1. Oldmanofthemountain

    Oldmanofthemountain Active Member

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    What makes certain lines "memeable laughing stocks", and how do you avoid making them while writing?

    Discussion in 'Dialogue Development' started by Oldmanofthemountain, Jun 18, 2022.

    Every so often, there are infamously clumsily lines in TV shows, books, and films that become widely mocked memes. For example, Star Wars Rise of Skywalker had "Somehow, Palpatine returned", Game of Thrones had the "You want a good girl, but you need the bad pussy", and Suicide Squad had "This is Katana. She's got my back. I would advise not getting killed by her. Her sword traps the souls of its victims."

    What factors in the infamy of these particular lines and other similar examples? What about those lines that contribute in their failure in delivery and objectives? How does one avoid making similar mistakes in their writing?
     
  2. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I don't feel tardy.... Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, what about them makes them failures in your opinion?
     
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  3. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Contributor Contributor

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    I want to note that in film and television, the way lines are delivered is also a factor, and with a decent delivery, some bad lines would just be forgettable.

    In books, it's mainly just the text that can be used to evaluate how good or bad it is. Even great writers occasionally write sentences or passages that fall flat or just don't work.

    I don't want to list any examples, but if you've ever read the comic 'The Far Side', Larson has a few examples, like 'Cow Tools'.
     
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  4. AntPoems

    AntPoems Contributor Contributor

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    That was my first thought, too, but it's worth noting that books have a similar problem, too. When you write a line, you have no control over how it's delivered, whether it's actually spoken by an actor on screen or stage or a reader just "hears" it in their head. There's nothing you can do about that, though, except maybe recording the definitive audiobook version yourself. Or use lots of adverbs! (he said swiftly :D)

    Anyway, the first example I thought of was the infamous "toad struck by lightning" line from the first X-Men movie. I recalled hearing that the screenwriter envisioned the line completely different from the way Halle Berry actually delivered it, but googled a bit to refresh my memory and turned a surprisingly good overview:

    https://www.cbr.com/xmen-storm-toad-movie-quote-deleted-scenes-explained/

    The obvious lesson is that the Hollywood studio process sucks (shocking, I know), but the really interesting point is exactly how they ruined that line. The screenwriter claimed that in earlier drafts, Toad used lines like that to taunt people throughout the movie and the big "lightning" line was Storm turning his signature style back on him. The revisions removed his lines and left her line standing alone and unsupported, and without that context, it came across as forced and ridiculous. So perhaps the lesson here is that, as with so many things in writing, structure is a huge factor. Make sure those clever, witty lines have some kind of context and support behind them for the reader/viewer to appreciate!
    That, too. Sometimes all the structural tricks in the world won't matter, and you just blow it. As the sages of Spinal Tap remarked, "It's such a fine line between stupid... and clever."
     
  5. Oldmanofthemountain

    Oldmanofthemountain Active Member

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    I could very well be wrong, but here are my guesses on why the lines fell flat:

    1."Somehow, Palpatine returned": I feel like this a lazy attempt at deflecting from explaining how Palpatine survived being thrown down a bottomless shaft in the exploding Death Star II.

    2."You want a good girl, but you need the bad pussy": This seems to be an overly forced attempt at being erotic. The line also sounds like it's coming from a kid who just barely learned sexual slangs and innuendoes, and shoehorns them in their speech for shock.

    3."This is Katana. She's got my back. I would advise not getting killed by her. Her sword traps the souls of its victims.": To me, the line is overly flowery, trying too hard at creating a "mysterious badass" mystique, and a bit redundant considering that most people don't want to die period.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2022
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  6. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think that the lines fail because they all have a secondary purpose that's so obvious that the whole line feels like a cheat.

    Palpatine line: dodging the plot
    good girl line: titillating the viewer
    katana line: shoehorned badass exposition

    I guess the first one's different because it's just a dodge. The last two smack of desperation. They're too eager for a reader response. I guess, maybe in a broader context they could work? Eh . . . maybe. They're all pathetic in their own way, and that comes off as funny.

    Here's a stupid one.

    Aro laughed. "Ha ha ha," he giggled. ("New Moon," Stephanie Meyer.)
    Which fails because it sounds like a first grader primer while somehow saying the same thing 3 times in 7 words. I've got be fair though. The meme shortened the original line to make it dumber.

