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View Full Version : Lesson One - What is Humor? (Or - lying unravelled in the vast tapestry of life)



sjwilling
April 1st, 2008, 01:20 AM
(This is the longest post of the seminar because it covers a lot of the basics.)

If you read the books, listen to the psychiatrists and study the famous comics and humorists of today there is one underlying factor you can learn:-

We don't fully know what humor is.

“Well that's a great start, S.J. Thanks a lot! Why are you bothering to teach it?” I hear you say.

I teach it because, well, let's face it, it’s a dirty job and someone… blah, blah, blah.

Truly though, nobody really knows what humor is, but life has given us tons of hints about the nature of it. Just take a moment to think about the times and things that make you or you friends joke about and laugh. Here are some hints to help you.

1. First man: “My wife drives like lightning.”
Second man: “You mean she drives very fast?”
First man: “No, she keeps striking trees.”

2. First old lady: “I hear old George died of a heart attack in his sleep last night.”
Second old lady: “Darn good job too, if he’d woken up dead the shock would have killed him.”

3. “Fat people are brilliant in bed. If I'm sitting on top of you, who's going to argue?” -- Jo Brand

4. “If Superman was so smart, why did he wear his underwear over his pants?”

5. First Psychiatrist: “Hello, is this Whitehall 111222?”
Second Psychiatrist: “No, this is Whitehall triple 1 triple 2.”
First Psychiatrist: “Oh, sorry to bother you then.”
Second Psychiatrist: “That’s okay the phone was ringing anyway.”

So what do these, admittedly old, and typical jokes tell us about the nature of humor. Well, we tend to use humor to divert aggression and alleviate fears and concerns (1.); as a buffer against shock or surprise (2.); as a cover for humiliation and embarrassment (3.); as a shield against insecurity and the feelings of insignificance, often by putting down that which we feel is superior to us (4. and 5.)

All of us are likely to have utilized various forms of these humor categories in our lives, we use them as an instinctive form of non-aggressive defense and attack—a psychological barrier of self-protection. This is because, although humor can’t be pinned down to just one definitive thing, everyone from psychologists to humorists agree that Humor is closely related to our emotional state of wellbeing, the protection of our emotional health.

This is a point I will come back to later as it is especially relevant in romantic fiction.

Stop for a moment and consider the following list.

Character humor—the gentle (sometimes) repartee of two or more characters
Situational humor—the absurdness of a situation or event
Slapstick humor—the combination of the above
Snarky humor—the art of making someone pay
Pun-nish humor—the art of making people vomit
Subtle humor—the art of telling a joke, or was it?
Silly humor—the art of looking foolish

Study the list above for five minutes or so and then write down the answers to the following questions.

1. What type of reader are you targeting? (Not, the Sony, Kindle, ebookwise reader, I mean the human ones that use ereaders.)
2. What percentage of humor are you looking for in your writing? (The entire book to be humorous. Just some scenes in the book to be funny? A very occasional joke? One liners?)
3. What type of humor are you looking for in the book (One that challenges/offends. One to bond your character to your reader? One to make your reader wince in empathy?)
4. How much beer are you going to buy me when we meet at the Convention? (One bottle? Five bottles? Enough to introduce me to the floor?)

The chances are, if you’re here reading this seminar, you already know what type of humor you want to write and might even be writing it. If you are one of these lucky ones then hopefully this list will help you clarify your own style.

The first and third questions are really key to the whole writing humor shtick. For example, if you wished to reach romance readers who like it sweet, then doing a heroine full of snarky humor could bite your ass off. Snarky, by its very nature, means someone has to suffer and unless the target is one which can be mutually accepted as such by your readers, the jokes will turn them off—some readers even becoming angry as they rise to your target’s defense. The same goes for all the other types of humor too. If you’re in doubt about what type of humor to write, read through a book you like and take note of the funny bits that appeal to you and compare them to the list above.

Also the amount of humor in the book is important in two ways. A whole book of slapstick humor is incredibly hard to write, and can be difficult to read. Plus that kind of novel is, in some ways, a limited market. Some readers prefer their novels with a heavy dose of emotion, with some humor slapped in here and there. Plus, writing small doses of humor is immeasurably easier than writing four jokes per minute. (The only exception to this rule are political campaign speeches. Those things are a laugh from start to finish.)

