Fun With Bloopers

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

We had some fun with typos recently. Fun, sure, except when they happen to you. I hate typos! They are the sand fleas of publishing. You shake off the sand from the beach, and you think you’ve got rid of them all. But sure enough, when you get in the car and start driving away, one shows up in your armpit.

So it is with typos. Even after paying a proofreader, you’re apt to get an email from an astute reader who will point out that a character should be eating out of “wooden bowl,” not a “wooden bowel” (an actual typo in a novel by a friend of mine).

Yes, typos can provide a chuckle. Even more amusing are bloopers, those verbal miscues from actors and speakers uttered over various airwaves.

The word “blooper” was popularized by a radio producer named Kermit Schaefer, who was the first to research and document these fluffs. He put out several books and a couple of LPs with them (in the latter, he sometimes reproduced the blooper with actors when he couldn’t secure a copy of the sound recording. But they were otherwise legit).

The blooper that got Schaefer started was made by radio announcer Harry von Zell in a 1931 broadcast honoring President Herbert Hoover. Von Zell told the audience they would next hear from President “Hoobert Heever.”

Oops. And on live radio there are no re-takes.

So, because I wanted to have some laughs today, here are a few of my favorite bloopers:

“And Dad will love Wonder Bread’s delicious flavor, too. So remember, get Wonder Bread for the breast in bed.”

“This is the British Broadcasting Corporation. Our next program comes to you from the bathroom at Pump…pardon me, the Pumproom at Bath.”

“And just now we’ve received a new stock of Reis Sanforized sports shirts for men with 15 or 17 necks.”

“Mrs. Manning’s are the finest pork and beans you ever ate. So when you order pork and beans, make sure Mrs. Manning is on the can.”

Laundromat commercial: “Ladies who care to drive by and drop off their clothes will receive prompt attention.”

Fight night broadcast: “It’s a hot night in the Garden, folks, and I see at ringside several ladies in gownless evening straps.”

On an early TV game show called Two for the Money, a young lady was asked her occupation.
“I work for the Pittsburgh Natural Gas Company,” she said.
“And how is business?”“Wonderful. Over ninety percent of the people in Pittsburgh have gas.”

NBC radio: “Word comes to us from usually reliable White Horse souses.”

Disc jockey: “You’ve just heard the front side of Doris Day’s latest hit, “Secret Love.” Let’s take a look at her backside.”

Steve Allen

But my favorite blooper of all time is really a “save.” It was made by the great Steve Allen. Most youngsters today have no idea who Allen was, so I’m glad you asked. He was one of the great natural wits. As the first host of the Tonight Show, he set the stage for late-night comedy ever after. When he wasn’t being funny he was writing songs…lots and lots of songs (the most famous of which is “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.”) On top of that, he wrote several books on subjects as wide ranging as public speaking and religion.

Here is an example of Allen’s on-the-spot wit. He was to do a live commercial for Fiberglas. There was a Fiberglas chair on the stage, and Allen was to hit it with a hammer and then announce, “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this chair is made of genuine Fiberglas!”

But when commercial time came around the temperature in the studio was colder than usual. So when Allen hit the chair, the hammer went right through it, leaving a gaping hole. A major visual blooper that would have had most hosts stymied. But Allen, without missing a beat, looked into the camera and said, “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this hammer is made of genuine Fiberglas!”

Priceless. Which is why, when you can swing it, giving your character something witty to say at just the right moment delights the reader. But it’s not easy to do. One method I suggest in my book, Writing Unforgettable Characters and in a post last month, is “curving the language.” Write out a plain vanilla line, then bend it and play with it.

So a line like, “She looked like a million dollars” (cliché) can become, “She looked like a million dollars tax free” (Harlan Ellison). Or, “I became a made man when you were in high school” can turn into, “I made my bones when you were goin’ out with cheerleaders!” (Moe Green to Michael Corleone in The Godfather).

Your characters will thank you for saving them from bloopers.

Do you have a favorite blooper, maybe even from your own life?

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Whose Story Is it? First Page Critique: Sunny Days Ahead

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

Wikimedia Commons

I feel for Charlie in this story opener when he makes a phone call that risked his pride and ego. Join me in reading this 400 word opening and providing constructive criticism in your comments. I’ll have my comments below.

***

Charlie examined the slip of paper and wondered if he had been set up. It could have been some random set of digits she pulled out of her head? That shit happened once before and it ended up being the number for Dial A Prayer.

Charlie fed the payphone, and the muscles in his neck tightened as he dialed. He recalled the cute turned-up nose, dimples, and full pouty lips of the girl at the concert. He struggled to believe he’d worked up enough nerve to ask for her number and was suspicious of the ease with which she gave it to him.

Finally, the first ring sounded. He waited for someone to pick up, but took a breath when he realized no one answers on the first ring.

The second came, and his stomach rumbled.

As the third arrived, hope began to fade.

After the fourth, he relaxed, thinking either she wasn’t at home, or his suspicions were true. Then, a click, and there came the smooth, soft, voice of a sleepy angel.

“Hello.”

“Hi, this is the guy who sat behind you at the concert. I hope you remember me. Anyway, I only have a couple of minutes to impress you. So, here goes. I think you may well be the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in my life. I got my own place. I like every kind of music there is except opera. Dogs love me, and oh, I don’t remember if I mentioned this, but I think you are, without a doubt, the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen. Okay, how am I doing so far?” It felt like a year-long silence as he waited for her response.