     
  7. Oldmanofthemountain

    Oldmanofthemountain Active Member

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    When the first trailer for that movie was released and revealed that Palpatine was making an appearance, I was actually looking forward to how they were going to explain his return. I was greatly disappointed when that wasn't even addressed in the final film. You know there's a problem when fan parody animations (that came out before the film even) put more of an effort in developing explanations for the plot than the actual movie itself.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2022
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  8. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, it was ridiculous. He fell to his death and then exploded in a death wave of energy. It atomized him. I saw it happen.

    I guess you're supposed to believe he rode the debris down, survived a 50,000 MPH collision, and then fended for himself for years while building ten-thousand star destroyers. It's the strangest thing.
     
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  9. Bruce Johnson

    Bruce Johnson Contributor Contributor

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    Was there anything in canon at any time about the emperor having clones and that when he died, that wave of energy coming up the shaft was his spirit migrating to another soulless clone in the galaxy?

    That would make a little more sense than the Frankenstein tubes keeping him alive.
     
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  10. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That's what I was thinking. They should just turn the energy wave into a teleportation field or something. Then he can demonstrate his teleportation powers in the final fight.

    And I would have let the emperor win. That would have ushered in the dark saga of parts 10, 11, 12 where the Jedi reform under Luke Skywalker's guidance. (Obviously, he shouldn't have died.)
     
  11. Oldmanofthemountain

    Oldmanofthemountain Active Member

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    I think that the emperor had a legion of clones made for himself in the old EU. From what I remember while surfing through the old wookiepedia page years before the Disney acquired it, Palpatine's spirit used to possess them all the time. Every time one clone body was destroyed, Palpatine would simply find himself another one.

    Apparently, Palpatine was finally defeated in the old EU when he tried possessing Han and Leia's son, but a dying Jedi jumped in between and pulled a "take the bullet" maneuver. Palpatine was trapped in the jedi dude's body as he died, and the souls of fallen jedi sealed him in some afterlife prison for all eternity.

    Essentially, Palpatine kept coming back time and time again through a horde of clone bodies, until someone in Lucasfilm got tired of it. Thus, EU writers ripped a page from the exorcist to get rid of him for good.
     
  12. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    I present to you the infamous "Master of Unlocking" line from the original "Resident Evil":


    This line was a laughing stock simply because it was so bad. Hell, they even parodied it within the Resident Evil series itself.
     
  13. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I'd say in each case they're a clumsy way of telling something that should have been shown. Maybe not the second one, I'm not familiar with the show or the books.

    I'm reminded of things I've read about some of the silent movies, where dialogue and narration was done using title cards. The lazier directors would use far too many title cards to save themselves the work of shooting all the necessary scenes. So much easier to have somebody flap their gums and cut to a card saying "The Dalton gang has robbed the stagecoach!", rather than actually film the scene. Or more cleverly, cut to a closeup of a newspaper article proclaiming that as a headline. But of course that's how you end up with talking head movies.

    Sometimes it's ok to tell, in fact sometimes it's the right way to go. But some things really beg for a good showing, like Katana's sword eating somebody's soul.
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2022
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  14. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    In the 'There's nothing wrong with the line, but the delivery was strangely flat' department, I'd like to nominate "Kane seemed fine" said by Ripley in Aliens. In fact I remember she really laid a few bad eggs in that movie delivery-wise, but offhand I can't remember any of the others.
     
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  15. Travalgar

    Travalgar Active Member

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    We can go on about dissecting popular lines and determining what factors make it work and what parts of it cause it to go viral etc. ad nauseam, but in reality (in my opinion, of course), in this age of flood of information on the internet, there's really no sure way to tell whether something will be "memeable", except in retrospective analysis.
     
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  16. Oldmanofthemountain

    Oldmanofthemountain Active Member

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    The second line was uttered by a character that supposed to be some "femme fatale" type ninja assassin. She whispered the line in the ear of a main character's companions (here is a clip of the scene for more context). Again, it was supposed to push the image of a "sensually deadly woman" onto the character. With how juvenilely written it was, the intention was totally botched in translation. In my opinion, it reeks more of what a rebellious teenage girl would say to her boyfriend in attempt to push against her parents' restrictions.
     
  17. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Before ‘memes’ were a thing, these were simply ‘quotable’ lines from TV and film. It’s not the lines themselves that make them ‘memeable’, just the internet.
     
  18. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber marshmallow Contributor

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    These are all iconic. I have no idea what you're talking about.
     
