(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.