- It’s always funny to try to be precise about imprecise things: “four windows set in the front of a size and proportion which more or less exactly failed to please the eye” (Of course, “42” is the ultimate example of this.)
- A list of mundane things with something bizarre in the middle that the hero fails to register: “At eight o’clock on Thursday morning Arthur didn’t feel very good. He woke up blearily, got up, wandered blearily round his room, opened a window, saw a bulldozer, found his slippers, and stomped off to the bathroom to wash.”
- Connected to that, obliviousness to danger is always funny. In that case it was unconscious, but it can also be willful: Ford finds Arthur blocking bulldozers and says, “look, are you busy?”
- It’s always good to use inherently funny words: “squelching”, “cajoleries”
- Alliteration is always good for creating comedic verbal rhythms: “Thereafter, staggering semiparalytic down the night streets, he would often ask passing policemen if they knew the way to Betelgeuse”
And there’s a lot more to learn here. But there’s also one example of a pet peeve of mine. Adams mostly gets away with it, but I’ve been really tripped up on examples of this in comedic script and novels I’ve given notes on. This is the final dialogue of the opening chapter:
- “Myself I’d trust him to the end of the Earth,” said Ford.
- “Oh yes,” said Arthur, “and how far’s that?”
- “About twelve minutes away,” said Ford, “come on, I need a drink.”
The problem, of course, is that Arthur would never ask that question. He’s only asking it to set up the punchline. This is hoary sitcom stuff (I suppose that before that they would have called it hoary vaudeville stuff.) Can you get away with it? A few times, maybe, but the effort shows, whereas most of Adams’s stuff seem effortlessly witty. Avoid heavy lifting.