Saturday, May 8, 2010

Special Guest Saturday: Tickling the Funny Bone with Janice Thompson

Tickling the Funny Bone

by: Janice Hanna Thompson

“Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.”

Bill Cosby

Humor writing comes naturally to some authors. Others have to work hard to be funny. (Sounds funny, doesn’t it. . .working hard to be funny?) I’m one of those who came into the world with an overactive funny bone. Oh, it occasionally gives me trouble. Life’s woes kick in and my funny bone gets arthritic. It locks up. Whenever that happens, I trip myself on purpose, just to loosen it back up again. (Hey, a girl can only go so long without laughter!)

Yep, from the time I was a little girl, I was the happy-go-lucky sort. Giggly. Goofy. My mom always called me a ham because of my overly-dramatic style. Not that I minded. Oh no. Drama was my thing. And performing comedy on the stage was the thing that made me happiest.

Then I grew up. . .and life happened. Unfortunately, some of the events of my grown-up life weren’t funny. In fact, they were pretty tragic. Still, through my faith and my innate desire to keep on keepin’ on, I managed to keep my smile intact much of the time.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Everything!

I wrote as a child—poems, stories, even a novel (in the 6th grade). And my drama sketches in high school were a hoot. (Note: There’s no greater thrill for a humor writer than to write for the stage. An audience filled with laughing patrons is the best gift in the world! Talk about instant gratification!) I went on to write musical comedies for the stage at a local school of the arts. Time after time I was rewarded with that “instant” gratification. And it felt good. In fact, it did my heart proud to know I was bringing joy to others, and there was some sense of satisfaction in knowing they “got” me. So, when I began to think about writing books for a living about fourteen years ago, I decided to take the humorous approach. What a ride it has been! During this crazy, awesome, rollicking season as a published author, I’ve written quirky romantic comedies for women of all ages. What joy! Not only do these humorous stories transport readers, they lift my spirits, as well. And frankly, I’ve needed my spirits lifted.

So, what makes a story funny? Here are a few tips to creating a tale that will tickle the funny bone:

1. Create unique characters that readers can genuinely relate to: Think of your favorite sitcom. For me, Everybody Loves Raymond is near the top of the list. Why did I love that show so much? The characters were (individually) hysterical. Each one had his/her own quirks. And those quirks got them into (and out of) jams. Funny characters also mess up. . .a lot. They get in trouble and need help getting out. We relate because we’re the same way. When you set out to write a comedy, create a cast of characters that you absolutely love. Don’t just focus on one or two. Choose at least three characters in your story who really have that extra “zing.” Characters that readers will remember for years to come. In my “Weddings by Bella” series, I created several funny characters (and boy, have I heard from readers about them). These characters include Aunt Rosa, Uncle Laz, Bella and the trio of “sisters” from Splendora Texas. These wacky people will stay with me for the rest of my life! I think some of my readers have adopted them, as well.

2. Exaggeration: If your character is tall, make him really tall. Chubby? Make her exceptionally chubby. Nervous? Make him overly anxious. Claustrophobic? Carry it a bit further than the norm. Does she like to wear lipstick? Make it Pollyanna Pink or Ruby Red. Give that character an exaggerated “sticking point” that readers will remember. And, exaggerate plotline highs and lows, as well. Is she in a valley? Make it a deep one. Is he on the mountaintop? Give him the experience of a lifetime.

3. Situational comedy: Spend time watching for humorous moments in your own life. What “situations” get you giggly? Think about placing your characters in a “situation” that will play out in a humorous way. By way of example, let’s look at I Love Lucy. Did we really find it believable that a housewife would take a job in a chocolate factory and end up shoving candies down her blouse? Um, probably not. Did we laugh like hyenas when the episode aired? You betcha! I Love Lucy was the perfect example of a situational comedy. Week after week we waited to see what “situation” our gal would end up in. We empathized with her (this is very important) and we thought she was a little kooky. In short, we saw a little of ourselves in her.

4. Slapstick: Think of Larry, Mo and Curly. Sure, their antics got a little old after awhile, but you get the idea. “Physical” comedy (tripping over things, physical gags, etc.) has always had its place in humor writing. Use these events sparingly, but don’t rule them out.

