worth looking at for something it does remarkably well, which is having characters reveal things about themselves in a way that an outsider character can follow (here the outside character being both me as a reader hitting this passage cold, but more importantly Aunt Gin) while not being all expositiony. Totally well done in that regard.

3765434

No, I was about to say the exact same thing, actually.

There's no context here. Context is key in comedy. It, more than any other genre, is such a sum of its parts that it's very hard to pick a paragraph apart sometimes and say 'this is why this is a funny author'.

I didn't even smile once reading this. I didn't think it was bad prose, it just wasn't good comedy.

There were too many disjointed elements, and the straight-man for the situation -- Aunt Gin I take it -- simply stood there repeating things, obviously overwhelmed by the protagonists being all zany and strange. It strikes me as a very lazy, outdated form of humour. Pratchett would make Aunty Gin in this scenario even stranger still than the protagonists, who'd be overwhelmed in turn by her turning of the tables. Douglas Adams might have made her forcibly oblivious or nonchalant or apathetic while the protagonists are trying to show off just how weird they are in a humble-brag sort of way. I might have her getting very upset at the protagonists and go about righting their wrongs, while the protagonists are confused as to what they're even doing wrong, because this world-breaking shit is too common for them -- and ideally the audience, too -- by now.

All strike me as more entertaining possibilities than a cardboard cutout for the protagonists to bounce off. Not necessarily better ones for the scene, mind, but I wouldn't call it inherently comedic.

The rest of what I wanted to say has been said by Bats more explicitly.

3765533

I think the gobsmacked straight man of Aunt Gin could be made very funny as-is if the focus was narrowed. Make the scene be about the mounting horror of who exactly she's let into her hotel. Which I feel it was going for, but it went in two directions, one 'being dangerous to the well-being of her hotel and staff,' the other being 'insane weirdos,' but since the focus was split that way neither option really had the right level of pay-off and they just came off as 'somewhat weirdos who might be troublesome maybe', which just doesn't have the strength needed for there to be a 'mounting horror' reaction. It would probably be funnier for her to be completely unfazed by them and have a 'whatever' reaction, but the problem with that is it would alter the world-building intentions of the scene to make that change, probably.

3765370

4) Nothing in this section of prose seemed beyond the ability of a number of writeoff writers.

The tricks are endurance and consistency, when trying to be a professional.


3765533

The interesting thing (to me) about all those possibilities you just raised is that they require scenes like this one to exist as-is in order for them to be funny. They all rely on scenes like the one in the blog being familiar enough to the reader for the reader to form a new set of expectations, and then breaking those. Second-order comedy.

I think that people not familiar with Wayne won't get that quote. Without context, it looks like you reading a quirky narrator, rather than Wayne's warped perspective.

In particular, the following passage is from Bands of Mourning, a book in Sanderson's "Mistborn" setting.

It might be worth pointing out that each of the different subseries in the Mistborn setting (both extant and planned) has a rather different tone. Anyone basing their expectations for the original trilogy off of The Mistborn Adventures is going to be in for a bit of a surprise.


I did enjoy this passage, but something there doesn't seem up to Sanderson's usual standards. Maybe that's just 'cause I'm lacking context, since I haven't had the chance to read Bands yet, but... I dunno – I thought Shadows Of Self came across as more good than great. Suppose I'll have to check back once I've had the chance to read it and see if that makes a difference.

...And now I'm curious to compare how people would react to a scene from The Alloy Of Law, or maybe one of Sanderson's other series. Maybe the talk over Wax's metallurgy, or investigating the Vanishers' warehouse? (Bleh, now I can't think of any non-spoilery scenes that don't involve the risk of explosions.) Unfortunately, I won't have access to any of the books for at least a couple more days, so I'm afraid that if anyone else thinks that sounds interesting too, they'll have to do the typing-up.

Ooh, Sanderson. It's honestly kind of frustrating to go into Barnes & Noble and see two Wax & Wayne novels in hardback with no paperback copies in sight. Not as frustrating as my copy of The Words of Radiance getting water damaged a few days after buying it, but still.

I've read The Alloy of Law and I found this hilarious. Given other comments, these statements may be related.

I suggest going with Banach-Tarski. That's always been my axiom of choice.

Oh you!

Okay, I am going to guess these people (safe for Aunt Alreadyforgothername) are not human but trying to pass as such and are safely tucked into Uncanny Valley, until they start talking that is. No idea what's going on there beyond that, though.
I've never really seen Dr. Who, but somehow this reminds me of what I believe Dr. Who to be.

I cannot give any analysis of the humor, sadly. I chuckled a few times. Judging by some of the other comments I am easy to please. Good for me.

Wasn't a fan of the quote without proper context, personally. I liked the idea of possibly-shapeshifters and the careful person who wrote the list interested me. The others didn't.

I think the problem was that it reminded me of too many Wacky Roommates(TM) comics/serials where the author thinks they have to get through the obligatory "show the muggle getting weirded out" part first because they haven't yet learned you can introduce characters in medias res. I often stop reading at that point because I get impatient for action, I've seen too many of those scenes and reaction frames of muggle disbelief pall quickly for me.

Sorry if we're pooing too much on something you loved, but you asked for reactions, so...

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