Friday, April 12, 2013

What Have I Learned?

I've seen more than a few impassioned essays from ponyfans detailing just how My Little Pony and/or the fan community have made them a better, happier, more wholesome person.  I'll be honest: as much as I do enjoy the show, the fanfiction, and the people I've met online via this phenomenon  I can't say I feel like I'm a better or happier person for my time here.  I was pretty happy before ponies, I'm pretty happy now, you know?

But I have been thinking about a few of the things I've learned as a writer from this community.  So below, I've compiled a short list of a few of the lessons I've picked up from other authors, editors, commenters, and others.  Head below the break to see just how much I managed to absorb.  Not to mention how much I needed to absorb.  There are many more, no doubt, but those are the ones that came immediately to mind when I sat down to type this:

1)  "Ought" and "aught" are not simply different spellings of the same word.

2)  Outside of America, rules for where punctuation falls in relation to quotation marks are wrong different nope, definitely wrong and nobody can make me like it.

3)  There's no good reason to double-space after a period (but damned if I'm not gonna keep doing it).

4)  There is no good way to pluralize pegasus, but on the plus side, there's hardly any way to do it wrong, either (for more details, check the first comment on this post).

5)  There's no good reason to put a disclaimer on one's fanfic.

6)  Horses and ponies may not have hands, but they do have "toes" (albeit it describes a somewhat different part of the foot than human toes).  Actually, just "pony anatomy" period: thanks to the show and its fans, I've picked up fetlock, barrel, croup, and probably a dozen other words that I either didn't know, or which I only had a vague idea the meaning of.

7)  "Wyvern" rhymes with "five earn."  I've been playing D&D since middle school, and I've always said it wrong!

8)  "Whose" and "who's" have two very different meanings.  I already had its/it's and their/there/they're down, but for some reason whose/who's is tougher for me, even though it's the same dang thing.

9)  There is no agreed-upon way to spell "jeez," and after much research I can confidently say anyone who tells me that my way is incorrect is either misinformed or a liar.

10)  A character's thoughts should be put in italics when transcribed.

11)  If three or more characters are talking, you need to specify who's speaking pretty much every paragraph.  Even with only two characters, going more than a few lines of back-and-forth without a "...so-and-so said" can be hard to follow.

12)  Just because the author knows a word doesn't mean that the character in his story does (okay, I knew that one long before ponies, but I've definitely gotten much better at separating author and character vocabulary because of my time in this community, so I'm counting it).

13)  More about the history and etymology of "alicorn" than I ever thought I would need to know.

14)  When you write a scene and, in editing, you realize it stinks, sometimes you can't just fiddle with it until it's better.  Sometimes, the best thing to do is just to cut it.  Even if you had a really "clever" joke that you wanted to make--actually, especially then.

15)  It's "by and large," not "by in large."  That's another one I've been getting wrong for years, and it makes me kind of sad to realize that I was in the same company with people who say "mute point" all that time.

16)  It's true that good stories are often overlooked, and bad ones are often praised to the high heavens.  But in the end, a single thoughtful comment can do more for an author than a hundred "OMG best storie evar!"s. And if there's one thing I've learned, it's that there are a lot of thoughtful readers in this fandom, and that's something I remain grateful for.

53 comments:

  1. After reading that examination of the plural of pegasus, I kinda want to start using "pegasusususes" and arguing that it's canon. I won't but it IS tempting.

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    1. If you're going for canonical, try "pegasus ponies". It depends on what the Greek root for "pegasus" is, though. For instance, "octopus" should either be "octopodes" or "octopuses" in plural because it's not a full morpheme (which would justify "octopi"). It's a compound of "octo+" (eight) and "+pus" (legged), and "+pus" has its own plural.

      Sadly, I don't know the root for "pegasus", and in any case, it was originally used as a proper name for an individual horse, not for a species.

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  2. Hear, hear on the double-space issue! Half of this is like a list of reasons for me to feel superior to you :p

    I have to ask, how did you pronounce "Wyvern" before?

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    1. Well, if he pronounced it like I did, then he pronounced it as though it were assonant with "given".

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    2. Yup. Thousands of hours of gaming, and nobody ever corrected me. Did they not know either, or were they just reluctant to point out that the guy controlling the semi-dragons attacking their precious characters was mispronouncing things?

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  3. Outside of America, rules for where punctuation falls in relation to quotation marks are beautifully logical.

