I stumbled onto that TV show
the other night,
and quickly became engrossed. I never realized this was a documentary
about two pop stars; I just assumed it was some kind of reality
TV show where the recently wed compete to break up each other’s
marriages. Hmm… actually,
that’s not a bad idea. Let me just call my agent…
One of the things I loved about Newlyweds was that Jessica seems
to have a rent-a-friend: a person hanging around whose only job
is to laugh at her jokes. Next time I go on book tour, I’m
asking my publisher for one of those. (Max: “So you’re Jeremy?”
Jeremy: “Right! Ha ha ha! Very good!” Max: “You and me are going
to get along just fine, Jeremy.”) In fact, I could do with one
in everyday life.
The other thing I loved was the dialogue. If this thing was
scripted, I’d be campaigning for them to hand over the Emmy
right now. See, I have something of an addiction to throwaway dialogue.
This is an exchange between characters that
has no bearing whatsoever on the plot, but is fun anyway. Or, at
least, fun for the writer. (It’s very liberating to write a scene
that doesn’t have to do anything.) But it’s not so much fun to
read, which is why my throwaway dialogue tends to get deleted
between drafts one and two. It’s basically just me being
tricksy, and I don’t think anyone wants to pay money to see that.
You can just visit my web site.
Anyway, there was a tiny scene in Newlyweds that was so perfect
that it sent me running for pen and paper. This is classic
throwaway dialogue. It may well do nothing for you, but for me…
goosebumps, dude. Goosebumps.
Jessica and Nick are walking down a hotel corridor. Suddenly
Jessica lets loose an enormous sneeze.
Nick: Bless you.
Jessica: Is that true, that if you sneeze, your heart stops?
Long pause. Nick turns around to look at her.
Nick: Why would your heart stop?
Jessica (defensive): That’s what I heard… just… what I heard.
Nick: From who?
Jessica: I don’t know.
Nick: Never heard that.
I’m working up a new draft of Company, so the last few days
I’ve walked down to my local café and scribbled away there. I’ve always
hated writers who do this, because I reckon they’re concerned not so
much with writing as with being seen to be writing, and
those people are even more pretentious than actual writers. Whenever
I see someone sipping a coffee over their laptop, I want to say to them,
“Oh, you’re so important with your fancy computer,
thank you so much for sharing this mystical act of creation
with the world.” Of course, that’s a personal problem
and I should probably see someone about it.
When I’m writing I like to be home by myself and play
really loud music.
But with edits, I’ve found it useful
to get away from the study, the phone, and the urge to see if I have
any new e-mail. So it’s off to the café.
After I turned up three days in a row with 200 pages under my
arm, the waitress got curious enough to ask what I was doing.
“Editing,” I said. “I’m working on a novel.”
“Oh,” she said, not very enthusiastically. Some people get very
excited when they hear you write novels; others react like you
said you work in the tax office. “What kind?”
“Um… a comedy with social comment.”
“Oh, okay,” she said. “So do you want another coffee?”
I did, but mainly I was impressed with myself for coming up
with such a good definition. It’s not often that I come up with
clever things like that. I usually need to go away and do
a few drafts first. That’s why I’m a writer and not a stand-up
comedian. But dammit, that’s a great definition.
That’s what satire should be.
Satire has a bad rep. When
Syrup was published, my agent warned me, “Don’t call it
satire. Say it’s a comedy. Nobody likes satire.” My editor
advised me against writing any more of it. And
for good reason: most satire is boring as all fuck. It tries
to sell you a moral first and tell you a story second; then,
if you’re lucky, it might get around to being funny. I don’t
want to read novels like that. I sure don’t want to write
novels like that. I want to write the good kind of satire,
the kind that has engrossing stories and characters you care
about and are scary and piss-funny both at once. These are out there,
too, but there aren’t piles of them.
So I often describe my novels as something other than satire.
But because authors are terrible at describing their
own books, I end up saying things like, “Well,
Syrup is a kind of comedy-romance-corporate-thriller… and
Jennifer Government’s more of a
science-fiction-comedy-action-thriller… or… something.”
It’d be a lot easier if I could say I write satire and know
that people weren’t thinking, “Oh, dull, unfunny, pretentious crap.”
Maybe if I use my new definition a lot, that’ll help. Maybe
I can change people’s minds one waitress at a time.