Thursday, April 1, 2010
How to Write the Humorous Novel
by Libby Malin
So, did you see that episode of The Office where Dwight gets a knock on the head and ends up with a concussion, and on the way to the hospital, Jim keeps spraying him with a plant spritzer bottle to keep him awake? Man, was it ever hysterical!
But chances are you're not laughing. It's awfully hard to describe humorous scenes in a way to make the reader laugh or even smile. Writing comedy is tough work, I tell ya, tough work. Not for the faint of heart.
But I love it. I love it so much that I can't stop doing it. My Own Personal Soap Opera, my latest entry into the humorous women's fiction genre, releases today. Publishers Weekly says it's "heavy on humor . . . Malin coaxes plenty of laughs." Booklist says it's a "world of wit and chaos . . . smart and insightfully written."
And I didn't even pay those folks to write those things.
Well, not much anyway.
No, really, I didn't.
Many people I know (well, maybe none) ask me how I write humor, what writing tools I use, what secrets to constructing a successful humorous novel I employ.
This is what I tell them . . .
Writing humor is like weaving an intricate tapestry. Some of the threads are all shiny and easy to see, so that you can immediately know where to place them in the scene, while other threads are dark and get lost in the background (which, in tapestry weaving, is called Ye Olde Background) causing you to go cross-eyed trying to find them so you end up dropping your needle and then knocking the whole contraption over when you get down on all fours to find the danged thing but then you prick yourself with the needle when your glasses fall off and the needle blends in with that Antique Blonde Straw Mat pattern you picked out for your family room floor over your husband's objections, who said it looked like, well, a barn floor, and you insisted it didn't, even though, deep in your heart, you thought it did once you saw it covering that massive expanse beyond the kitchen, but heck if you'd admit it to him now after he gave you such grief about your choice and you didn't say a word when he, in his virtually color-blind state, picked out a mustard green shade for his new car making you feel like you're riding around in a giant pickle every time he takes you somewhere. . . .
No, wait, I digress. That's not what writing humor is like.
The secret to writing humor is . . . well, it's a secret.
If you get very, very close to the computer -- no, even closer -- I will whisper -- no, closer still, right up against the screen now -- the secret to writing humor is -- you have to be very close, with, like your nose smashed into the screen because I'm going to whisper it in a few seconds if you just be patient . . . The secret to writing humor is . . . really close, with your cheek like a pancake on the screen
Shh . . .
Shh . . .
Shh . . .
it . . .
.... THERE. IS. NO. SECRET.....
Well, none that I know of anyway. Although I'm sure somewhere some college professor is teaching a course right now, at this very instant, on Contextual Analysis of the Humorous Novel as PostModern Metaphor and Solipsistic Trope.
Perhaps you yourself have taken that course.
As for me, I like to laugh. I can forgive many faults in a person, movie or book if they make me laugh. I try to return the favor by writing humorous stories (although I have some serious tales in me, too). I don't have a formula or a secret, just a hope that what I'm putting down on cyberpaper is funny.
I worry that it isn't funny enough, of course. I worry that one novel won't be as funny as the previous one (not unfounded, given how zany the premise was in Fire Me, my 2009 release -- it's hard to top a story where the protagonist is trying to get laid off). But my hope is that My Own Personal Soap Opera at least provides a lot of smiles while still telling a very real story about a young woman figuring out who she is and what she wants from life.
And now for the Big. Sales. Pitch.
In My Own Personal Soap Opera, daytime drama head writer Frankie McNally has her hands full as she struggles to keep her failing show on the air -- a leading man who broke his leg on Dancing with the Stars, staff writers who all want to be doing something else, and a real thief imitating a character on the show. If that weren't enough, she finds herself torn between two men, one who can give her everything she wants and the other who gives her everything she needs.
Want to read more? You can order the book (please oh please oh please oh please). Or you can get a flavor of the book by going to my website and looking at the first chapter posted there. Or you can comment on this post and I will select one person to receive a free copy by the end of tomorrow EST.
And that's no April Fools joke!
All authors get excited with the launch of a new novel, and I'm no exception. I hope Soap is successful because I want people to read and enjoy (and possibly learn from) Frankie's story. If you do happen to read the novel, let me know what you think and don't be bashful about posting reviews at online booksellers!