Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Guest Post: "The Wise of Being Funny"

The Wise Of Being Funny

Let’s get the expected brilliance out of the way first, shall we? Essentially, humor is an unlikely pairing of contrasts that reverses the reader's anticipated expectations. It requires a certain structure and pace, and these things are dependent on one another. Structure is the building humor resides in, and pace is the speed at which you walk through that building. Done right, the savvy writer can seamlessly put a clever twist on a commonly held notion. That’s all there is to being funny. The engaged reader is surprised in the end. It’s that simple. Huh? What?

I told you it was brilliant. :) But is this helpful to you? No. We all know this stuff, right? But can we apply it? I’m talking to the writers out there that don’t traditionally write ‘funny’ and have a hard time incorporating humor into their stories. Why can’t they make that universal concept -- contrasts vs. expectations -- work for them? It’s simple enough, so it should be easy. Well, it’s not. There, aren’t you glad I said that?

I’m also going to say that even if a writer isn't funny in person, she can write comedy with the proper tools and the desire to do so. Maybe she won't be able to do it as easily or frequently as someone who has the knack for it, but regardless, she still has an advantage. She has time on her side to convince the reader that her character or situation is funny. Unlike the stand-up comic or witty individual in a bar, a writer has the opportunity to edit/cut/paste and be critiqued before introducing her version of funny to the world. Stop and think about that -- it’s pretty powerful. You have the time to make it work, so let’s concentrate on that and have some fun. Brilliant is not, cough, my style -- an easy to understand example is. :D

First things first, you need to decide what you want the funny to be. Let's touch on two very different types of comedy: outrageous situations and physical comedy. For an example of an outrageous situation, let's say: Your hero has sworn off women, having been dumped by the love of his life just weeks before, so he decides to join the United World Order Of Inter-Galactic Space People Organization to sulk in solitary space for a good long while. During his first mission out, he crashes his depressed ass on Amazonia, a planet populated by beautiful warrior women. What will he do? Hmm...I know I feel sorry for him because like every self-respecting male out there, he’s going to stick to his original plan and not screw any of the legions of women wanting a piece of him, right? ;) Well, my version wouldn't be a mantasy, so he would stick to his plan. Talk about outrageous! Really, what could be funnier than a guy pining for the witch he left behind, while the angels before him want to set him up in a castle and give him an unlimited beer supply, a tap into the universe's biggest broadcasting station (so he can watch every sport known to man and alien alike all day and night), daily foot massages, and permission to scratch himself whenever and wherever the mood strikes. All he has to do in return is agree to impregnate their queen who is a genetic mutation of Heidi Klum and Pamela Anderson (the cartoon version of this story would hire Jessica Rabbit for the part). Gee, just imagine the potential for additional humor as the Amazonian women keep upping the temptations.

Now, look at what I did there.

1. I introduced the subject: our recently dumped hero.

2. I set up the situation by giving him a common problem the reader can relate to: being dumped. I mean, if I said the hero was depressed because someone else beat him to the discovery of a new species of fly, it wouldn't work. I doubt many readers would know how important that discovery is to the world, so the level of our hero’s depression over being beaten to the find of the century couldn’t be measured. We need a common bond to connect with -- hence the dumping. Most of us, unfortunately, can relate that situation. :)
I also gave him an unreasonable, and yet plausible, goal: swearing off women. I backed up his reactionary emotional state by having him make a drastic decision, joining the Inter-Galactic Space People Organization. Again, we can understand this, can’t we? When we’ve been hurt, it’s human nature to make changes to prevent it from happening again. And when we’ve been rejected, the last place we want to find ourselves on a daily basis is facing the person who dumped us (so a space mission right about now sounds good). In this situation, it's normal to get an ‘Oh yeah, I’ll show you’ attitude. So here he is, piloting his first flying saucer mission, ready to prove to the love he aches for (but will never admit that he does) that he can do just fine without her. But then the unthinkable happens. He crashes in Amazonia, where thousands of beautiful women -- scantily clad, of course -- desire him.

3. Here comes the irony: He’s sworn off women, remember? Now, if he had made that decision arbitrarily, this could still be funny on some level. But what makes our scenario even funnier is that he’s pining for his one true love, so it doesn’t matter how many beautiful women want him -- not one of them is the one he wants. That's funny.

