“IT’S FUNNY.” What would happen if we eliminated that phrase from our language – our dialogue, our thinking and, most important of all, our writing? It’s too easy to say that much as “like” and “you know,” which serve no earthly purpose in human understanding, the ubiquitous “it’s funny,” is also fairly harmless. Annoying as they are, those other pesky blots on our language are mere filler. But “it’s funny,” is the top phrase writers should never use. It’s dangerous – treacherous, even – and I say the hell with it.
“It’s funny, but I don’t know how I feel about him,” said someone to me yesterday. “It’s funny that I still do that after all these years,” a client wrote in a recent manuscript I was editing. “It’s funny how things remain the same no matter how hard you try to change them,” opined someone else in an essay in my class.
What this tells your reader is that you do not know what exactly it is; that you cannot be relied on as the pack leader, the trek guide, the person taking us through the emotional landscape you yourself have staked out, invited us into, and have told us you are going to take on. And that is a big problem.
What do you really mean when you say “It’s funny?” Can you hit it with a hammer and figure it out? While reading your work we expect nothing less than some kind of illumination, even if your narrative starts with the utter disbelief of unexpected abuse and morphs through only the slight understanding that you need to leave the situation; even if you only partially recover from something; even if all we get to witness is the glimpse of hope that we know will set you in another direction, we expect you to be able to illustrate, if not name, the emotion at hand.
Even if you are eight when the abuse happens, and you cannot possibly cognitively know about the ambiguity tucked into the precise kind of terror you feel when next encountering the abuser, we expect you to say something about what you feel that makes it either uniquely yours or universally recognizable.
“It’s funny,” will never, never do. Even when, in fact, the thing is funny. Then, you’ve got a whole other assignment. What does it do to your heart or your soul to laugh? How does the arc of your day tilt when someone is highly amusing, hilarious, or even uproarious? How does it jiggle you out of your comfort or your way of thinking? What does it do to you?
Name it, describe it, fumble your way through it, but never stop at “it’s funny.” I’m making a list of never-evers. It’s number one.