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  • Writer's pictureAlan Dale

Unintentional Humour – The Best Freebie That They Never Even Advertise

Happily progressing through a novel, I realised that I hadn’t the faintest recollection of said hat’s previous appearance in the narrative. What black hat? Come to that, what hat? Worn by whom? Where, in which chapter, which scene?

OK, some novels and styles will emphasis style and fashion a lot more than others. Nothing wrong with that – it may well be central to various characters’ ambitions, hang-ups, problems, reactions, etc..

It’s perfectly true that “statements”, for some people mean the wearing of particular clothes. Maybe someone feels that loud or clashing colours compensate for an otherwise unremarkable personal appearance. Perhaps a sudden diversion into the sartorially sarcastic can offer a way of conforming to a dress rule, while still asserting one’s independence of spirit.

My wife gave me a beautiful pocket watch, replete with visible, busily oscillating and indexing gears, springs and ratchets. I took great pleasure in withdrawing it from the breast pocket of my otherwise managerially acceptable shirt. End of Act 1. I would then raise my eyebrows, as I pressed the release catch, allowing a more detailed perusal of the hour. Consulting it with pursed lips and knotted brows, I would shake my head, closing and re-pocketing it, very slowly, as if to convey strengthened resolve.

I’ve never used this, in any of my fiction, but, writing it, I see rich ironic potential in such a detail. Call it a warped sense of humour if you will – guilty as charged, m’lud. I now envisaged a comedic scene of my own, in which my own experience might be invested with a much more dramatic significance, for the character to whom it occurred.

Suppose the reader were a lowly member of a private detective agency, on the skids because of his previous poor sleuthing record. Perhaps the hat appeared in the depths of a long, rambling statement from a witness. Maybe the detective’s having missed it only emerges in discussion of his current analysis of the case with an increasingly dissatisfied and irascible boss. The opportunities for vitriolic dialogue appear legion.

As for the novel and hat in question, I spent a very happy half an hour or so, asking myself, aloud, “Black hat? What black hat?”

I really must find out, perhaps after dinner tonight...

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