Just like when you tell a joke, this example used layers to make the situation funny. You need to introduce a universal connection right away, something the listener can comprehend quickly (in my example, it’s the hero getting dumped), or else the explanation for the joke is too long and your audience loses interest. Yet also notice that, while outrageous, we can still relate to the situation because it’s all based on truths. We all get dumped and we all feel bad, and yes, some of us have been known to make drastic changes in our lives when this happens. If we're honest, we all secretly dream of making the person who rejected us regret their decision by doing great without them. And for a certain amount of time, no matter how much we want it to be otherwise and no matter how upset we are with the dumper, we still secretly want them -- that’s human nature. Now, give all those truths a twist, such as presenting the common gripes by women about stereotypical males and you have your humor.

Many writers' attempts to inject humor into their work fall flat because they've forgotten the most basic principle of comedy: Good humor is based on human frailties. The weaknesses we all share give us the best material. The closer we stick to the truth, the funnier things become, because subconsciously, it gives us the opportunity to laugh at ourselves. A writer must seek out the truth to create her humor, or else her prose could come off as mocking, embarrassing, or ridiculing her characters, or god forbid, the reader.

These risks bring me to the concept of written physical comedy (slapstick). A number of self-professed 'un'-funny writers tend to explore this method when they want to bring humor into their stories. Why? We've all seen the bloopers where people fall, so having a character slip in puddle and ruin her dress would seem like a logical scene to attempt. After all, we've laughed at this (I know I’m guilty). But why is it funny? It’s visually appealing. Makes sense. Visually? Hmm. This is trickier than you think and it requires even more layering to be effective. In this instance, the more details the better.

Example: Jonathon rushed to her side while she sat in the puddle. When he took in her miserable state, he wanted to smile. Then when she looked up at him with a scowl, he was tempted to laugh. (This is cute, but underdeveloped.)

How about:

She sat elegantly in the mud puddle, almost as if she waited for a servant to hand her a bath towel. Jonathon shook his head over that, but maintained a casual air as he arrived at her side. He kept his smile in check until she looked up at him. A large blob of wet earth stuck on the side of her head, just over her left ear, slowly slid downward, leaving a grubby smear across her face. Brown speckles dotted her cheeks and her eyelashes spiked together in soggy points from their recent drenching. But it wasn’t until her brows lifted in a belligerent ‘what?', which caused the clump at her temple to splat onto her shoulder, that he stepped back, out of spatter range, and chuckled.

What’s the difference here? Um, besides my overuse of adjectives. ;D It’s finding the absurd. It wasn’t just a puddle she sat in, it was a mud puddle that she elegantly sat in. Your props as a writer for nailing physical comedy are words -- choose them wisely. Look at the words in the second example: blob instead of pile, grubby instead of dirty. Actually, smear is funny to me for some reason too -- it reminds me of a bagel and lox. And the phrase: a belligerent ‘what?’ That has a look to itself, doesn’t it? To me, writing slapstick means drawing more on the senses and introducing rich details. The humor of slapstick is seeing the action, and if you don’t use the best words to describe the action, it will fall flat when you attempt to convey it to the reader.

Okay, words of wisdom to impart...

No matter what type of humor you attempt, use metaphors, similes, action verbs, and colorful adjectives (<-my favorite!), and take the time to think up new ways to say old things. Or use running jokes, or plan something funny for the duration of a story. For instance, I have a heroine who messes up her metaphors, and the hero is a real stickler for all things proper, so he continuously gets exasperated and corrects her. The funny part comes in because she doesn’t give a crap, and it isn’t until the end of the book when her good friend, after witnessing them go through a typical exchange on the subject, says: “What’s up with that? You doing that just to piss him off?” The heroine doesn’t miss a beat. She says, “Yeah. Are you ready to go to the mall?” That’s it. It’s funny because the reader gets the inside joke. It isn’t explained or excused -- it just is. If I had her qualify the 'yes' with an added 'because', it would lose its shine. The reader, if I’ve done my job right, should understand my heroine enough to know that this is her personality. In fact, this behavior should seem so much like a part of her character, the reader is surprised they didn’t see it coming... :D

And now you know the 'wise' and the 'whys' of being funny. Don't you love surprises?

Murphy

Editor's Note: Thank you, Murphy, for answering the call when we asked for someone to blog about humor writing. Everyone, Murphy picked today for her post to go live because she says today is the one-year anniversary of the date she found this blog. So let's all celebrate with her in the comments, shall we? Or commiserate. As you choose. :) Theresa

82 comments:

Jami G. said...

Murphy!

Woo Hoo! I'm the first to comment and congratulate you! :)

Well done!
Jami G.

em said...

