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.