This week: Adding humor to your novelEdited by: Elle
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"For me, comedy starts as a spew, a kind of explosion, and then you sculpt it from there, if at all." ~ Robin Williams
"From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere." ~ Dr. Seuss
"Humor is everywhere in that there's irony in just about anything a human does." ~ Bill Nye
I know that a lot of you are furiously writing as many words as possible because it's National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), in which many people try to write 50,000 words of a new novel in a single month. It's hard work. You may feel stressed and exhausted, particularly if you get behind on your word count or towards the end of the month. What you need is a comedic break.
I've recently read some great books that have made me smile and laugh. I understand that humour and comedy is subjective, and that what makes me laugh isn't what will necessarily make you laugh, but there's something magical about being surprised into laughter. I was reading a romance novel on the train and actually snort-laughed, much to the confusion of my fellow passengers. I couldn't help it, I wasn't expecting my novel to surprise me with a funny line.
Not all the things that make me laugh are suitably rated for this newsletter, but let me share a couple with you.
"Call me crazy, but that looks like a clue, Blue.” (from Thrown to the Wolves by Charlie Adhara).
This line works particularly well because the main couple in the story are detectives trying to solve a crime, but it also uses allusion. For people who have watched Blues Clues (which I did when my son was little), this line becomes quite funny, because you can hear it being said in the voice of the TV host from the program. If you don't get the reference, the line isn't so funny. It was also timing though, because it came in the middle of a dark, dangerous portion of the book and broke the tension unexpectedly.
Say something to him, Cooper thought. Say anything at all. But he was horrible at this. Couldn’t tell when men might be interested in him, didn’t know what to say when they were. He was an actions-over-words type of guy, and the metro stairs was no place for getting any action. He glanced to the side and was surprised to catch the man still looking at him. Cooper made a startled, nervous sort of noise that was something between an exhale and an awkward laugh, and came out like a honking sound. Okay, say anything but that. (from The Wolf At The Door by Charlie Adhara).
This one works so well because we can imagine ourselves in Cooper's situation. When you really want to impress someone, and somehow you do the worst thing possible because your brain has stressed itself out. We've all been there, right? And that's why it works so well. It's the kind of situation where you cringe at the time but laugh about it later.
“Oh my God,” he says faintly. “Were you burgled?” He pauses. “Could they find anything? Did you have to help them look?” (from Gideon by Lily Morton)
This one got to me in part because I'm an untidy person. I can well imagine someone (my mother! ) coming into my home and saying this to me. Conversely, this might also amuse ultra-tidy people who may have had this thought about the homes of people like me.
I’m amused to see my shy brother fold his arms and glare at me. It’s a bit like being told off by a gerbil. (from Gideon by Lily Morton)
I don't know about you, but anthropomorphising animals tickles my funny bone. I often make my husband laugh by making 'angry hamster' faces at him when I'm pretending to be displeased with something he has done. A line like this takes a scene that we were picturing and paints an absurd image over the top of it.
I think you do need to be careful not to overuse comedy and humour in books. Lily Morton tends to average one great comedic line per chapter that I've noticed, whereas some others just scatter a few through a book. Of course, there are probably humorous elements that I've overlooked altogether because they didn't appeal to my sense of humour or perhaps I didn't get a reference.
So this month, if you start getting stressed or overwhelmed by NaNoWriMo, maybe take a break and see if you can weave in some humour and make yourself and your reader smile.
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What's the funniest line you've written or that you've read in a book? I'd love to hear them!
Here is some feedback from my previous Comedy newsletter, "Performing on Command" :
Elle, I'm going to give that a try and see if it works. Funny on demand is impossible for me. Jeff Dunham? Brilliant. ~ Nixie
Hi Elle! First of all, thanks for the nod to my blog. Yes, it's not easy to deal with pressure or expectations. We all think we've made our point, but that's not always the case. Humour is very subjective and not universally appreciated. Sometimes, the fault lies with our language. Not everyone understands the writer's use of words or even realizes that words may have numerous nuances. ~ SandraLynn
Elle, obviously you wrote this just to me because I can't be 'funny, comical' on demand; in fact, I'm only funny when feelin' free with a friend or two, like you and Kylie . Then, I can keep the laughter going. Like today, though, I dyed my white hair and spent the rest of the day laughing alone several times as I looked into the mirror AND when I decided to share that laughter on the newsfeed here. You just cannot imagine how different I look..........after being white so many decades!! Great newsletter, Elle. ~ ANN Counselor, Lesbian & Happy
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