Friday, December 12, 2008

Comedy is Serious Business

I’ve been trying to write a blog giving advice about how to write comedy for a while and you know what?

It’s a hard, serious business.
So I’ll try. I write comedy myself but heaven only knows if I can explain how I do it (or even why).
BEFORE WE START HOWEVER-- To liven up an otherwise dreary blog about me trying to analyze comedy to death, I'm having a drawing today.
I'm giving away one signed copy of
Of Mice. . .and Murder.
To get your name in the drawing you have to leave a comment and make sure I know your email address so I can contact you and get your mailing address.
I'll talk a bit more later but right now .Of Mice. . .and Murder is IMPOSSIBLE to get unless you're a subscriber to the Heartsong Mysteries book club.
So go sign up because it's the first book in a three book series. So more are coming soon.
Now, onto comedy.

Let’s see:
First I’m going to write about several different types of comedy.

Dialogue comedy just sort of happens to me. I don’t set out to say, “Okay, let’s be funny in this scene.” Instead, in the course of writing a book, it seems like it’s my natural instinct to just go for the sassy choice. If the woman can answer politely, demurely, straightforwardly or be mouthy…guess which one always comes to my mind?

I remember once, I was injured in an unfortunate brainstorming accident.
I told the situation and ended with, "It's a romantic comedy."
My brainstorming partner...who is NOT a Seeker...just gave me this weird, dead serious look and said, "There's nothing funny about that situation. You can't make jokes about that."
Well, hello Death from Brainstorming.
Any situation, no matter how grim, can have moments of humor, a lot of humor on movies is very, very dark. So guess what? I can have humorous moments in any books. In fact, I can't stop myself.
For me, a truly well done comedy scene incorporates all the types of comedy and it's very complex to write. There's a rhythm to comedy. Hits, beats maybe you'd call it. In fact, if you watch a sitcom CRITICALLY you'll you'll see that there's a real strong rhythm to that writing, usually a joke very three lines. The two lines previous are the set up for the joke.
Or an attempt at a joke. :)
I’m going to take part of a comedy scene out of Of Mice. . .and Murder and use it, one scene, to try and illustrate the three types. (there may be more types of comedy. I can’t think of them right now.)

A mouse dashed out from under the couch and raced on its teensy clattering claws straight toward them.
She found herself in Nick’s strong arms as the mouse ran toward them. Carrie, looked frantically to keep her eye on the danger, and saw the evil little beast run up inside Nick’s pant leg.
Her next scream almost peeled the ancient cabbage rose wallpaper off Great-grandma’s living
room walls.
Nick stomped his foot several times, acting as unconcerned as if his leg had gone to sleep. The mouse ran back out and vanished into the kitchen with Grizzly hot on his disgusting, long, dragging, pointy tail

This is physical comedy. Except for “Eek” this is all Carrie and Nick moving around. Their actions are funny because of the situation I’ve set up through this whole book of Carrie being terrified of mice and Nick’s absolutely adoration of being seen by Carrie as a hero.

Carrie quit screaming, and looked at Nick. In horror, she said, “You’re going to have to live with that for the rest of your life!”
“You mean live with knowing a mouse ran up my leg?” Nick tilted his head considering. “Okay, no problem.”
“And so am I!”
“Honey, you’re strangling me.”

Now we’re on dialogue. To me, well done dialogue comedy is very under written. I mean, expect your reader to ‘get it’. It’s a fine line where you can say too little and the joke gets missed or say to much and the joke falls flat. You need to bring the reader along, trust them to remember what the book has set them up to know, and drop Nick’s calm, little, “Honey, you’re strangling me.” Line in there because Carrie is so out of control terrified.

Carrie loosened her hold. “Uh, is that what mice always do when they run up your pant leg?”
Nick shrugged. “I suppose, what else?”
“I figured they run all the way up and crawl inside my underwear and get stuck in the elastic and start biting and squeaking and. . .” Carrie buried her face in his chest.
“And yet, none of that happened.”

Carrie’s humor is hysterical over-the-top fear. Nick’s response, dry, calm, makes a nice back and forth between them.

Carrie thought Nick sounded a speck impatient. Couldn’t blame him. “It’s my lifelong dream to live on the fifth floor of an all glass building.”
“I’m an architect. There aren’t any of those. I know that for a fact. What if someone threw a rock? Five stories of dangerous broken glass raining down on everybody. Nope, bad idea.” Nick pressed a quick kiss onto the top of her head.
Carrie looked up.

