Thursday, February 10, 2011

Writing Humor with Pauline Baird Jones

I love stuff that makes me laugh.  My fellow L&L Dreamspell author has blogged today on finding the balance between drama and humor.  Please welcome Pauline Baird Jones to Immortyl Revolution!

When you visit the blog of a writer of vampire tales, one feels an impulse to discuss blood or at least how to dabble in gore, but while I often fiddle with peril in my writing, I’m not great with gore. So I thought, why not go against the grain of the blog and talk about writing humor and leave the blood and gore to the experts?

In that spirit, let’s start with a (lame) joke:

A writer comes home to a burned down house. His sobbing and slightly-singed wife is standing outside. “What happened, honey?”

“It was terrible,” she weeps. “I was cooking, the phone rang. It was your agent. Because I was on the phone, I didn’t notice the stove was on fire. It went up in second. Everything is gone. I nearly didn’t make it out of the house….”

“Wait, wait. Back up a minute,” The man says. “My agent called?”

Now I will attempt to be serious about adding humor to your scary prose.

Humor finds its way into a book three ways. It comes from character. It rises out of circumstances, i.e. plot. Or it comes from a mix of both.

A work of fiction can be consistently funny or an author can use humor to lighten suspense. Shakespeare used comic relief in his dramas. And he used drama for contrast in his comedies.

This is my immutable law of comedy: I can’t have humor without a thread of serious. I like the contrast of light and dark. For me, that contrast makes each element more intense. Or at least, that’s the plan. How much serious depends on the book. I also can’t have serious without some humor and again, how much depends on the book. I have some books that are funny, with elements of suspense and some books that are seriously suspenseful, with elements of humor. Different books, different balance.

I have a friend, Jeff Strand who writes the funniest horror, I mean, its laugh out loud funny and while you’re laughing you’re thinking, “This is seriously sick. I can’t believe I’m laughing at this!” Different strokes for different authors.

In the interests of full disclosure, I will tell you that when I wrote my first novel, I had no intention of writing a humorous book. In fact, it was my intention to write a great love story that might someday be compared to Gone with the Wind. I wanted to make readers weep and sigh.

Only a funny thing happened on the way to my great love story. I tripped over my sense of humor.

During that face plant, I found my author voice. Since then I’ve written nine novels, one novella and some short stories. In all but one novel, there are varying degrees of humor.

Note what a reviewer wrote about Girl Gone Nova, my gore-less science fiction romance novel:

“Amongst the densely packed and mind-bending action, there's also some welcome humor.”

Notice how she used the word welcome. Humor can be a sort of rest stop in a really intense story, but humor isn’t only a way to provide a respite for the reader in suspense fiction. Laughing makes us feel better, so letting readers laugh while they read your book gives them an endorphin boost.

Humor—or that endorphin boost—can build a bridge between the reader and your story. Bridges are good. Bridges help build a fan base. Of course, the reader can choose to cross it or not. You don’t get to choose how readers respond to your story. Some readers will run across the bridge, some will edge across, some will shrug and turn away. Not everyone will get your humor. Someone somewhere IS going to think you’re not funny. If no one thinks you’re funny, that’s a problem.

Humor can also help the reader bond with your characters. In real life, we make connections with others using jokes and humorous anecdotes. It is the same in fiction. And bonding can also help us build a readership.

If you’re going to write humor, you are adding another risk factor to the soup that is a novel, but it is—in my humble opinion—well worth the risk. If you can make anyone laugh, then go for it. It’s a lot of fun being funny.

Pauline Baird Jones has tried to be funny in eleven novels, some of the award-winning. You can find out more (than you want to know) about her at Oh, and there’s stuff about her books, too.


Pauline B Jones said...

Thanks for having me stop by, Denise! :-)

Bobbye Terry said...

Well, Pauline, you know I like humor with my suspense. In fact, I like humor with just about everything. Still, when it comes to suspense, it is a delicate balance and depends on the amount of suspense you want the book to have. I just wrote a blog for Writers Fun Zone on this subject. I menioned that Hitchcock showed the viewer the great use of sardonic humor with sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense.

I think you do a great job with it, as you did this post.


Pauline B Jones said...

Thanks, Bobbye, I do try, though it is definitely a balancing act and a judgment call. Thanks for stopping by!

Loretta said...


Loved it:)...and I got a shot of endorphin's reading it:)...Now, if I can just find a piece of chocolate, I'll be in bliss all afternoon!:)


Pauline B Jones said...

LOLOL! I think I need chocolate, too. Glad you enjoyed it!

Denise Verrico said...

Pauline, great post. I love having you here. I wish I could share my Valentine's Day chocolates with you all.

dkchristi said...

I admire those with a profound sense of humor and timing. I can find something serious in everything humorous; thus, humor itself is not a prevalent element of my writing. Every once in awhile an author catches me and forces me to laugh, and I'm grateful.

Pauline B Jones said...

Thanks, Denise! Happy to be here! And DK, that's what we aim for in writing humor, that start of surprise, but nothing will make all the people laugh all the time (unfortunately!). If you ever watch a stand up comedian, you'll see that not all the jokes spark laughter. They just move on. Of course, they get to find out right away what the audience likes. We have to wait for a review. =8-0

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Pauline,

I enjoy your writing and think you have a clever way with words. Obviously, readers agree. I really enjoy humor in any kind of novel, just like I like people who make me laugh even during trying circumstances. But it does take a particularly talented writer to balance humor with horror and suspense.

Pauline B Jones said...

Many thanks for the kind words, Jacqueline. :-) I will admit I do love to play with words. (grin)