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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Writing Humor Into Your Story--Introduction

One of my more popular workshops over the years has been on writing humor into any story. It's been a while since I've done this one "live," and I always like to keep my workshops fresh. So as I spent some time updating it, I thought I might share a few of the hints here for those who don't live near enough to attend one of my talks. 

Over the next several blog posts, I'll discuss the ten major elements of writing comedy and provide you with examples. You might want to bookmark these posts for future reference. Or you can hope Google will dig them up for you later. Your choice.

Two men are playing golf one day at their local golf course. One of the guys is about to chip onto the green when he sees a long funeral procession on the road next to the course. He stops in mid-swing, takes off his golf cap, closes his eyes, and bows down in prayer. 
His friend says: “Wow, that is the most thoughtful and touching thing I have ever seen. You truly are a kind man.” 
The man then replies: “Yeah, well, we were married 35 years.”  

No matter what genre you write, a little humor can go a long way. Whether your setting is contemporary, historical, or futuristic, well-placed comic relief is always welcome. Humor helps break tension in a suspense novel or in an overly emotional scene. Humor can distract a reader from a clue or provide a red herring in a mystery. Even Shakespeare managed to throw the occasional jest into his most tragic plays. Why? Because humor makes our characters more three-dimensional.

We all laugh. Why shouldn’t our characters? And why shouldn’t they make our readers laugh, too? Humor tells a reader more about a character than any other written form. Don’t believe me? Let me list a few classic movie comedy plots, deleting the humorous aspect of their stories. See if you can guess what movies they’re from.

1.      A crooked politician hatches a scheme to oust a small western town’s residents, take over the land, and sell it for its railroad rights. 
2.      A filmmaker follows a heavy metal band on an American tour. 
3.      A group of thieves double-cross each other over a heist of priceless diamonds. 
4.      A group of actors, stranded in the jungle, face real-life danger.
5.      A bachelor party goes horribly awry when the groom disappears. 

Did you guess correctly?

1. Blazing Saddles
2. This is Spinal Tap
3. A Fish Called Wanda
4. Tropic Thunder
5. The Hangover

If you didn’t get all five, don’t despair. Without humor, these definitions could probably fit a lot of story lines. For example, if I revise #1 to read, “A crooked politician hires the first black sheriff in order to oust a small western town’s residents, take over the land, and sell it for its railroad rights,” you might get a better idea of the movie I’m citing. Right?

Now admittedly, if you haven’t seen any of these movies, first of all, shame on you. And secondly, you’re at a distinct disadvantage in this exercise. But you can run this same formula on any movie or story with a comedic element. Ghostbusters: Three scientists decide to become entrepreneurs and unwittingly unleash what might be the apocalypse. The Stephanie Plum Series by Janet Evanovich: An unemployed woman becomes a bounty hunter. Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay (or the Showtime series based on the book): A Miami P.D. employee is a serial killer. The Devil Wears Prada: A recent college graduate begins working at a fashion magazine. South ParkPolitical and social issues as seen through the eyes of children. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding: A woman’s search for love and career success in London. Little Miss Sunshine: A family drives to a beauty pageant.

Without the humorous twists, these characters could be anyone. What makes them unique is their perspective on their worlds, how they deal with their adversities, and in some cases, the world they inhabit.

So how do you go about it? Can someone who is not generally funny write humor?  I believe you can.

Writing humor is all about having fun. Have fun with your characters, have fun with your story, have fun with your creative process. Pay no attention to the little voice inside your head that says you’re not a funny person. You’re a creative person—if you weren’t, you wouldn’t be writing. And humor is nothing more than allowing your creativity free-rein in the playground in your head.

In Music and Lyrics, a romantic comedy about two people collaborating to write a pop song, the hero, Alex, is taken aback when the heroine, Sophie, rearranges his furniture so she can sit closer to him.

            Alex: What are you doing, you mad woman? You’re wrecking my apartment.
            Sophie: Well, I can’t write sitting all the way across the room.
            Alex: No. Go back to your corner.
            Sophie: Fine. All right. (She moves away, leaving her chair next to his.)
            Alex (gestures to the chair): I’m blocked. How am I supposed to get out?
            Sophie: Go out the other side!
            Alex: But…but…I’ve never been out the other side.

That’s what we’re doing here. We’re about to rearrange your furniture. Rather than using straight dialogue or prose, you’ll have to go out the other side. For some of you, this might seem daunting. But like Alex, you can do it if you try. And you just might love the results enough to keep at it on a regular basis.

Erma Bombeck used to say, “Humor is a spontaneous, wonderful bit of an outburst that just comes. It's unbridled, it's unplanned, it's full of surprises.”

So pop some popcorn, rearrange your chairs, and get comfortable. We're going to spend some time strengthening your funny bone.

For tips on writing and fun articles, visit Gina's Articles For Writers page: http://www.ginaardito.com/ArticlesforWriters.html Need editing services for your manuscript? Gina is proud to announce the launch of Excellence in Editing: http://excellenceinediting.blogspot.com/
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