I’m hoping here the reader is picturing glass raining down on their heads. They’re with me on the nonsense of Carrie’s obsession and whacky solution to her problem. And I suspect a lot of them are also afraid of mice so they know EXACTLY how Carrie feels. And, even though her actions are way over the top, she's got their sympathy.

“Before I leave, how about I make sure you’ve forgotten all about mice.” Nick smiled, leaned down and kissed her."
We can't forget the romance, now can we?
I'll take another scene and write part two of this serious subject next Friday. I might just go through my books and pick some of my favorite comic moments.
In the meantime, Of Mice. . .and Murder has been released, it is impossible to get so don't even try. If you want it you've got to join the Heartsong Mysteries book club.
But it is available in a collection called Nosy in Nebraska which releases next June. That'll have three cozy mysteries, all set in fictional Melnik, Nebraska, the Home of the World's Largest Field Mouse.
I will add here that I believe, even people terrified of mice will enjoy Of Mice. . .and Murder.
So do any of you write comedy? We talked yesterday about how children can bring comedy to a scene. What is your favorite kind? Anyone got the guts to share a favorite scene?
And don't forget to leave a comment and get your name in the drawing for Of Mice. . .and Murder


  1. I love comedy in books; you never can laugh too much and laughter is food for the soul. It does one good to laugh every now and then and makes on be in a better mood.
    The book sounds hilarious(especially b/c of the mice. I don't like them in my house even though they can be cute.

  2. I love comedy as well. Mine is nonfiction, as I do mostly subtle, self-deprecating humor. I'm taking the challenge, and posting two things. The first is a scene from my completed nonfiction manuscript, "Honey, You're Annoying Me." It's a discussion of typical male habits that irritate spouses (and something I hope, each day, to hear from a publisher on)

    A few years ago, while I was watching a football game, Mo, pregnant with our first child, walked into the den and announced, “It’s time to shop for a crib.”
    Realizing no amount of logic would work at this point, I got up and walked with her to the car. On the way to the store, my wife mentions, “I hope it wasn’t an important game.”
    (My poor wife, I thought. Absolutely no frame of reference with regards to football.) “No,” I said. “It’s just the Super Bowl.”
    “And that means what,” she asked.
    I explained the game, the commercials, and how many people worldwide were watching. She yelled, “It’s not even your frickin’ team!” Mo then turned the car around and didn’t speak to me for a day.

    The second is from an essay I posted on my blog about a year ago. It's a Christmas story involving church and kids, so I thought it'd be appropriate. Hope everyone enjoys it.

  3. Mary,

    I think the most difficult thing about comedy is humor is so personal. What strikes one person as funny does nothing for someone else and a lot is based on previous experiences. Sometimes you have to be of the same generation to get a joke, you have to have been in the same line of work, etc. Know what I mean?

    Well, that's my disclaimer and here's a little piece of my mss. My protagonist was shopping in the mall when somebody died there. The police come to her door and catch her completely off guard.

    “We’re just gathering information. The coroner is performing an autopsy to see exactly what she died of. Ms. Everette said you were at the Deluxe Stores this morning when Madeline collapsed.”
    “Nita Everett, (town name here) postmaster.”
    I knew the woman’s face from the Post Office, but hadn’t seen her at the store that morning. I guessed she remembered me from handling my mail. I considered going postal.

    Okay, don't just "humor" me here. (pun intended) Did anyone find that even a little humorous? Be honest. I'm testing my theory that you have to be a "certain age."

  4. Oh Mary!! This is really funny! Your style is just unique and funny! I think you did a fine job explaining things!

    Now this mice and murder combination...I'm all over that!! And since I'm one of your faithful fans, of course I want to be in the drawing!

    Thanks for this wonderful opportunity and for making me smile!

    kimfurd at hotmail dot com

  5. Okay, Robynl, Walt and Cathy S... no email addresses. Leave it with us to get in the drawing.

    Robyn-I actually dedicated this book to my sister-in-law who is such a mouse-o-phobe freak it's the family joke...but not to her. She's absolutely terrified. And I'M terrified and even I know she's over the top. And she lives in an old country farm house, like me, so they have mice, it's just a fact of life.
    Although she does run to about twenty cats around her place...all outside. I'm sure it's to fend off mice.
    Anyway, she reads all my books and I told her I dedicated Of Mice. . .and Murder to her. Figured she'd be honored.