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  19. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I remember Anakan's infamous sand line in one of the star wars sequels. I went to see that one at the movie theater and recall the guilty giggles in the audience. Part of it was Hayden's goony delivery (I think Ewan could've made it sound sexier), part of it was what-the-hell-is-this? Nobody came to see a doomed romance especially in a franchise that wasn't tops with dialogue (it was always juvenile.) They were best at breezy bravado - like Princess Leia's - I love You and Hans Solos - I know.
    One way to skip goofy lines is to know your genre, know your limits and don't try to sound too profound or artsy or quippy as it will kill whatever vibe you meticulously set up.

    The Meg one of the dumbest movies I've ever seen and seems written by an A.I. trapped into watching Jaws, movie trailers, and lame office comedies - and after it was made he disessembled himself in shame - is a cornucopia of lousy lines. What makes it all the worse is you never believe anyone would talk like that in that situation. When Jason Stratham dives into the water to rescue someone, some goon says Hellya (as though he's part of the audience.) It ruined the tension.
    Tremors & Speed handled balancing danger and humor much better. Their goofy lines work.
     
  20. Lazaares

    Lazaares Contributor Contributor

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    Even before memes, there were lines that became laughing stock, and some movies even made fun of them. EG., the corny action hero one-liners of the 80s and 90s fall in this category.

    I think the main difference that decides whether a corny line becomes "emblematic" or "cringe" depends on the purpose. I feel most meme-lines take themselves serious, whereas most action hero lines are corny on purpose.

    One thing to avoid - snarky in-character remarks about plot holes, plot shortcomings or worldbuilding mistakes are GENERALLY bound to become meme/horrible. It's been a Hollywood fad lately.
     
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  21. ShannonH

    ShannonH Member Supporter

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    I'll take the 'Bad Pussy' line from GoT and raise you, "I know a killer when I see one." Uttered just after just watching the character being referred to burning a city to the ground and murdering thousands.
     
  22. Robert Musil

    Robert Musil Comparativist Contributor

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    What, no love for The Room on this thread? The mother lode of meme-able bad lines, like "I did not hit her, I did NAHT" and "You are tearing me a-PAHT, Lisa"? I can't do justice to Tommy Wiseau's accent, you have to hear it for yourself.

    Anyway others up thread have said this in different ways, but I think the bottom line is laziness. People wanted to take an easy way to fix a plot problem or develop a character or provide backstory, and as a result just used the first thing they could think of instead of really caring about the end product. I'm reminded of John Boyne just writing down the first thing his google search for "red dye recipe" turned up, and it was...an in-game recipe from a Legend of Zelda game, referencing all sorts of made-up creatures and ingredients. Which he just copied and pasted directly into his novel which was...clearly set in the real world and not a Legend of Zelda novel. The result is kind of hilarious for anyone who's played any of those games.

    The thing is though, laziness doesn't appear out of nowhere. It's a result of a lack of feedback mechanisms, or at least a lack of feedback prior to publicly releasing something (in which case the feedback mechanism is just embarrassment). For something like a feature film or a published book, this is what editors are supposed to be for. If one is self-published or releasing a self-made film on YouTube or something perhaps stuff like this is forgiven more easily--I think we get a special sort of amusement out of the combination of laziness and a big-budget Hollywood production or mass-market book release. It's much more fun to see the mighty humiliated like that.

    But once people reach a certain level of professional success (like George Lucas or even John Boyne, who is an award-winning best-selling author), those who are supposed to be giving them honest feedback often don't feel like they can, either because "they must know what they're doing" or out of fear of professional career consequences from being perceived as "difficult to work with".

    Or I guess people like Tommy Wiseau who are just so weird and maniacal and DGAF (and are self-funding their projects).

    Anyway, on the other hand, not being lazy doesn't guarantee you won't come up with a stinker. It lessens the risk though. Especially since in Internet meme culture things can get divorced from their context and re-appropriated in radically different directions very easily.
     
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  23. FlyingGuppy

    FlyingGuppy New Member

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    I guess the thing that unites all three examples is their utter lack of subtext. In that regard, the GoT line is probably the most subtle.

    In dialogue, people never say what they mean. Hell, in real life, people never say what they mean. Meaning lies in the subtext. So when a character wants to appear badass and says they're a badass in so many words, it has the opposite effect. They seem lame.

    I think that Palpatine line was less about the character's intent and more about the actual screenplay's. Despite it being central to the story, they didn't have a reason for his return, or care to invent one. They just wanted to skip past it and move on.
     
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