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    1. No more logical than the American system, and ours is more aesthetically pleasing. Therefore, 'murica wins!

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    2. "Beautifully logical" my foot. The American system is elegant in its simplicity: "put the punctuation inside the quotations" is far more beautiful than whatever the rest of the world does, which I believe involved alternate decisions based on sub-phrasing, time of day, and the readings of a goat's entrails.

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    3. I think you just inadvertently made a great argument for using the British system in D&D rulebooks

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    4. Hate to interrupt the game, but Ezn's making a funny based off the fact the British system's referred to as "Logical Punctuation".

      Not that anyone ever strictly uses logical punctuation, though. The real interesting difference is how people punctuate parenthesis through brackets at a sentence's end: to include or exclude the period there's resulted in many a bout of fisticuffs.

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    5. Oh, you beautiful, Oatey bastard. That's the best comment I've read in weeks.

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    6. >fisticuffs

      "Placing your punctuations within the ending bracket? You cad! You fiend! You grammatical blaggart! I shall give you what for!"

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    7. Being called a "beautiful, Oatey bastard" just made my day ^_^

      And who puts ending punctuation inside brackets unless it's an exclamation point or question mark? That's just... perverse!

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    8. "You know," said Anonymous, "some witheringly say the British system is 'illogical', but the Americans apparently think their way is 'logical.' So when they discuss the poem 'If', they have to put the comma next to the title of 'If,' and thus they make it look as though Rudyard Kipling put it there, instead of the American."

      "Absurd!" cried another poster.

      "But simple," replied the American, "and thus elegant."

      ----

      Seriously, though, simple does not mean elegant or logical. A language made up entirely of nouns and verbs would be simple, but it would sacrifice a lot of logical subtlety. You couldn't use shortcut pronouns like "he" and "it", there'd have to be a gigantic list of conjugations to take over the jobs of prepositions and determiners, and the loss of conjunctions would make the whole thing a bunch of disconnected sentences. It certainly wouldn't be elegant, for all its simplicity.

      The point of the British system is that the quotation marks for speech are encasing the idiosyncrasies of the character's speech patterns and spoken grammar, but the quotation marks for spurious word use and for titles of short works are highlighting something specifically about those exact words and singling those units out for attention. Putting punctuation in with them instead of placing it outside does nothing for this meaning, and makes it look like the comma is part of the word.

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    9. It's generally understood that we mean "parsimonious". "Simple" is just catchier

      The American system would actually be identical to the British one in the case of If

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    10. Not the second anon (first anon, though :) ) but no. No it wouldn't be. The traditional system doesn't change depending on number of words used or whether or not those words are titles.

      You might be confused over the fact that a lot of people punctuate using the logical system for direct quotations and use the traditional system for punctuating dialogue, a beautiful piece of confusion that favours meaning where it matters and elegance else.

      Directed to both: And calling them the American and British system is as silly as defining the oxford comma as American and its exclusion as British. They're mainly used irrespective of geographical boundaries -- thank you, Internet -- and so referring to them as such leads too easily to jingoistic name calling. 'Traditional' & 'logical' are the flame-retardant names.

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    11. Second anon. here. Calling one system American and the other British is no sillier than pointing out that they are primarily differences between American English and British English. The differences exist. There's nothing jingoistic about it, but one system does have certain advantages over the other in some cases.

      At the very least, people can use whichever version of English they prefer, so long as they're consistent. I just object to the notion that the British version is inelegant, random, and illogical. *That's* closer to jingoism.

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    12. I didn't say they were jingoistic; I said that they could lead too easily to it. I've taken part in conversations over this topic before that've dissolved into nation fights primarily because people got emotional over calling one American and one British. If we're not discussing regional differences, then there's no real need to refer to them by regional names when patriotically neutral terms exist.

      Basically, I was recommending what I thought might be necessary to keep the spirit of YouTube comments spreading. Apologies if it came over badly.

      Also, anon fight!

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    13. ... And add a 'from' between comments and spreading

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    14. Personally, I call them "American" and "British" because Americans are good and right while Brits are bad and wrong, just like the respective systems.

      Kidding aside, I do love when I pick up bits of history like this (linguistic or otherwise) from the comments. Please continue to be nothing like Youtube commenters, everyone--to do otherwise would make me sad.

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    15. I'm offensive, and I find this a YouTube commenter :}

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    16. Waaagh! Too many anonymouseses! And here we have another pluralization issue. I think I'll goo with Anonymeese.