Over the next couple of days take the time to look through your work and see if you can envision the type of humor you’d like to weave into the text. Watch your friends, work colleagues and family at play to see how humor works and if you can recognize how the defense mechanism comes into play.

Let me know how it goes, or if you have any questions or revelations to share shoot them at me. I'll be checking regularly for comments.

Lesson #2 Where to find humor. Where to use humor. (And when to beat a hasty retreat!) will be coming in a few days. :)

joyroett
April 1st, 2008, 06:48 AM
:rockon: I'm all ears!

N.J. Walters
April 1st, 2008, 07:08 AM
Wonderful start, SJ. I admire anyone who can write humor succesfully. It's not easy.

NJ
http://www.njwalters.com

sjwilling
April 1st, 2008, 09:32 AM
:rockon: I'm all ears!

Thanks Joy, Hope it's helping.

:)

S.J.

sjwilling
April 1st, 2008, 09:33 AM
Wonderful start, SJ. I admire anyone who can write humor succesfully. It's not easy.

NJ
http://www.njwalters.com


Thanks N.J. !

S.J.

MaiaStrong
April 1st, 2008, 03:04 PM
Character humor葉he gentle (sometimes) repartee of two or more characters
Situational humor葉he absurdness of a situation or event
Slapstick humor葉he combination of the above
Snarky humor葉he art of making someone pay
Pun-nish humor葉he art of making people vomit
Subtle humor葉he art of telling a joke, or was it?
Silly humor葉he art of looking foolish

That's a great list. I don't tend to think in categories even though they can be useful. I can tell right off what I don't write--puns--but it's harder to pinpoint what I do write. It's probably a little bit of everything else as the scene/occasion warrants. Hmmm... You've got me thinking, SJ. It's a damned good thing I've had my coffee today.

Coffee & Reading
~Maia

sjwilling
April 1st, 2008, 03:29 PM
That's a great list. I don't tend to think in categories even though they can be useful. I can tell right off what I don't write--puns--but it's harder to pinpoint what I do write. It's probably a little bit of everything else as the scene/occasion warrants. Hmmm... You've got me thinking, SJ. It's a damned good thing I've had my coffee today.

Coffee & Reading
~Maia

A lot of humor can blend between categories so that doesn't surprise me too much. Sometimes, though, we can find ourselves leaning more towards one form of humor than another. It's a challenge, and an interesting one I think, to try to write in unfamiliar types of humor. :) it's a cool learning process. Over the next four weeks I'll be outlining the techniques I use to locate the funny side of things in all the seperate categories, and, of course, there will be a prize poll at the end of all this. :)

S.J.

mamasand2
April 1st, 2008, 07:06 PM
SJ, nice job so far. I hadn't attempted to catagorize it beyond Abbot and Costello's, Bob Hope's, and Red Neck humor. All of a slightly different style.
"Who's on First?" is one of my all time favorites using a straight man approach.

Keep it coming. We're all ears, as Joy said.
sandie

kayelle_allen
April 1st, 2008, 08:21 PM
I don't see answers to the questions you posted, but they seem relevant to me, especially #4. So I'm answering that first -- just enough to make you happy and want to help me, not so much you're no good to me at all. How's that for honest? :biggrin:

1. What type of reader are you targeting?

I write both het and gay romance, so my audience is varied, but fairly sophisticated about humor. They like strong plots, lots of sex, and characters they can believe in.

2. What percentage of humor are you looking for in your writing?

My books have a fair amount of humor. One of my earliest reviews said, "Although I would not term this book a comedy, Kayelle Allen is a master of interjecting a touch of the absurd and making one laugh out loud at just the right moment." I have tried to live up to that praise.

3. What type of humor are you looking for in the book?

Humor must tie to the characters and make them seem more real and believable as people. I prefer situational humor. In the book reviewed above, a robotic suitcase goes awry at the worst possible moment, bringing wholly unwanted attention to two people trying desperately to hide. The humor of life happening in ways you-do-not-want is my favorite type to write. I love to laugh, and so do most of my characters.