5. Speaking of Larry, Mo and Curly: Work in threes. Three funny characters as a trio. Three funny situations in a row. Threes have always worked in comedy. “Three nuns walked into a bar…” (etc.) See what I mean? Funny people love the number three.

6. Pacing: There’s much to be said about the placement of words, phrases and inflections. Pacing it truly everything in comedy. In many respects, it is learned by trial and error. If you aren’t sure something is working, run it by your critique partners. See if they’re tickled by your words.

7. The Punch Line. If you’re writing comedy, make sure you leave the reader anticipating a “Wowza!” punch line. Don’t give away too much too soon. Adequately build the story, then. . .bam! Punch line!

8. Living the Life: Let humor lead the way! In my own life, I find that being funny on the page is easier when I’m truly walking through life with a joyous attitude. It’s not always easy (and life often intervenes, threatening to remove any hint of humor), but for those who live a life of faith, it is possible. The Bible is loaded with all sorts of great scriptures about joy. Check out this verse: "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22) When we transfer our “merry heart” to the page, then we’re sharing the joy with our readers. Is there any greater honor?

I’m going to close by sharing a humorous twist on the beatitudes, which I’m calling “The BE-Happy-Attitudes for Christian Writers.”

Blessed are those who are poor in contracts,

for they will surely reap their reward if they do not give up.

Blessed are those who mourn as a result of rejection slips,

for they can be comforted in the fact that they are not alone.

Blessed are the meek, humbly accepting God’s call and recognizing that any accomplishment comes from His Mighty hand,

for they will inherit the respect of fellow authors, as well as the favor of God.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for great-writing,

for their computers will be filled with well-written manuscripts.

Blessed are those who are merciful to editors and agents,

for they will be shown abundant mercy.

Blessed are the pure-hearted authors who seek to serve the Lord with their writing,

for they will see God – both in their work and their worship.

Blessed are the peacemakers, doing all they can to humor cranky critique partners,

for they will be called “godly mentors.”

Blessed are those who are persecuted because they wear the name “Christian writer”

for they carry the indisputable call of God on their lives.

Blessed are you when editors insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against your well-loved and beautifully written manuscript. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven; for in the same way they persecuted the many Christian authors who walked before you.

You (writers) are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

You (writers) are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

That’s it for now, writers. Go forth and giggle!

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Thank you Janice for being with us today!!
Reader's you simply MUST check out Janice's new series and her latest release, It Had to Be You. One of the best I have EVER read and will have you howling in the aisles. This book releases THIS MONTH- don't delay getting your copy!!


Mia said...

Wow, amazing post, Janice! While all the books I've written so far have been more 'serious', I still try to add some humor to the mix. I'm going to remember your tips from now on :)

And I have to say, Fools Rush In made me laugh... a lot. My sister and mom and I read through our one copy within a week, and kept quoting it and talking about it for weeks ;) You're definitely a pro when it comes to comedy, IMO.

Thanks for sharing your advice!

Krista Phillips said...

THANKS so much Janice! A wonderful post indeed! Great tips for the comedy writer.

I have the hardest time, I think, with #2 and #3. I write romance that has quite a bit of humor in it, but when I use exaggeration or situational comedy, I get a lot of "This would never happen" or "totally unrealistic" on contest scores, but then I also get from other judges, "HILARIOUS!" "I can totally see this, well done" on the same scenes.

I think this is just a difference of opinion and I find myself toning down the funny parts a bit to appease them.

I'm also realizing though, that my books will always be more romantic than they are funny. Like the difference between Romance with Suspense elements and romantic suspense... mine is romance with strong humor elements:-)

Okay, it's too early in the morning and I'm probably rambling now. You've given me much to think about, THANK YOU!

Pepper said...

Oh Wowza! Janice
Thanks so much for this post. I'm going to print it out. Great stuff here.

I love writing comedy - but loving to write it and writing it well are two very different things.

Funny characters are so much fun to write. I have an entire family (Appalachian, not Italian ;-) and the father is my favorite character. He's hilarious (in my mind anyway).