      I think I'll call you guys AnonymousA and Anonymous1. Unless, there's a third one of you in there. I've lost track.

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    17. "I didn't say they were jingoistic; I said that they could lead too easily to it. I've taken part in conversations over this topic before that've dissolved into nation fights primarily because people got emotional over calling one American and one British. If we're not discussing regional differences, then there's no real need to refer to them by regional names when patriotically neutral terms exist."

      Well, OK. That's completely fair. So long as no one gets too wound up about it, though, I think it's OK to use the terms "American" and "British", even if only in a statistical sense (i.e. that not all British people speak in British English or adhere solely to it, and so on). Language standardization is ultimately there to make it easier to find common ground with a speaker in some way.

      Also, I'm Anonymous 5. 0.0

      Make of that what you will...

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  4. I hear you on the pony anatomy. (They also have arms!) Not to mention the double-spacing. :B

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    1. No, they have a forearm, which is part of their forelegs. Same as they have shoulders and elbows, on their forelegs. That's not quite the same as saying they have arms.

      Close, but no cigar.

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    2. I find it worthwhile to shorten to 'arm', and I've noticed more writers doing so as well. :B IT IS CLOSE ENOUGH

      Now if you see the word 'fingers' or 'hand' in a story, you know you're dealing with humanized/anthro. (Or fanon Lyra.)

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  5. I'll admit, I never knew that you had to double-space until I started reading this blog and you mentioned it. I only recently started doing it, but most of the websites I post on seem to "correct" double-spaces anyway. It makes me wonder if it's even worth doing.

    And it'll always be pegasi to me, regardless of what anyone else says.

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    1. You don't 'have' to double space at all; it's a typesetting holdover from the days of hard printing (typewriters, monospace pressed, et al.). It focuses extra attention on the gap between sentences, and has become obsolete. Some hopeless anachronists (hello, Chris) think it's still applicable.

      Suit yourself. :P

      I don't like it, but then I still score fics down for using paragraph spacing because it hate it, and clearly I'm never wrong about anything, ever. Especially not my quaint English punctuation!

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    2. Where's your sense of patriotism, Inquisitor? English spacing is far more legible than that of the foppish French! Well, unless the text is justified, that is...

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  6. 3) There's no good reason to double-space after a period (but damned if I'm not gonna keep doing it).

    Oh, you filthy hypocrite. You once dared comment on the fact that I did it and now I learn that you don't even care. Boo on you, sir! Boo on you!

    But in all seriousness, I've recently weened off the double-space after periods. You were the third person to remark on it and I got rather self-conscious about it. It was the way I was taught to type, so it was a tough habit to break, but, eh, adapt or die.

    ...Or not, since only a handful... no, even less than that, a pinch of people actually care. Whatever.

    5) There's no good reason to put a disclaimer on one's fanfic.

    When I joined this fandom and started writing, I thought I was just being lazy by not loading up my chapters with author notes. Turns out I was actually enhancing the story! Hooray for accidental writing skill!

    9) There is no agreed-upon way to spell "jeez," and after much research I can confidently say anyone who tells me that my way is incorrect is either misinformed or a liar.

    I suppose "jeez" does make more sense, since it's closer to the root ("Jesus!") but I always liked "geez" cause it reminded me of "gee-wilikers!"

    14) When you write a scene and, in editing, you realize it stinks, sometimes you can't just fiddle with it until it's better. Sometimes, the best thing to do is just to cut it. Even if you had a really "clever" joke that you wanted to make--actually, especially then.

    Oof, I learned that the hard way.

    16) It's true that good stories are often overlooked, and bad ones are often praised to the high heavens. But in the end, a single thoughtful comment can do more for an author than a hundred "OMG best storie evar!"s. And if there's one thing I've learned, it's that there are a lot of thoughtful readers in this fandom, and that's something I remain grateful for.

    Amen, brother!

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    1. You once dared comment on the fact that I did it and now I learn that you don't even care.

      Yes, because that comment was clearly made without any trace of irony :)

      Oof, I learned that the hard way.

      I know, right? I wrote a story about a year and a half ago, and I had this throwaway joke about how, in Equestria, Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was written by actual gibbons. The only problem was that, as you can no doubt immediately tell because you aren't me, it wasn't funny so much as aggressively dumb. So I kept messing with it, trying to fix it, until that throwaway line became, like, half a paragraph of concentrated failure. And then I left in in the story, because I'm an idiot.

