I love being a college professor. But I hate reading student papers. Hate it.

College students believe that size matters, and they assume Word’s word count can predict their grade. More words = better grade.

Student embellishment is so bad that one of my colleagues identifies the amount of fluff with rubber stamps of varying sizes with “BS.” Any student paper with pure grade unadulterated embellishment gets stamped with the entire word.

Undergraduates are amateurs when it comes to fluffing. It takes four years of graduate school education to learn the craft of expanding a ten-word thought to a multiple paragraph Ambien-inducing thesis. If you don’t believe me, read memos written by college administrators.

In some literary forms, embellishment might enrich a piece; but when writing humor, less is better. A joke is not a short story. It’s a micro-story—often a single-sentence tale—told in as few words as possible.

Educators tend to fluff up a joke with needless words, while humorists always rewrite jokes to remove unnecessary words, especially in the punch line. The following Mitch Hedberg joke is a picture of such high-impact shrinkage.

I’m against picketing, but I don’t know how to show it. 

Typically, there’s an inverse relationship between funny and word count. In future posts, I’ll explain how to increase a joke’s funniness with Samurai editing.

For now, follow a simple principle. Any “joke” with more than 12-15 words probably needs to be written.

There is a time and place for fluffing, but not when constructing funny. A great joke may be BS, but it won’t have BS, and that’s no BS.

 

 

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