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Consonants, Double Letters, and the Rule of 3 Part 2

October 5, 2010


Continuing from where we left off yesterday, I’ll put forward an interesting idea that only one book I’ve read has covered in any detail: the potential hilarity of double letters. For some reason, words with double letters in them are often funny. I don’t know if this is as strong a phenomenon as the hard consonants, but certainly words like poop, tummy and sneeze are pretty funny. I bet if you sit down and brainstorm a bunch, you will agree.


Armed with this knowledge of hard consonants and double letters, it’s possible to “punch up” bits, taking weak, non-committal words and increasing their energy and vigor.  As a matter of habit, when editing down a bit, I will take note of all the words that feel soft and run through some synonyms in my head.  When I am stuck, I break out the thesaurus.  My hope that is over time, this process will become ingrained in my writing and no longer be necessary during the editing stage.  Another great way to apply this editing technique is reading a bit aloud.  When public speaking, we tend to gravitate toward words that roll off the tongue better, or lend themselves to performance.  What a happy co-incidence that these words are more often than not full of hard consonants.


Everybody knows about this frakking rule, so why talk about it? Well, I found it interesting that while everyone knows that funny things often come in threes, not a lot of people have ruminated on why. The best explanation I’ve found is in Greg Dean’s Comedy Writing Step by Step, where he explains that the reason 3s are so successful in comedy is that humans look for patterns.  It’s hardwired into us.  And when those patterns are upset, that’s when humour occurs.

Keeping this in mind, the absolute minimum number of events to create a pattern is 2. Then one more to overturn the pattern.  Definitely you can have a longer pattern, using 5 or 10 events, but since comedy is all about efficiency of language, 3 is by far the most common.

I wrote a bit recently with this rule of 3 in mind to decent effect:

I was at the dentist recently and they were working on me for three hours.
At one point I was choking on some blood and the dentist squeezed my leg and said: “You’re very brave. Most people would have made a scene.”
I said “What?! I didn’t know I could make a scene! If I had known that, I would have been screaming… crying… voting for the NDP… You know, foolishness!”

(For those of you who don’t live in Canada, NDP stands for New Democratic Party, a political group that has only taken office one time in the history of Canadian Federal Elections).

As a bonus, that bit is modular which we talked about in an earlier theory post.  The NDP could be replaced by any struggling political party in any country.

All this talk of hard consonants, I’ll end with a clip from “Made,” where Vince Vaughan’s rant includes a gratuitous use of the most famous hard consonant word in history (NSFW by the by).


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