      Live and learn.

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    2. I think it's funny, but it's been established that I don't have the best taste

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  7. I quizzed everyone that I knew about wyvern. They all pronounced it to rhyme with "shiv earn" not "five earn" so I just rolled with it. Maybe it's regional?

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    1. An impromptu gallup poll of my friends (and myself) produced 3 "wivv-erns", one "why-vern" and one "wivv-ren".

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    2. Now that I think about it, I used to think Lyra was pronounced "Lee-ruh."

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    3. Professor WhoovesApril 21, 2013 at 3:49 AM

      I thought it was "lie-ruh".

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    4. Professor WhoovesApril 21, 2013 at 3:50 AM

      Also "were-vin".

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    5. Professor WhoovesApril 21, 2013 at 3:52 AM

      The "r" is flexible, see.

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  8. What have I learned from my time here:

    1) First hand experience of the following, there is no correlation between enthusiasm towards one's work and its quality.

    2) Most people who’s works you criticize are willing to take such criticism with an open-mind and politeness; it’s their fans that take their work too seriously that want to rip your arms off.

    3) It is entirely possible for a little girl’s show to be entertaining, not talk down to its audience, and hold up under scrutiny.

    4) Never write a review under very stressful conditions. You will let the pain of reality seep into it.

    5) Fandom is capable of creating things better than the source.

    6) Sea ponies are frickin’ awesome.

    7) If your friend is letting fame go to her head, then the best thing to do is be passive aggressive and sabotage her at every turn.

    8) Being an annoying, unfunny, bitch that talks in third-person and turns places into North Korea (don’t worry, all will be forgiven) is a great way to become popular.

    9) However, you will be even more popular if you are a quiet, submissive wallflower that will do whatever anyone asks of you and you hide behinds your hair. Bonus points if you are also Russian.

    10) However the easiest way to get popular is to be a blank slate where you can be everything from a lonely, overemotional “why doesn’t anyone love” angst ridden princess that talks loud to a fun loving gamer that plays around with an abacus.

    11) Love potions that manipulate emotions=bad. Love spells that manipulate emotions = good.

    12) Even if you act like an ass to them, everyone will still want to be your friend.

    13) If your creator says wouldn’t make a good sister, that means you want to toss the orphan that idolizes you into a wood chipper.

    14) It is okay to believe in things that have no evidence or make any bit of sense. Magic eight balls, tarot cards, crystal balls, and pink ponies are just as good at proving things as the scientific method (and sometimes even better).

    15) You can become a successful runner just by reading a book.

    16) Incompetence and manipulation of others are actually evidence for trolling.

    17) Hands are the funniest part of the body.

    18) Ponies that are obsessed with humans are funny.

    19) It is a-okay to not inform the parents or mentor of your friend that she has a life threatening disease. Just go off on an adventure to unknown and potential dangerous lands to find the cure.

    20) Leaving your friend in the middle of the desert is perfectly fine.

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    1. 21) You can annoy someone to no end (despite his polite requests to leave him alone), and destroy things that are of great value to him, but if you reunite him his former lover, he will become your friend.

      22) Actually, you can cause millions of dollars of property damage, but as long as its part of your plan to bring two potential lovers together (and they eventually end up together), its fine.

      23) It doesn’t matter if she has a personality that would compare unfavorably to a jar of mayonnaise, small blind fillies and little black fillies that tear up at everything are the best ways to make your work popular.

      24) Ponies = cute. Ponies with socks = saucy. Ponies with sock and panties = WTF?

      25) Pies can be delicious or end centuries old conflicts over land rights.

      26) One must stick with tradition, even if said traditions are keeping you behind schedule when changing between the seasons.

      27) Apparently you can get a cute mark for everything, expect failing.

      28) You made it this far without skipping to the end? Wow! Here, have a cigar.

      29) Adorkable is a word.

      30) If you are ever kidnapped, the best thing to do is make really loud whiny noises and try to fool them. After all, just because your kidnappers were smart enough to capture you, doesn’t mean they aren’t dumb enough to fool with the simplest of tricks.

      31) Sending your sister to the moon, when she’s is going bring about eternal night that will kill every plant and then animal in the world is an act of tyranny.

      32) Guns and ponies go together like peanut butter and jelly, especially if they shoot with their tongues.

      33) For that matter, blood and guts go just as well with ponies.