I've just started reading 'It Had To Be You'.

Oh, and Janice, could you share with readers a little about your new series?

Keli Gwyn said...

Thanks for the great post, Janice.

I'm one of those people who has to work at being funny. The role I least like at Toastmasters is Joke Master. I have a hard time remembering jokes, have been known to muff the punch line, and laugh just before I reach the end out of nervousness and fear that no one else will find what I said funny. My favorite form of humor, and the only one I'm any good at, is the pun. So, my attempts at humor usually make people groan.

I admire those of you who can write humor. I love to laugh when I read. I need to laugh more, since I can be a wee bit too serious, so keep writing your funny stories, ladies.

I love your Be-Happy Attitudes for Writers, Janice. Thanks for sharing them.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thank you Janice. You warmed my heart, stirred my thoughts, and encouraged me. What a blessing you are:)

Pepper said...

What's really sad is those of us (ME) who think we're hilarious and realize a little too late that we're just silly. Or worse! Not funny at all. ;-)

I WANT to write humor. Whether I'm good at it or not is yet to be seen.
Janice's books are sOOOOO funny. Very Lucille Ball-ish.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh man, I wish I could write funny! I wrote a medieval book, so while I tried to put some fun in, it just didn't come off quiet right. lol

I tend to like sarcasm, but as you know, that can come across as kinda mean. Of course, if you say it with a smile and a roll of the I do, then maybe it's not so bad.

I always thought writing lolol alot and putting :) at the end of sentences made me sound fun(ny), but I suppose it just makes me a little juvenile.

I read Fools Rush In and laughed out loud in many places, but the wedding rehearsal dinner was just HILARIOUS! Oh My Goodness! What a great scene!

I'm with Pepper and would love to hear more about your next series.


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Pepper, you CAN too write comedy! I've read some of your scenes and you have got the funny bone, not just the silly one.

Krista, if your stories are anything like your blog, then YOU ARE A COMEDY WRITER. I haven't read any of your romantic stuff, so I can't really say..., but judging by your PDA pics, you are a sure bet on writing them! lol

Casey said...

I just love this post! It is so Janice, her humor is all over the place even in her non fiction. :) She has a talent to teach too. So much fun to kick off the first guest with her. Thanks Janice!!

Casey said...

Hmm, all over the place doesn't sound so great. What I MEANT is that whatever she writes is filled with humor. :)

Casey said...

Yes, Pepper you ARE funny! And though I haven't read yours, Krista, you have the humor gene I can tell!

I love humor, but I CAN NOT write it. :)

Mia, she teaches humor well, doesn't she??

Keli, thanks for stopping by!! :)

Unknown said...

You are all so wonderful! Thank you so much for the sweet (and generous) comments. It's so strange that I was asked to share this lesson right now because I feel like I've been struggling with my WIP (work in progress) to make it as funny as my prior books. A good friend (who also happens to be a critique partner) told me to let go of the idea that I had to be funny. . .and just be myself. She was SO right. Her words jump-started me!

You asked about my next series, and I'd love to share. I'm assuming you mean the next series with Revell. The series is called "Backstage Pass" and is set in Hollywood. It's about a television sitcom called "Stars Collide" (about two opposing talent scouts). The first book (Stars Collide) is from the lead actress's POV. The second book (yet unnamed) is from the writer's POV (think of the old Dick Van Dyke show - how he and his crew pounded out the script for each week's live show). The third book (yet unnamed) is from the POV (point of view) of the female director of the sitcom. In many ways, this is a story inside a story. I LOVED writing the first book (Stars Collide) and honestly believe it's my best story to date. Hope you agree!

I have a really sweet book coming out with Summerside in late August/early September. It's called "Love Me Tender" and is also set in Southern California (Laguna Beach/1957/soda shop theme). Wow, did I ever have fun writing that one! It will release under my pen name, Janice Hanna. How I came to write under two names. . .well, that's a story for another day!

Casey said...

Thanks for stopping by Janice!! And your friend is so right, your humor doesn't feel pushed or prodded it just, is. It's you, it's what you do best and it isn't forced and that is what I love about it. :)

I CAN NOT wait for your next books!! :)