Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Writing Humor and Book Giveaway!!!! For Real!!!
This just in! Yes, the long-awaited author's copies of Ruthy's debut novel, "Winter's End" have arrived via sled dog at her upstate New York home. Now she can not only honor those with certificates for her book, The Ruthinator can really, truly offer a book giveaway today and MEAN IT!!!! YAY!!!
And now back to our regularly scheduled program, an article Ruthy wrote for a writing newsletter that is being recycled in timely fashion so that Ruthy can overnight her revisions to that pretty little Melissa Endlich in the Big Apple.
If you can make them smile, you’ve won their hearts. The following was copied from an inspirational quotes website, author unknown. At first glance I realized that many of them could easily become the opening line of a book.
1. There is no such thing as childproofing your house.
2. If you spray hair spray on dust bunnies and run over them with roller blades, they can ignite.
3. A 3year-old’s voice is louder than 200 adults in a crowded restaurant.
4. If you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to rotate a 42-pound boy wearing batman underwear and a superman cape.
5. However, it is strong enough to spread paint on all four walls of a 20 x 20 foot room.
6. Baseballs leave marks on ceilings.
7. You should not throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on.
8. When using the ceiling fan as a bat, you have to throw the ball up a few times before you get a hit.
You get the picture. Life isn’t funny, it’s hysterical. It’s all in the perspective.
Injecting humor into your writing through actions, words or scenes lightens the work and gives your protagonists a new level of depth and character. Without inspiring laughter or knowing smiles, our writing can become two-dimensional. Dry. Dusty.
Check your favorite authors. Whether it’s Mary, Nora, Clare, Jo, Linda, Dee or Stephen, humor is an intrinsic part of most successful authors’ work. But how do I do it, you ask? I have no sense of humor; the funniest thing that ever happened to me was a root canal.
I’m so sorry! Next, please.
Okay, kidding. If you find that your writing is not the warm, spontaneous story telling you strive for, it could very well be the lack of humor. Study authors who use it both liberally and sparingly. You can utilize their timing, their methods by incorporating it into your voice with a natural flair.
Nora Roberts uses lots of humor. She puts her protagonists into situations that require quick repartee to fix, then provides the give and take involved. Here’s an example taken from The MacGregor Grooms:
“You live like a pig.” Layna sat in the kitchen, sipping merlot and sampling pasta.
D.C. merely grunted, broke a hunk of garlic bread in two and passed her half. “I keep thinking about getting a housekeeper, but I don’t like people around when I work.”
“You don’t need a housekeeper. You need heavy equipment.”
Smart and sassy heroines are a classic. Women who appear accustomed to dealing with the foibles of men and meet them toe-to-toe on common ground. Women who don’t give an inch unless they choose to. You can make it a character trait or simply weave it in as a natural offshoot of normal conversational flow.
Here’s another example: Her nose twitching, Audra followed her olfactory sense to the kitchen, where a growing haze of smoke was accompanied by the scent of melting plastic. Throwing open the oven door, she discovered that Cliff had put their take-out food into the oven to warm while still in its Styrofoam container. Aaaaaaarrrrrrgggggghhhh!
Okay, it’s a play by play. You can picture it, but it misses the mark by a country mile. Let’s make it funny.
Audra’s nose twitched. Turning the page of her microbiology book, she scratched her nose absently, caught up in the ongoing excitement of protozoal micro-organisms and their charted development.
It twitched again, in reproach. Then her nostrils flared as she brought her head up. Sniffing, she glanced around.
But her nose had always been fairly reliable. Not like her heart, an organ that had landed her in trouble more than once. As a sensory organ, her nose was trustworthy.
“Clive, where are you?” Following her nose, she padded across the thickly carpeted balcony, and looked down at the living area below.
No Clive, but the smell was stronger.
Hurrying down the stairs, she rounded the corner of the kitchen and stopped dead. Smoke billowed from the oven. Nasty smoke. Toxic smoke. Really, bad, nasty, toxic smoke.
