Fiction with Curlicues

People have been reading my novel. Ha! What a blast. I'm so excited because up until now it has only been read by friends. Now don't get me wrong, I love hearing how much my friends enjoyed my book (I respect them enough to know they're truthful) and most of my friends are people, but hearing it from strangers who don't have any stock in my life whatsoever is all the more tasty. My favorite morsel is when someone says, "I actually laughed out loud." Or, "I cried when Vidalia . . ." Well I won’t spoil the plot. But suffice it to say I am tickled to hear that my words are making folks laugh AND cry.
Lately people have been asking me how I come up with things, or how I wrote a scene. Um, I've been scratching my funny bone on this one folks. I don't know, not really. It just comes out funny sometimes. Funny is knowing the difference between a paper cut and a paper cut with a twist of lemon.
So I decided to take a look at humor and writing and try to figure it out. Emphasis on the word try. I love what Sid Caser said, "Comedy has to based on truth. You take the truth and put a little curlicue on the end." Curlicues are fun. I can do curlicues. Curlicues are what separate a Dairy Queen soft serve from a scoop of vanilla. And I defy you to find anyone who does not go for the twist on the top first.
Life is tough and sometimes the only way to get from one end of the day to the next without slitting our wrists is with laughter, with daring to look at ourselves, our situation, our mother-in-law, the five pound trout in the toilet (so proud of my son) and give it a little squiggle. Laughter sweetens sorrow so we can swallow it.
This is why I loved and still do love the TV show M*A*S*H. I think it was one of the most well-written sitcoms ever. The writers were genius at balancing just enough laughter with the horrible pathos and tragedy of war so that we weren't drowning in blood and unrelenting sadness nor falling down clutching our sides and vomiting from so much laughter. Here's a free lesson: Too much laughter is not a good thing. No one can laugh all the time. I think our brains would explode. We have to temper the funny with enough tragedy to keep both hemispheres pulsing at top form. We need both.
So, how do you put humor into your novel without annoying your readers with too much laughter or making him or her kick the dog though the hedges from pathos overload? I don't know.
Seriously, I mean there is no formula. I don't think funny can be taught like say, riding a bike or brain surgery. But it seems to me that it has something to do with the unexpected. We laugh because we weren't expecting something to happen. That's why it is so darn funny when someone slips on a banana peel and falls down a manhole. It's unexpected. We are taken by surprise. Of course moments later when the paramedics arrive and the person is rushed away in a body bag, we cry. Balance.
There is a fabulous episode of the original Dick Van Dyke Show where Rob explains this to a first grade class. Wonderful stuff. Rob is priceless as he pretty much beats the crap out of himself to make a point, a very funny point about the unexpected.
For me, finding that surprise, the curlicue is refusing to accept the ordinary and discovering a way to say the same thing with a twist. Sometimes it means combining words that don't necessarily belong together, choosing a word that just sounds funnier, juxtaposing two things in an uncommon way, or looking for the unusual trapped inside the usual. I believe comedy is buried in the words and ideas, the writer simply needs to chip away at a sentence or a scene until the funny is revealed. Kind of like Michelangelo insisting that the angel was already in the rock. He just had to reveal her. Um, I could chip away at a rock for years and believe me no angel will appear, just a lot of smaller rocks all over the floor. But then again, rock isn’t my medium. Words are my medium and I can tell you with all certainty, words are funny when put in the correct order.
You already know what makes you laugh. No one is so completely humor-impaired that they have never laughed, well, except my fourth grade teacher—the woman was a wart with legs. That being said, humor is subjective. What makes me smile or chuckle is not necessarily going to make you laugh.
But humor must be natural. If you are searching for the funny and your words keep falling like lead balloons or your scene loses it's flavor because of a bad joke that does not naturally rise out of the character's mind, or the story's purpose, please delete. Failed jokes are torture to the writer and the reader. Story must come first. Even an endometrial biopsy can be funny with a curlicue on the top.


Judy Christie said...

Joyce, inspiring fun stuff here. Love the line about words being funny when they're put in the right order. "Prayers of Agnes Sparrow" is filled with humor and sadness that shifts my lens a bit as I read. I like that in a writer! Judy

Myra Johnson said...

Very insightful, Joyce! I definitely don't think of myself as a humor writer, but I love it when something just naturally comes out cleverly or with a touch of humor. It certainly can't be forced.

And I agree that "Agnes" is a poignantly funny/serious story. Still have several chapters to go, but I'm enjoying it immensely!

Pam Halter said...

I love soft serve curlicues!

There are times when Anna does something that probably isn't very funny, but the look on her face can get us lauging. And there are times when we laugh so hard, we cry. It keeps us sane.

I find that many things are funny AFTERWARDS. I can make my experience with a D&C after my miscarriage funny ... but it sure wasn't at the time.

Humor is a gift from God. And I'm so very thankful for it.