“Well, Dude, you are most definitely full of shit. And that’s okay. On good days so am I. Of course, I remember you. And I’ve been hoping you’d call.”

“No shit, really. Why? I mean, wow. That’s great.”

Sonny, paused. I felt your eyes on me in the concert and when I turned around everyone in the audience was scoping out what was happing on the stage. But you were looking straight at me with the sweatiest smile. That’s what made me remember you.

“And dude, If I’m the prettiest girl you’ve ever seen, you need to work on your social life.”

“Yeah, that’s sort of why I’m calling. Oh, and I’m Charlie Anderson. What’s your name?”

“It’s Sonny, Sonny Makenzie.”

FEEDBACK

All the typos were obstacles to me truly enjoying this anonymous submission. Even the last line and name of a main character is misspelled. More misspellings: happing & sweatiest. Editing 400 words for clean copy is the least an author should do to make it harder for an editor or agent from rejecting the story right away. Enough said. Let’s get to the substance.

Overall Impression – I liked the first line where Charlie hints of a set up. That got my attention. The tension was quickly diffused by the revelation that Charlie is calling a girl, so I didn’t mind that this wasn’t about a crime. I thought Charlie was charming and I could relate to the risk he took.

General Questions – Charlie is using a payphone? In a technical age, why doesn’t he have a cell? If this is a retro story line, that should be tagged at the beginning to ground the reader in another decade. Plus, is ‘Dial A Prayer’ still in existence? I queried on the Internet and only found a reference to a 2015 movie. Charlie mentions that a girl had slipped him a ‘Dial A Prayer’ number, but wouldn’t that have to be an 800# since that’s a national service? If a girl slipped him a phone number that starts with 800, that should’ve been a clue. These details kept me from getting fully engaged, beyond Charlie’s story.

Setting – Where is the setting? What is Charlie doing as he makes a call from an old payphone? World building is important. Did he slip away from his apartment to make a call from a public phone? What city or town? What can be shared about Charlie? This feels like a stripped down first draft without depth. The bones might be here, but it needs more.

To help an author realize what layers are missing, I like to ask open ended questions to trigger ideas from the author. Questions like: Where is Charlie? Can the weather add tension or mystery to the scene? Does Charlie have money? Does Sonny? Can their clothes give insight into their lives? What other open ended questions would you ask, TKZers?

Add More Tension & Build Up – The long dialogue line where Charlie tries to charm Sonny with “Hi, this is the guy who…” is long and the reader might lose interest or the build up could be better. I would suggest the author break up Charlie’s lines with how he reacts as the tension builds. When he hears nothing on the other end of the line, he keeps talking. We’ve all gone through phone calls like this. Make the reader feel his mounting doubts and the risk he finally takes to spill his guts.

Rewrite Example:

“Hi, this is the guy who sat behind you at the concert. I hope you remember me.”

The girl left him hanging and didn’t bail him out. Dead silence. Charlie decided to keep talking and go for it. He had to bring his A-game, whatever that is.

“Anyway, I only have a couple of minutes to impress you. So, here goes.” He swallowed and took a deep breath.

“I think you may well be the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen in my life.” What a tool. You sound lame, Charlie. Give her your best stuff. Go for it.

He pictured her mesmerizing blue eyes staring at him and how lights from the stage last night had played on her blond hair. Don’t sound like a stalker, asshole.

“I got my own place. I like every kind of music there is except opera. Dogs love me, and oh, I don’t remember if I mentioned this, but I think you are, without a doubt, the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen. Okay, how am I doing so far?”

It felt like a year-long silence as he waited for her response.

Point of View Shift – Before this scene ends, Sonny’s Point of View (POV) interrupts Charlie’s moment. I found this jarring and editors and agents would see this as head hopping. Sonny hints that she might have an ulterior motive to giving her number to Charlie. As a general rule of thumb, I write each scene using one POV. I tend to pick the character with the most to lose or the most emotion. To revise this intro, I like Charlie’s vulnerability for the start, but then create a scene break and shift to Sonny’s POV to draw the reader into her mystery. But when you jumble both together, you lose the impact for both.

First Person Shifts to Sonny – Another craft issue is that when the POV shifts to Sonny, the tense changed to first person. A whole book of this will confuse the reader, especially if, within scenes, Sonny starts speaking in first person in the middle of Charlie’s third person.

HERE is the POV shift to SonnySonny, paused. I felt your eyes on me in the concert and when I turned around everyone in the audience was scoping out what was happing on the stage. But you were looking straight at me with the sweatiest smile. That’s what made me remember you.

As I’ve suggested, the author might consider staying with Charlie’s third person POV as the intro, because he is relatable and vulnerable and there’s a mystery for readers to get into. End his first scene, then pick up Sonny on the other end of the line. What is she doing? What has Charlie interrupted? I often have fun with a simple outsider person calling my protagonist and they talk as if it’s a normal call, but I clue the reader in on what my protag is doing – like killing someone, or cleaning up blood.

Title – ‘Sunny Days Ahead’ needs work as a title. There’s nothing intriguing about it and no mystery.

SUMMARY – I look forward to seeing other comments and opinions on Sunny Days Ahead. For me, I might want to read the book jacket to see what this story is about. I like Charlie, but this intro needs filling out. Sonny holds promise in my mind, but nothing here tells me that. It’s my hope. Thanks for your interesting submission, anonymous. You have bones to build on here. I hope my feedback and the comments from our members will stir your imagination to fill out this story. Good luck.

DISCUSSION

Feedback comments, TKZers? Would you read on?

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