Monday, June 1, 2009

Guest Blogger Kim O'Brien on Humor in Fiction

It’s an honor to be a guest blogger on the edit café website. JoAnne suggested that I write about humor because it is something she enjoys in my books. It seemed a simple enough task until I sat down to write something. Nothing came to mind, which wasn’t surprising as I am basically a serious person. However, I like to laugh, and I come from a family that values humor.

In college, I wrote an essay about how my father fixed things in our house – the sink that drained into a bicycle inner tube, the chain of belts hooked around our washing machine to keep it from hopping across the floor during the spin cycle, and the time my dad blew up the front lawn when he used gasoline and matches to get rid of the mole problem. My teacher gave me an “A” and told me I had a great imagination. My family enjoyed the comment much more than the grade.

The trick to writing good humor in fiction, I think, is to bring this same truth into our fiction. The world we invent has to hold up, and so do the actions of our characters. Humor that is forced, feels awkward and doesn’t work. Humor that arises naturally from the characters is much more satisfying. This comes from knowing a character’s personality – their dreams, fears, quirks, etc. Give your character a quirk – for example, color blindness, put a paint brush in his hand, add a loving motivation and see what happens.

Humor comes not only from the character, but the situation the writer places them in. The other night I was at a birthday party for one of my daughter’s friends. The kids were in the pool and I was in the kitchen talking with the parents of the birthday girl when the subject turned to dogs. “Speaking of,” I said, “where’s Dixie?”
The husband and wife looked at each other for a moment and then the wife said, “in our closet.”
“But your dog is so friendly,” I said.
Another look passed between them. “Every so often Dixie gets, well, really mad.” He paused. “She suffers from Springer Spaniel rage syndrome.”
“Springer spaniel rage syndrome?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” the wife said very seriously, “If you invade her space, she’ll attack.”
“And if she takes something and crawls under the bed…” the husband shakes his head sadly. “You can’t get her to come out.”

I’m picturing him sticking his arm under the bed and learning this fact the hard way. Although getting bitten by a dog isn’t funny, there’s a lot of potential for humor by putting a character, say a babysitting uncle who isn’t comfortable with dogs or kids, into the uncomfortable situation of retrieving a child’s favorite doll that Dixie has taken with her under the bed. How would he do it? What toys, props, etc., would he arm himself with?

I love to laugh, and one of the nicest things one of my readers ever wrote was that she suffered from chronic pain, but when she read my book, she laughed so hard she forgot about it. Humor is truly a gift we can give our readers, and the good news is that you don’t have to be a funny person to do it. Humor is all around us. All we need to do is be open to seeing it in our fictional worlds – and to tell the truth.


Erica Vetsch said...

What a fun post. :)

A color-blind painter...that made a dozen different scenarios pop into my head. How fun!

Edna said...

My husband is color blind and he can not paint at all, he can't tell where he has been on the wall. It is terrible to have to live in a black and white world with so much color around. Pleae enter me into the drawing for your book if there is one for today. May God bless


Rachel Overton said...

I love your writing, Kim, because you do make me laugh. Your characters are very real and relatable, because we know their foibles and embarassments as well as we know what makes them respectable hero/ine material! My family knows when I'm editing one of your projects, because I'm laughing aloud and reading them portions of the text.

Wait til you guys meet Boomer in her next book! ROTFL (between gasps for untainted air...)!!!

Gina Welborn said...

"Hi, Erica!" Gina says waving, although she knows Erica might not be back in the cafe to see her.

Kim, great post! I could hear your matter-of-fact sense of humor coming through your word choices and phrasing. SSRS sounds vaguely similar to WKRS (Welborn Kids Rage Syndrome). Every so ofen one of them spontaneously whacks the other unprovoked. This has, sadly, lead to the No days.

No looking at your sister day.
No breathing on your sister day.
No touching your bother day.
No thinking about touching your brother day.
No sitting next to your brother day.
No walking within 5 feet of your sister day.

A parent must do what a parent must do without putting kids in a time-out closet. Although....

Erica Vetsch said...

Hi, Gina!

I had to laugh at

No thinking about touching your brother day.

I might have to institute something like that at my house.

Rachel, you've made me curious to find out who Boomer is.

Rachel Overton said...

You're gonna love him, Erica!

Dede said...

What I love best about Kim's sense of humor is that it's gentle. Her situations are hilarious, but she never ridicules her characters. That says a lot about who Kim is as a person. (I like Norman even better than Boomer.)

Rachel Overton said...

Good point, Dede. And absolutely true. And Norman is a sweetheart. A meddling sweetheart, but a sweetheart nonetheless!

Kim O'Brien said...

Hi everyone,
Thank you for all the nice comments. You've all made me feel so welcome here!

I would have responded sooner, but I am still figuring out how to post comments, etc.

Molly Noble Bull said...

Interesting article. Keep up the good work.

Mary Connealy said...

Hi, Kim. I've tried to write a blog post or two on hunor. I really can't hardly put it into words. You did well.

Kim O'Brien said...

Thanks Mary,
I've read some of your posts and think you are really funny -- especially the one you wrote about twittering.

Mary Connealy said...

No, I can make the blog posts FUNNY, I just can't put it into words how to write comedy, that's way different....
I think???