Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Writing Humor

Hi, Charlotte Carter here -

In August, I’m going to teach an online class about writing humor via the Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America. (www.OCCRWA.org) Basically I have to expand my one-hour workshop on humor into eight lessons. Whew!

The good news is I get to revisit some of favorite authors and pluck scenes from their books to use as examples. Here’s a scene I particularly love for using the technique of Dialogue in Contrast to Inner Thoughts.

In Sandra Paul’s book The Reluctant Hero, the heroine Ernestine is a marine biologist. She has decided it’s time she married and is pursuing Sam in her usual academic way. She takes him to an aquarium where they examine a display of a whale penis.
     "...one slender finger tapping the dimple in her chin as she studied the exhibit with the same unselfconscious enjoyment an art patron might display when viewing Gainsborough’s Blue Boy.She said, ‘Did you know a ‘right’ whale had the largest testes every recorded? They weighed one metric ton—twenty-two hundred pounds’
     She sounded so pleased. Sam wasn’t sure of the correct response, but he tried to work up a little matching enthusiasm. ‘A ton, huh?’
     ‘Yes. Obviously there is a distinct correlation between brain size and the size of reproductive organs. As you probably know, in the primate family, man has the largest of both.’ Her sideways glance was apologetic. ‘I’m referring to proportional size, of course’
     ‘Of course,’ he answered, mentally calculating his own endowments. He smiled, relieved. He’d never realized his brain was so large."
Another of of my all-time favorite books is The Gift by Julie Garwood. Julie provides a perfect example of how Props can add humor to a book.

Set up: Lady Sara is sailing to her Carribean island in a ship captained by Nathan. Lady Sara carries a parasol with her everywhere she goes, and she apparently has hundreds of them. Her parasols are forever causing havoc (and physical humor) including on the ship. After a parasol is caught in the rigging, nearly sinking the ship, Nathan forces her to promise no parasol will leave her chamber.
     "The parasols won’t leave this chamber?" he asks.
     "They won’t."
     "You will destroy them?"
     "I will."
     He was finally satisfied. He actually began to feel a little more peaceful. By the time he left the cabin he was convinced his wife couldn’t possibly wreck anything else.
     Besides, he reasoned, what more could she do?"

    (Chapter break)
    She set his ship on fire.

Not only is this a great example of using a prop, it’s a perfect example of what John Vorhaus in The Comic Toolbox calls the Doorbell Effect. 
"Have you noticed how in certain situation comedies, Dad or Mom or Chip or Sally will say, ‘We’re okay now; everything’s going to be fine as long as the doorbell doesn’t ring’ or words to that effect? Where upon, with relentless certainty of a loan shark circling his prey, the doorbell proceeds to ring. That’s the doorbell effect.
"I sure make it sound stupid, don’t I? You’d sure be stupid to use it, wouldn’t you? Not necessarily. With a little misdirection, a little tweaking of the jokoid, the doorbell effect cam be a very funny bit indeed.
"The character has a certain expectation — the doorbell won’t ring—and then that expectation is defeated — the doorbell rings. The joke is funny as a function of the way it catches the character’s expectation off-guard."
Charlotte again. The chapter break Garwood uses is also the perfect tool to make her humorous bit work.

Okay, back to my lesson planning. What humorous scenes do you remember and which authors do you love because of the humor in their books?

Happy reading.......

Montana Love Letter, Love Inspired, 10/2012
Home to Montana, Love Inspired, 3/2013

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