Deconstructing a viral story
Good storytelling… Let’s deconstruct it.
Look at the target of the humour – and who is delivering it.
Think about this when making jokes.
A few lessons this story teaches:
1. In general, jokes should “punch up”, or at least, punch the villain.
2. Old people and kids can get away with saying things that other people might be censured for.
That’s why (for many other reasons too, I’m sure) satirical shows like South Park have kids as their central characters.
3. In this story, it’s probably even better the killer line is delivered by an old woman, rather than an old man. Although, it would probably still work. But… It’s even better from the old woman. Probably because it adds to a sense of “sisterhood”.
And yes, some humour is directed at the old woman. “Almost dead is how old she is” – But it’s more of a device to make her outburst yet more funny. It’s more surprising and more satisfying.
4. And the man (in a suit – important detail.) can’t really say anything back, can he?
Notice how he is referred to as “suit”. “Suit leans over and says…” – You can picture him, can’t you? He’s probably a banker. And commutes in to the city from his big expensive house. And all this has given him the belief he can bully people around…
The location also suggests this: “Central line, somewhere between Oxford Circus and Chancery Lane. Possibly St. Pauls.” (This is in the “high finance” area of London.)
5. The two females are “revealing dress lady” and “old soon to be dead lady.”
“Lady” has, perhaps, somewhat different connotations to “woman”.
Also, these descriptions make it easy to visualise these characters.
(I imagined the old lady to be wearing some baggy woollen cardigan – and the young ladies ‘revealing dress’ would be a vibrant red. Your visions may differ from mine – that’s the beauty of the written word.)
6. Notice other details, the old lady speaks in “in a South London accent.” (Aka “SARRRRRF LAAANDAN” accent…)
This perhaps implies that the old lady is a “salt of the earth” type character. This brings class into the equation.
The arrogant bully suit who can’t keep his mouth shut vs the common as muck, nearly dead old lady who comes to the victimised young lady’s aid.
7. In general, we enjoy satisfying stories where the villain/bully gets their just deserts, especially if the deathblow is delivered by someone less physically imposing.
Think of all the films and tv shows where the school yard bully finally gets hit back, or made to look a fool.
8. The “revealing dress lady” hugs the old lady at the end, showing she’s a good egg too.
This is a little like what’s called “Saving the cat” in scriptwriting.
Usually, little details are revealed early on, so you can root for a character.
Here, it happens later in the story (hey, it’s more of a joke than a story…) but the effect is the same.
We can feel yet more satisfied in the “suits” public admonishment after the young lady shows her public appreciation for the old ladies profane outburst.
9. Don’t be a dick to people. You might get your swift comeuppance when a very very very old woman reveals unpleasant truths to you, in front of a captive audience.
10. You can do a hell of a lot in a few words. This post analysing the story is longer than the story itself.
There’s so much concealed in little specific details.
You can do a lot by making sure the reader knows certain things, and their assumptions will do the work.
We don’t know ANYTHING else about these characters.
Outside of this moment, the good characters COULD be absolute evil swines – but we only know what we are told.
And with the information we have… I’m ok laughing at the suit’s punishment in support of the victimised young lady and the heroic almost dead old lady.
There’s more I could write on this story but I’ll leave it there. There’s only so much joke explaining/ruining effort one can muster in a morning.