One of the greatest inventions of the 20th century – or any century, in my opinion – was a piece of cardboard with a spinner dial and a bunch of stuff printed on it. If you’re a creative person I think you’ll share my awe once I tell you about The Laugh Finder.
In younger years, my numerous pursuits included that of a correspondence course in cartooning. When the big box of introductory materials arrived, it contained many books of lessons, an assortment of artist pencils, a posable wooden marionette and this curiosity:
(Thank you, Larry Rippee and Molly Rea, artists who made it possible to show this to you.)
The idea behind this gizmo is that it would help you create the idea for a cartoon. You’d spin it several times, and via an enormous list that corresponded to the numbers on the dial, you’d get your characters, props and basis of humor (situation). Instant hilarity, right?
A typical session with The Laugh Finder might yield you these results:
“Vampire” … “Hearing aid” … “Weakness”.
What humorous cartoon could you come up with involving a vampire, a hearing aid and weakness?
After some thought you might come up with something like this. You see Dracula talking to an elderly Frankenstein who’s using an earhorn to hear. Dracula says, “You think you’ve got problems? How’d you like to have anemia and it’s not even yours?”
Let’s go for another spin. “Old man” … “Waitress” …”Doing things the hard way”.
Hmm. Okay, the cartoon shows an old couple eating at a restaurant table. The old woman is chowing down while the man’s food is untouched. Through puckered lips, he tells the waitress, “Yes, my food’s okay. I’m just waiting for Maw to finish using the teeth.”
Groans aside (and, mind you, not every idea is as brilliant as those!), perhaps you can see the value of this concept. The principle of taking disparate things and putting them together in a new framework (for humor or other purposes) has been a valuable tool that I continue to find useful almost every day.
Don’t know where to go with a character in your story? You could pick a couple of words at random from a magazine or the dictionary. “Inadequate” and “clean” are two I just found. Maybe your protagonist isn’t a great housekeeper, a trait that can lend itself to some interesting and very human sidenotes in your tale. Perhaps that earring they step on leads to a minor emergency room visit where they meet the doctor of their dreams. Or a vampire with a hearing aid.
When we feel a little stuck creatively, we may not have Laugh Finders handy to spin and point us in a new direction, but if we think outside the box it’s very easy to come up with something unexpected we could add to the mix. That could be all it takes to put a new spin on things.