Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tactical Humor

My creative writing career began as a humor columnist for Illinois Magazine. I didn’t realize I could write humor until I did it for money. Then I couldn’t stop. I love cracking myself up as I write and I hope the reader gets a laugh out of it too, which isn’t always the case, no matter who you are or what you write, because humor is subjective. You might find someone slipping on a banana peel hilarious. The next guy might think it’s stupid.

But most stories have some humor in them at some point, in one form or another. Even horror novels like JAWS have a laugh or too in them (we’re gonna need a bigger boat) and those laughs can be gleaned from many different techniques. Let me break it down.

ACTION: Humor can come from simple action. Let’s go with the JAWS theme here. Remember the scene in the movie when Chief Brody and company answer the screams of a girl yelling “SHARK!” The tension is building, the hunt is on, and all guns are pointing in the water at… wait for it…a kid wearing a fin. Then he points to his brother and says, “He made me do it.” That’s funny.

SETTING: The atmosphere of a scene can provide humor as well. Right down to the paint on the walls or the car someone is driving. A creative use of setting can provide comic relief in any story. Here’s a scene from UNCOVERING AMETHYST where my protag is being introduced to the cottage she’ll be staying in, decorated by her amorous aunt:
Fiona grabbed a remote control.
"Okay, honey, now here's the switch for the fireplace."
Poof! The fireplace turned on.
"And this is for the stereo."
"Ohhhhhh, my love, my darrrrlin, I hunger for your touch…" sang a Righteous Brother.
"And this works the Jacuzzi."
I almost expected Barry White to pop out from beneath the bubbles.
"Can't you just see a young couple falling in love here?" Fiona clapped her hands together.
Actually, I could see a young couple plowing through a box of condoms here, but who was I to judge?

DIALOGUE: Much of the humor in a novel will happen in dialogue. Both internal and external. A conversation between a wise-cracking detective vs. an upper-class socialite is bound to have some funny in it. The side-kick in my book is a bartender with an attitude. One of her favorite things to do is to put people in their place and teach rude customers manners. Here’s an example of that:
"Hey, bartender," shouted a man a few feet down. "I've been waiting here for ten minutes trying to get a drink."
"Oh yeah?" Cin turned to face him. "Why don't you make a complaint on my website? It's"

DESCRIPTION: Similes and metaphors are a perfect tool for injecting humor into a story. Here’s one I used to describe a local publisher in my book:
Shea continued the paper but when it came to reporting, he was like a blind man driving a car. He could fire up the engine, but it was only a matter of time before he would run it off the road.

Or in describing a house, a personality, or a person’s looks, get creative.
Here’s another example:
Her hair was platinum even-I-don't-pretend-it's-real blonde, her nose small and her eyebrows tweezed within an inch of their lives. Judging from the look of her face, I'd bet the local Avon stock was seriously depleted.

I personally enjoy laughing out loud when I read a story, so that’s the kind of work I produce. So there you are, have fun with your writing and for more examples, here’s some of my favorite funny authors:

Janet Evanovich
Lisa Lutz
JA Konrath
Ellen Shanman
Toni McGee Causey
Marian Keyes
Carl Hiassen


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