Thursday, January 19, 2012

Don't Laugh, Okay?

When I made my boyfriend-must-have list back in middle school, sense of humor was No. 1.

I’m happy to report that I married a man who can joke! Occasionally, this tendency needs a bit of correction in the form of a glare and a stern warning. “Excuse me? There’s nothing to laugh about in this situation.”

Still, I’m sold on funny. When I read, the thing that makes a novel work for me is the protagonist’s ability to crack me up.

Last month, when I was putting together my last-as-editor Chick Lit Writers of the World RWA chapter newsletter, a few of the chapter’s PAN members agreed to offer advice on writing humor. For our blog, I chose a couple of comments that spoke to me, and I hope you’ll be interested in discussing them.

Both these authors say they rely on revision to get to funny.

According to Maureen McGowan*, “Humor is one of the trickiest things to write.”

But stories allow writers to revise “to choose the right words and put them in the right order for timing and impact.” She cautions against losing the punch line “in the middle of a long convoluted sentence or paragraph.”

Megan Crane** says, “I'm always much funnier three days later and in retrospect, and thanks to revision, your characters get to be that funny right off the bat!”

The best comedy, she says, is organic. “It should come from the characters' observations of their world and each other. This is actually easier to do than trying to come up with clever jokes to insert here and there in your manuscript. It's a question of shading the characters' dialogue toward wit, which you can do each time you revise.

You just have to pay attention to what you, personally, find funny, and what your characters find funny, and let that come out in the way you tell your story. Funny follows. And so will readers.”

What do you think? Does humor influence which books you choose? How do you incorporate humor in your work? What have you learned about writing humor?

*Maureen is a two-time Golden Heart finalist and the author of Cinderella: Ninja Warrior and Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer. Last month, she announced a contract for a three-book post-apocalyptic YA trilogy.

**USA Today bestselling women’s fiction author Megan Crane, author of BookSense Notable Frenemies, also writes category romance under the name Caitlin Crews.


Suzanne Johnson said...

I tend toward humor too, and it's organic in my urban fantasy heroine's dialogue, especially her inner dialogue. My favorite paranormal series also tend to have a lot of offbeat humor--especially those by Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, and Patricia Briggs. I think humor helps strengthen your characters while you're doing awful things to them!

Chris Bailey said...

Suzanne, I've pre-ordered ROYAL STREET, and can't wait for its arrival April 10 or thereabouts. New Orleans, setting, urban fantasy, and humor--an awesome combination.

Carla Swafford said...

Chris, this is such a timely post. Though I'm in edits on CIRCLE OF DANGER (Book #2) in the evenings, I'm working on book #3 in the mornings. It helps they're in the same "world." Though my characters often are funny in a sarcastic way, I want #3 to be funnier than usual. Probably because #1 and #2 were very intense and I think my readers might need a little break though they will still have plenty of the stuff they like (I hope).

Being a big slapstick fan, I know it doesn't always work in fiction as it does on TV and the big screen. But I'm trying a few things and checking with my beta readers along the way. In small doses with much sarcasm and a lot of heart, I might pull it off. We'll see.

By the way, I love your writing and how your mind works. Hugs.

Louisa Cornell said...

I find I tend to look for humorous books to read and I watch humorous DVD's when life gets me down. It really helps me to escape the glums.

And in my writing even my darkest and most angsty books have moments of humor.

My first book and the book I am writing now are full of humor, or at least I hope they are!

Lexi said...

If you can't laugh, the darkness wins. The day job is so unrelentingly grim (reading criminal transcripts, murder, rape, child abuse, etc.) that I either have to make jokes or cry! I agree that the most natural humor comes from our personal experiences. Great post, Chris!

Cari Hislop said...

I can't imagine trying to make a story funny. For me, humor has to be organic...something that comes out of the characters' personality (or out of interaction).

Some characters are just more funny than others...and then there's some whose humor is just plain weird!
(Lucky for me I love the weird and the bizarre!) :)