Friday, August 21, 2015

Silliness is a Wonderful Thing.

Being silly is technically defined as: "a ludicrous folly” or sometimes just “stupidity.” Think of funny voices and slipping on a banana peel. Freud considered it part of our fun-loving id. One psychologist has recently suggested that it helps us deal with depression.

One of my favorite examples of a pure silly moment is the slapping fish dance.

There are advantages of silliness. For example, think of Patch Adams and the clowns that lift the spirits of sick people at local hospitals. Or the subway riders who mark a day to ride without their pants making a lot of people smile. What is wrong with a smile?

As someone who really enjoys comedic writing, my favorite 19th century authors include Jerome K. Jerome, and P.G. Wodehouse. Thanks to Three Men in a Boat, I cannot open a can of pineapples without dissolving into laughter.

My absolute favorite comedy piece is by Ian Frazer published in The New Yorker Magazine in 1990. It is the lawsuit brought by Wylie Coyote against the Acme corp and can be found here.

…the premature detonation of Defendant's product resulted in the following disfigurements to Mr. Coyote:
1. Severe singeing of the hair on the head, neck, and muzzle.
2. Sooty discoloration.
3. Fracture of the left ear at the stem, causing the ear to dangle in the aftershock with a creaking noise.
4. Full or partial combustion of whiskers, producing kinking, frazzling, and ashy disintegration.
5. Radical widening of the eyes, due to brow and lid charring.

As writers, comedy should be used carefully. Most readers like characters that can laugh at themselves, but there will always be people who consider silliness “childish.” Comedy also opens people up and removes tension. Therefore, consider the best place for this in your manuscript. Shakespeare teaches us that the best place is right before an emotional, dark moment. This makes the reader more vulnerable to the emotions about to come. Also if you include a laugh-out-loud moment in your manuscript, it’s advisable to follow it with a strong hook. 

Every day I write, a silly moment emerges—a trait likely from the Scottish side of my family (Roderick the Witty). I then edit 99 percent of these out in the first draft.

All of my books have a moment of silliness. Here is one in my first book, The Rake’s Handbook: Including Field Guide, where five young sisters in a carriage discuss the hero’s (cough) backside.

Alice yanked up the window to stop the breeze from blowing the feather on her bonnet across her face. “That Mr. Thornbury is a little terse granted, but a very nice man. I wonder why the unknown lady wants to call off and does not wish to marry him? It must be his age. He is very old, perhaps thirty.”
“I am worried about you,” Elizabeth said pointedly. “I fear you need spectacles.” The artist of the family, no detail escaped her sharp eye.
Jane, the ginger-haired sister, nodded. “Oh, I agree completely.”
The two other young ladies murmured in general agreement.
“I mean it is not as if he was objectionable in any way.” Elizabeth pointed out. “In fact, he is painfully handsome. Just why does the lady wish to refuse him?”
“She is refusing him,” Jane said, “because like Alice here, she cannot see him. God’s carrots. Did you see the thighs on that man?”
Four pairs of eyes widened in identical astonishment.
Jane ignored them and continued. “I wish my beau’s thighs looked like that in pantaloons. They were so broad—”
“Thighs!” Elizabeth exclaimed, shaking her head. “You must be blind, too. No, it’s his buttocks.”
Collective gasps ricocheted throughout the carriage. Furtive glances were exchange from left to right, then right to left. Everyone started to giggle.
The sisters replied in turn. “Oh my word.”
“Don’t be vulgar.”
“I’m going to tell.”
“Did you see them?” Elizabeth asked. “How could you ignore those buttocks? I would love to have him sit for my next watercolor.”
Anne, the wisest sister said, “I never stood behind him.”
“I apologize for the vulgarity,” Elizabeth said, leaning forward into the center of the carriage. “But his buttocks were just like butter cakes or those London muffins Cook was trying to replicate. You know, Mogg’s muffins, nicely curved and—um—delicious to look at.”
The sisters gasped again before exploding into various types of giggles.
“Muffins?” Jane replied, taking her turn to lean forward. “No, those muffins are soft, and believe me there was nothing soft about those buttocks.”
The other sisters gasped.
Jane wagged her finger. “Those buttocks were perfectly round and firm. I’ll bet they are so hard, a shilling would bounce off them.”
“I agree with Jane,” Anne said stolidly. “His backside cannot be compared to cakes or muffins, it’s so-so troublesome. Besides, our cake rings are all fluted.”
Four young ladies burst into identical whoops of laughter.
“No,” Elizabeth joined in, “he has perfect buttocks.” Waving her hand, she sliced a curve through the air. “Prominent, and you know how each cheek can get that little hollow in the side when the gentlemen are particularly fit. Buttocks with a hollow like that might be called fluted.”
“Just like those naughty Greek statues in the British Museum,” Jane said.
… Jane held up a finger to her lips. “Shh, Mr. Thornbury’s coming. God’s carrots. If one day he becomes my brother-in-law, I will always think of him first as the muffin man.”

So let’s celebrate silliness and laughter. What makes you laugh every time you read it?


  1. OMG! That lawsuit by Wylie Coyote was hilarious! I'd never seen that before. I love comedy, both reading and writing it. And silliness is the best! Too many people take themselves too seriously.

    1. You're right Ashlyn. Imagine a world with less seriousness and more silliness. Sounds good to me. Cheers.

  2. So funny! I was laughing through that whole excerpt. I love being silly with my daughter.

    1. You've hit on the best way to make an impression on children. The experts say kids feel closer to people who can get silly with them. My stepson and I loved sharing silly joke books. Have fun!

  3. I love silliness, but it takes a deft hand to include it in a story, and you did a great job in The Rake's Handbook!