Covering her face with a towel, Audra hit the off button on the back panel of the early-seventies, harvest gold appliance, and jerked open the door.
Clouds erupted, inciting several different smoke alarms to issue forth warnings of imminent danger. Sure. Now they tell her. A blast of frigid air swept in as Audra threw open the back door, pushed up the windows and turned on every ceiling fan she could find. What on earth?
Hustling back to the kitchen, she met Clive as he stepped through the open door carrying an armload of firewood.
“What happened?” His eyes swept the room, taking in the now-diminishing waves of smoke, the curtains waving in the wake of a twenty-degree, thirty-mile-an-hour northwest wind, and the look on Audra’s face. At the last he faltered.
“You tell me.”
“Would if I could,” he answered, his voice amiable but cautious, stepping around her to set the wood near the Franklin stove. “You burn something?”
“I had nothing to burn,” she retorted, with unusually strong emphasis on the pronoun. “I was upstairs studying, minding my own business, when the house caught fire.”
He glanced around, still in the dark. She knew the moment he realized what he’d done. His eyes flew to the oven, where remnants of Styrofoam still dripped, forming stalactites of plastic foam.
“Yup.” She knew her tone was mutinous. She didn’t care. “My waited all week fo, Friday night supper from Abernathy’s. The best golden battered haddock fish fry in town. Crispy fries. Tangy cole slaw.”
A look of triumph claimed his face. “But, I put the cole slaw in the fridge. See?” Throwing open the door of the gold refrigerator, he pointed to a four-ounce take out container. “There it is.” He turned hopeful, expectant eyes her way. “ It looks real good.”
“I don’t want the stupid cole slaw without the fish. They go together. It’s tradition.”
Clive started for the door, then glanced at his watch. He stopped. Guilt-ridden eyes came up to hers. “Abernathy’s just closed.”
“And they’re the only place on the island that does fish fries.”
His hangdog expression had Oscar potential. “Until next Friday.”
“Got it in one.”
He stood silent, thinking, then raised his shoulders in a little shrug. “You did mention you wanted to lose a few pounds.”
At the moment she was contemplating ways of losing more than a few. The figure one hundred and eighty seven came to mind.
Exactly what Clive weighed.
How incredibly convenient.
Any woman who’s had to deal with a man understands that laughter is the best medicine. Letting the humor of a normal situation flow through our work is essential to creating unforgettable characters and scenes. Adversaries with a sense of humor draw the reader in. Like Tracy and Hepburn, Hanks and Ryan, Wayne and O’Hara, there’s something delightfully normal in a good give and take between the players on the board. Whether you write historical, contemporaries, inspirationals, or FF&P, a good sense of humor softens the sharp edges, eases the reader through the black moments, and leaves them with the very real sense that they know the characters.
And like them! Study the bestsellers in and out of your genre. Open your mind to the warmth and cadence of humor.
When I was very young I remember reading an Erma Bombeck column that was written about a young mother doing time for infanticide. In a desperate moment, when life had taken every wrong turn it could, she had killed her children. While in prison she came across Bombeck’s funny, inspirational essays on life and motherhood. “If only I’d known then that you could laugh at such things,” the young mother lamented.
Laughter is intrinsic to the human soul. It buoys us. Strengthens us. Lets us examine an issue from all sides.
You never know when something you write will strike a chord with a reader. Press a button, give them pause. Don’t ever be afraid to make them laugh. They’ll love you for it, recognizing themselves in the scripted passage.
It just might make them realize that laughter is a great defuser. A home-made therapy with no co-pay involved. Allen Arnold mentioned this when he visited us the other day, that a great many of the romances they're contracting are light-hearted. Funny.
People can only handle so much angst, and angst actually works better when balanced with humor. Seriously. I know these things. I laugh at angst-riddled people all the time and it helps them. I think.
Hey, make sure you leave me your e-mail addy in your comment so we can draw a name out of the hat later on.
Um... Anybody bring a hat???