    Her response....?

    She shuddered and said, "I'm not going to be able to read that."

    It was the first glimpse I'd had that my book may actually terrorize the very people who will most enjoy and identify it.


  6. Walt, I love the idea for your book. Hilareous title, too. Good luck finding a home for it.

    Thanks for sharing that excerpt. It's perfect. The back and forth, the wife, the situation that you just could not win. Very funny and well done.

    Uh, does your wife think it's funny?

  7. Cathy, I love the 'going postal' line. Nice, laid in there with a great, soft touch.
    So, is the book done? Are you subbing it around?

    Barbour's got this cozy mystery line you know.

  8. Hi, Kim. Actually Susan Downs, the acquiring editor for Heartsong Presents Mysteries came up with the title.

    I named it Murder in Melnik.

    I know, yawn.

    So she named this one and I got the drift and named the others in consultation with her.

    Of Mice. . .and Murder
    Pride and Pestilence
    The Miceman Cometh

    I kind of wanted to name one of them
    Close Encounters of the Furred Kind.....but Susan wouldn't let me.

    In fact, when I suggested it, she grounded me from email for a few days.

  9. Hey Mary - I don't know how you do it, but you do it right! I, personally have laughed out loud many times reading your books.

  10. Mary, I love your writing because the comedy seems to happen so effortlessly for you. I also enjoy Claudia Mair Burney's Amanda Bell Brown series. Your Petticoat Ranch series and her series are some of the only books that I've ever belly laughed at while reading - I love it!

    ryanx6 at msn dot com

  11. Hi Mary, great post! I love the humor in your books. You see the world in a humorous way so writing humor is natural for you. I can't wait to read Of Mice...and Murder, but don't include me in the drawing. I'll buy Cozy in Nebraska in June.

    I don't write comedy, but every book needs a little comic relief. I use wacky secondary characters and/or dialogue to add humor though not necessarily the laugh out loud variety. In this excerpt from a scene in Courting Miss Adelaide the Snip and Sew quilters are talking to Fannie about her desperation to marry.

    Fannie took up her needle again. “I’ll lose my looks soon.”

    Sally waved a dismissive hand. “Phooey! You’re pretty. I look like a possum and I still managed to get a husband.”

    Adelaide gasped. “You do not look like a possum!”

    “I do,” Sally said, stitching along a rose-sprigged petal. “Small beady eyes, long nose, gray hair. Why, with my sons toting guns everywhere, I rarely venture out after dark.”


  12. Hi Mary:

    I love the cover of “Of Mice…and Murder”. It’s a funny cover. Very creative!

    I enjoy romantic comedy but it is so hard to do well that there just is not much out there to read. I really want to read your book now. Great post. I'm hungry for more. Can’t wait until part two.

    Here’s a segment I wrote for a contest about getting back into the dating scene after years of being married. A widower’s seven year old daughter wants a mother and thinks its time for her father to start dating. Her mother has been dead for almost three years. The father is sitting in his recliner reading a book when the daughter enters the room.

    “Dad, we’ve got to talk.”

    “Mary, you’re too young for a ‘we’ve-got-to-talk’ talk”.

    “Dad, no female is ever too young for a ‘we’ve-got-to-talk’ talk.”

    I really thought this was funny but it is probably very gender specific. Do you think women will find this funny? The daughter is very gifted and she is always making comments that are not age appropriate and this incongruity is what I found humorous. (You know, like the talking babies.)

    My email is vmres at swbell dot net. But I won last time and I should probably not be eligible.



  13. Hi, Janna. I'm glad I made you laugh. Humor is really personal and you never know if, what strikes one person as funny, might just crash and burn with someone else.

    Take my children and Napolean Dynomite for example...just don't get it.

  14. Mary,

    My e-mail address is "wmussell at hotmail dot com".

    My wife thinks it's funny now. She didn't then.


  15. Mary you are soooooooooo funny. I love the humor in your books.

  16. Mary,

    Thanks for commenting on my piece. I'm a fan of the Barbour mysteries and wrote it to submit it there. We'll see.

    I've heard for awhile that romantic comedy isn't selling. Maybe it will come back, as relief from the financial meltdown?