      34) The best way to subdue the all-powerful Jabberwock god of chaos is to be his friend.

      35) Apparently, King Sombero has a personality.

      36) “No wings good. Two wings bad. No wings good. Two wings bad.”

      37) Destiny is not something worth complaining about. Even though it destroys everything from personal growth to the perception of freedom and equality.

      38) Any list of negativity has to be presented with copious amounts of tongue-in-cheek irony.

      39) Copious amounts of tongue-in-cheek irony must be pointed out to one’s audience.

      40) You can be a grouchy, harsh, and critical curmudgeon, but there are people who do not think of you as a nuisance that is out to destroy the happiness in the world and are willing to listen to your opinion. They probably will not agree with it, but they still think that it is valid, and that you’re not a bad person. *Sniff* I love you guys so much. Free hugs for everyone!!!

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    2. 2) See Chris' #8

      40) I knew it! This was all just an elaborate ruse to hug me. Well I'm not having it, you hear me? I refuse to fall for your dece- ah, screw it. *hug* Never speak a word of what transpired here. Nobody must ever know

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    3. Aww Bugs, of course I enjoy hearing your opinion. And I certainly don't think you're a bad per-

      reads #29

      ...I don't think we can be friends anymore. At least, not unless you reunite me with my former lover.

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    4. I'm going to have to call you out on that there #15. You see, something very similar to that once happened with me and parallel parking.

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    5. Agreed with DeftFunk about #15. Twilight points out during the episode in question how that works: the book told her to pace herself and save her strength for the final push. That's good advice for what is essentially a marathon.

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  9. Hm, let me see what I can add.

    1. Commas are used to separate two independent clauses (i.e. "The sun was setting, but I decided to visit my friend.") They are not used to separate an independent from a dependent clause (i.e. "I ran as fast as I could and managed to catch her.")

    2. Adverbs should generally be avoided.

    2a. Unless they're the word "generally."

    2b. Ah, screw it, avoid "generally" too. In fact, avoid words that end in -ly if you can.

    2c. Unless rephrasing the clause to use something other than an adverbs would make it weak and unwieldy.

    2d. You know what? Use any damn words you want, just don't be annoying with them.

    3. Show, don't tell (see point 2).

    4. Comedy is not ponies talking about farts or poop or sex. It's about people attempting to deal with absurd situations using rational means (which don't work).

    5. All stories are about people. All of them. Even the craziest, out-there sci-fi story is about people. Sometimes you just have to dig to find the link.

    6. There's no rule saying that you can't have more than one actor per paragraph. It's a pretty good goal to aim for, though.

    7. Perspective matters.

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    1. Comedy is not ponies talking about farts or poop or sex.

      I-i-i-it's nooooot? ;_;

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    2. Handled properly, it absolutely can be. Now prove him wrong and write Everypony Poops!

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  10. "1. Commas are used to separate two independent clauses (i.e. "The sun was setting, but I decided to visit my friend.") They are not used to separate an independent from a dependent clause (i.e. "I ran as fast as I could and managed to catch her.")"

    Are you sure about this? I thought it was optional for coordinating conjunctions, but mandatory for subordinating conjunctions. So, "I went home, and ate some oranges" is acceptable (to delay the orange-eating as though it were an afterthought), but "I ate some oranges though I wasn't hungry" is not (because the extra clause acts as a parenthesis, and thus has to be separated by punctuation).

    "4. Comedy is not ponies talking about farts or poop or sex. It's about people attempting to deal with absurd situations using rational means (which don't work)."

    That last part doesn't seem right. What about people attempting to deal with rational situations using absurd means? I got the impression comedy was about exposing people's foibles with a clever reframing of the issues, or a twist, that the audience at least is privy to. Except for punny or intellectual humour, there's always a victim in a joke, ideally a deserving one who inadvertently sets themselves up for it through arrogance, obliviousness, aggressiveness, incompetence, etc.

    This is before I point out that comedy is a pretty broad genre, and that there's a difference between writing comedy and writing good comedy. Toilet comedy is still comedy, even if it's lowest common denominator comedy and bad comedy.

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    1. The funny thing about rationality, as all economists know, is that it can often appear absurd to someone with different information

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    2. I like to believe that there is no one true recipe for comedy. That whatever works and what doesn't depends on your audience. Some things work more audiences than others.

      Also, I can agree on that all stories being about people thing. But it makes me wonder if it's at all remotely possible to craft an intriguing story not about people.

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