For a long while now, I’ve been wanting to return to talking about writing. For those of you who may not have followed my old blog back in the day, I used to spend a good deal of time talking about writing, the concepts behind it, and the creation of viable pieces of entertainment. Or at least, that is what I believed I was writing about. (For those of you interested in browsing the dusty corners of my old blog, here’s the link.) But at last, I feel that I have something to talk about regarding writing again.
Now that doesn’t mean I’m some expert at the genre. Far from it. I feel that my writing has a dry wit to it, one that, if missing, degrades the work. Humor is just one of those things in my life that I need, and as such, include it in most aspects. I hesitate to say that it was how I was raised, since I wasn’t ever a class clown nor one to act out at home.
Yet, I find that humor has filled my life all the same. My dad loved The Three Stooges while I was growing up—and as far as I know still does. He was the first to introduce me to the antics of The Marx Brothers. But while he was thrilled at the antics of Chico and Harpo, I was awestruck by the swift wit of Groucho. Then came my teen years and the discovery of the absolute absurdity of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It was only later that I realized the creative depths of the Pythons. Which developed into my love of satire.
But we are not here to talk about my comedic history. Rather we are here to discuss humor in writing.
So before we go any further, we need to understand the purpose of humor. And I am sure that someone out there will say that the sole purpose of humor is to create laughter. But why is laughter important? What does it do for us as a species and what does it do for us a creative body? For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to avoid the well-documented science behind what humor does for us physically. I will avoid the psychology of it as much as possible as well.
God help me.
So. Humor. What is it? That is, perhaps, one of the most unanswerable questions of all time. Can we knock it down to a simple definition? Look in your local dictionary or online. The first definition found on Dictionary.com calls humor: a comic, absurd, or incongruous quality causing amusement. The second one says:
Ok. That is humor by definition. But what is humor to you and I? That is the hard part. Humor is deeply personal, and while many of us can find the same thing funny, I firmly believe that no to senses of humor are exactly alike. But it is that similarity, not the exact understanding, that we need. It can strike at different times for different people, but as long as we can find that funny bone when it’s needed, the differences in humor shouldn’t matter all that much.
So when is that humor needed? That depends on the story being written. Is the story a driving drama that needs a break in the harsh realities of life? Is it a tall tale that humor is expected, but not the sole point of the piece? Or is it a comedic work that uses humor the same way it uses words?
Ok, so those are all retorical questions. Sue me. But it is important to know that simple answer for your own work. The choice to use absurdity and humor of The Hitchhicker’s Guide to the Galaxy would be drastically wrong in such works as The Di Vinci Code. Each book and its use of humor (or lack thereof) is perfect. And why is that? Simply put, the authors knew what type of novel they were intending to write.
But that being said, why would you even consider using humor in a driving thriller or some horror novel or something else that has us riveted to our seats?
That answer, at least, is simple. Humor has the ability to defuse situations. It allows us to drop our collective guards, so that, just when we think that heroine is safe, we are blindsided by. . . .something. It doesn’t matter what. The point is humor allows us to relax, and using it at correct times, allows us to predict the reactions of our readers.
But, I caution thee, we must also remember that, despite spending our time looking at words on a page, reading is not a visual means of communication. Point in fact, watch your favorite Three Stooges short. Now go back and watch it scene for scene, writing out exactly what happens before you. Even if you can get it down perfectly, it isn’t going to be funny. Why is that?
Because slap-stick humor doesn’t really work as text. It moves too slowly and we find ourselves lacking the various other stimuli that creates the overall picture. Those little nuances of facial twitches and body language. And even if we could (as in the above example), then it would become just boring. We’d be reading about how someone looked rather than what they are doing.
No one wants that.
So now that I have solved absolutely nothing, how does that apply to me? To the plural me—as in all of us—I don’t know. Maybe that little bit that I’ve dissected on my own (and there is so much more) will help you understand what needs to be fixed in your own works. I hope it will help out someone.
As for myself, I think that it points out one simple fact about my writing. I feel as if I need that humor in my stories. It may be something serious, or sweet, or whatever, but I need to have something in there that breaks the tone and allows us to release that pent up tension we’ve been holding for the past few chapters. It may be absurd—it may not—but it will be there. That’s how my mind and my life works.
And I’m OK with that.