  17. You know when a NOT FUNNY situation can actually be laughed at days, months or years after? THAT is why you can find funny things in the situation though it is RIGHT NOW. I can see why you, Mary, can come out with some humor in these dark or hard times. You just see the funniness before the rest of us who are slower sees them.
    Our son calls us occasionally and can find funny things in the most hard or difficult situations. If he didn't tell it in the way he does, we would certainly find only the hard side of it. I think this is a gift you and he both have, Mary. I mean, a GIFT.
    Sometimes I am on a "roll" of making people laugh but if our son wants to, he can keep us in stitches from dawn to dusk and beyond.
    I don't have any specifics that come to mind or I would, guts or not, share them. If some come to mind, even if today is over, I will come back and share.
    Pam Williams
    cepjwms at yahoo dot com

  18. Mary, you're the queen. Queen of Romantic Comedy, that is. Please put me in the drawing.
    melaniedickerson at knology dot net

  19. Drat.

    I had a great comment ready to post and it disappeared into cyber space, probably to show up on some voo-doo blog someplace south of Florida.

    Oy vey!

    Mary, love your humor, love your blogs, love you. But that's probably because we're both whacked in the head.

    Here. Some snickerdoodles. Fresh-baked. Yum.


  20. It's so weird because I'm told that I have a great sense of humor, but I find I write more serious stuff than humorous. My new story has some humor in it, but most of them just have a smidgen.

    And of course, I want to be added to the drawing. I love your books. They're so funny and your characters are amazing and fun!!

    So add me to the drawing.

    Debra Ullrick
    The Bride Wore Coveralls
    Déjà vu Bride
    Dixie Hearts

  21. My daughter and I giggled our way through your exerpts. Anything that funny has to be a combination of natural talent, which you have in spades, and tremendous hard work...which I know you also have..but probably in hearts...or clubs.


  22. I love comedy in books. I love it when I am reading a book in the SUV when hubby is driving and all of a sudden, I burst out laughing and can't stop because something I read was so funny. This book sounds so funny and I really want to read it. Please enter me in the drawing.


  23. Mary's funny? Funny, I hadn't noticed.


    Oh well.

    Oh, Ruthy, I loved your post yesterday and the darling pics of the pups, but I couldn't get on the comments to tell you so!

  24. LOL, Pam H.!!

    Mary, I love your humor. (for the record, she's funny all the time. Whenever I"m online and start to laugh, my husband asks if I'm reading an email from Mary.) And I love how you can do all types of humor. I definitely laugh out loud when I read your books. But what's nice is that I also enjoy the emotion you have in there as well. It's well balanced.

    Camy's books are that way for me, too. Laugh out loud balanced with emotion.

    I have a problem. I start out plotting a dark, emotional story, and then I start writing, and suddenly my characters are saying sarcatic things that (I think) are pretty funny. And then the book ends up morphing into something lighter. I've finally learned not to even try to do dark. I just can't hang with it.

    Walt, I loved your article! My son did something similar to me in a restaurant once. Told the waitress (and several tables nearby) that I was in the bathroom pooping. When I came out, I wondered why the patrons were giggling and looking at me. It was SO embarrassing. :)

  25. Mary, you are what you write . . . right? I couldn't write humor to save my life. Save my life? Sounds like suspense. Does that mean I'm always thinking of ways to kill people? Hmmm?

    Love your comments, especially about the pacing of humor. Doesn't all writing have a pace . . . the "music" that makes it sing or zing or ting or ... ?

    It's late and I'm heading off to bed! Love your post and your humor.

  26. Vince, I loved your bit of dialogue! Very cute.


  27. Janet, I remember that scene. I loved it!

  28. Oh, and Mary, you must not have a good sense of humor after all if you didn't like Napoleon Dynamite!! LOL

    The thing is, you have to watch it multiple times to really get it. The first time I watched, I fell asleep. I've seen it several times in full since then. Now I just crack up thinking of particular scenes and snippets of dialgue. :)

  29. i would love to be entered in the giveaway. one can always use a good laugh.

  30. Vince, that scene is so cute! Certainly made me laugh. :) Then again, I tend to find humor in situations that aren't supposed to be funny. I enjoy it anyway. *grins*

    And I'd love to be entered in the drawing. I think my entire family has read Petticoat Ranch. It'd be well-read, especially if I can't get it from the library! Thank you!


  31. Mary,

    You are so funny. I wish I was that good at making my book funny.
    This book looks like a lot of fun to read.


  32. Bravo! Yes, comedy is hard work, and you do it so well! I love that you wrote the man as having moved his leg in such a way as if it were only asleep.
    Thanks for the encouragement and advice! Jo Russell, author, speaker, blogger,