I'll be watching this class with great interest. Thanks for being here. I saw your invitation on myspace, btw.

MaiaStrong
April 1st, 2008, 08:25 PM
It's a challenge, and an interesting one I think, to try to write in unfamiliar types of humor. :) it's a cool learning process.

It is a challenge and a fun one. I find that my spoken sense of humour tends towards the snark and the silly. Those can be difficult to translate to the page, though, since they are so dependent on situation and timing.


... and, of course, there will be a prize poll at the end of all this. :)
Ooo! Prizes! :whoohoo:

sjwilling
April 1st, 2008, 08:32 PM
I don't see answers to the questions you posted, but they seem relevant to me, especially #4. So I'm answering that first -- just enough to make you happy and want to help me, not so much you're no good to me at all. How's that for honest? :biggrin:

1. What type of reader are you targeting?

I write both het and gay romance, so my audience is varied, but fairly sophisticated about humor. They like strong plots, lots of sex, and characters they can believe in.

2. What percentage of humor are you looking for in your writing?

My books have a fair amount of humor. One of my earliest reviews said, "Although I would not term this book a comedy, Kayelle Allen is a master of interjecting a touch of the absurd and making one laugh out loud at just the right moment." I have tried to live up to that praise.

3. What type of humor are you looking for in the book?

Humor must tie to the characters and make them seem more real and believable as people. I prefer situational humor. In the book reviewed above, a robotic suitcase goes awry at the worst possible moment, bringing wholly unwanted attention to two people trying desperately to hide. The humor of life happening in ways you-do-not-want is my favorite type to write. I love to laugh, and so do most of my characters.

I'll be watching this class with great interest. Thanks for being here. I saw your invitation on myspace, btw.

Honesty is always cool and hey it's rather difficult to lead a seminar from the floor :)

Situational comedy seems to work best in novels where you want the sense of realism, I've found. Character humor, and subtle humor come second but those, I think, are harder to bring off without looking contrived.

Glad you could pop in Kayelle, And, hey, MySpace does work for something. I'll try and make sure you come out of the seminar if not knowing more, at least knowing why you know what you know.

If that makes sense. :)

S.J.

Anya Delvay
April 5th, 2008, 02:21 PM
Yikes, S.J. You're making me really THINK??? Okay, from the list (or working sort of in and around the list) I lean toward a combination of the first four, Character, Situational, Slapstick and Snarky. I know, too much, huh? I recently wrote a scene that got the job done from a plot point of view, but wondered if it hadn't gone too far into slapstick territory to be really funny...there were some physical pratfalls central to the eventual resolution. And no, S.J. this one isn't erotic...

As for readers, I would like to appeal to people with the same sometimes silly sense of humour I have, where the humour comes from those everyday things (or the occasionally extraordinary thing) that make you go 'Huh???' and then you have to choose whether you're gonna laugh, or cry.

sjwilling
April 5th, 2008, 03:40 PM
Yikes, S.J. You're making me really THINK??? Okay, from the list (or working sort of in and around the list) I lean toward a combination of the first four, Character, Situational, Slapstick and Snarky. I know, too much, huh? I recently wrote a scene that got the job done from a plot point of view, but wondered if it hadn't gone too far into slapstick territory to be really funny...there were some physical pratfalls central to the eventual resolution. And no, S.J. this one isn't erotic...

As for readers, I would like to appeal to people with the same sometimes silly sense of humour I have, where the humour comes from those everyday things (or the occasionally extraordinary thing) that make you go 'Huh???' and then you have to choose whether you're gonna laugh, or cry.


Cool Anya, really great to see ya here.

It's nice that you use so many types as it gives the reader variety. Written slapstick, though, is really the hardest to do. I avoid it myself, if I can, because I've read so many attempts in novels that made me feel a bit embarrassed for the writer. When it's done perfectly though, it's brilliant. I'll talk more about it later as I've dedicated a whole lesson to slapstick, suffice to say for now I've found with slapstick that less is more. Just give a few highpoints of the action and let the reader fill in the rest for themselves.

S.J.