I loved your examples of enriching ones prose. This is exactly what I needed to see! **sigh How can you be as funny as you are and make that kind of sense? I mean this when I say, I have learned a lot just by reading your comments. This post is no exception. You've given me a laugh and something to think about. Thanks Murphy! You want to rethink the Cougar blog NOW? You seem very comfortable live!:)

Leona, we got her to cave on this. Maybe with some perseverance she'll change her mind about the blog.:)

Edittorrent said...

I'm inclined to agree that physical comedy doesn't work well in written stories. Does anyone have an example of it working? I would love to see one if it's out there. Bill Bryson comes close sometimes, but it's still not exactly slapstick, is it?

Thanks again, Murphy. Great post!

Theresa

Babs said...

Murphy! I'm with Jami, Well done! The outrageous situation taking place on Amazonia is as writable as your Mildred/Sunday story with Rudely Studwell (I haven't forgotten that:)) This is a great way to show the sequence of things connecting to get to the outrageous plot. You make it look so easy. When you came up with this plot as example, what was the first thing you started with? I want to try and work through my own outrageous story, but I’m having a difficult time beginning.:( Once I get going it should be okay. Any ideas?

Anonymous said...

There is written slapstick that works. Successful movies like Ground Hog Day prove that the writing of the scene started somewhere. Even Monty Python was written before it was acted out. It may be a written page that makes you chuckle or smile when it's read, but once it's interpreted is when it becomes laugh out loud funny.

Anonymous said...

Hi Murphy! This was great! Congrats on the Anniversary!

Jillian CA

Anonymous said...

Insightful, I like the examples. I think this is something I can play with....thanks

em said...

Sorry Murphy, I missed that about the Anniversary! Congratulations! Where are you, out celebrating? LOL

Wes said...

Dang, Murphy! Your post is great. Insightful, analytical, and filled with examples and how to do it. We all knew it, but this post confirms you are not just another pretty face.

More later. Got a meeting.

Edittorrent said...

Anon, I'm not looking for examples of dramatic writing, but for prose that's not meant to be interpreted by actors.

Theresa

Anonymous said...

Hey Murphy, What a terrific post! I had never thought about how keeping the stories close to the truth makes them funnier, but it's true. Congrats on your 1st anniversary, can't wait to hear more from you, NEO

Murphy said...

Hi Theresa and Alicia! Thanks for giving me the opportunity. It was a lot of fun to write even if it was humongously long(is that even a word? humongously?...Hmm, well it is now). But hey, it's not an easy thing to explain this stuff in paragraph. Sorry! :D

Hi JG! Thanks!

Em? Why is it, I always seem to be saying NO to you? Oh yeah, it’s because I am! The Cougar blog idea? A big: HELL NO! stamp on that one. And as for me comfortable with being live? Again, HELL NO! Stamp. Stamp. Stamp! ;)

Murphy :D

Anonymous said...

Murphy,

I really enjoyed this piece -- as someone who enjoys humor in what she reads and is astounded when an author writes something that makes me laugh out loud, it was great to see the writing as a series of steps and not a complete talent that one either has or doesn't! Keep up the clever writing with humor and education!

Diane H-B

SueFi said...

Very well written. Along with your actual explanations, I enjoyed you adding your own humor to your commentary. Debbie promised you were good. Happy Anniversary!

Leona said...

Okay, Em Jami, and Babs,

Now we've got her. Notice she's using a stamp now? Just like our I'm with Murphy stamp?

Hell no? LOL I think that was the stamp she gave to writing the funny blog. We will have to keep at her. I mean, we are all wanting to participate in writing the blogs, etc, right? She only needs to add the flavor, so to speak. You know, Puff a little eggplant by the barbeque or something?

Thank you for doing the post Murphy and thanks to our erstwhile editors who allow such a grand forum to us writers who need this kind of help and support :)

We'll wear you down Murphy because when writers unite, the world is ours. As they say, the pen is mightier than the sword.

wv - toodyngl, the drink Murray had with Theresa. Almost a hot toddy, but not.

Leona said...

And PS good timing on your post. congrats and all that. Will have to get you out for the now proverbial cougar drink :)

Jami G. said...

Hey Babs,

For some unknown reason, Murphy asked me to take a stab at your question as her computer froze and then she had to run off to a meeting. But you know how it goes...what Murphy says...goes. :)

Anyway, she'll have to address how she came up with the initial germ of the Amazonia idea, but I do know that once you have a starting point, you just have to keep layering on the absurd. As she revised it, she added in more details, listing the temptations, commenting about it not being a Mantasy, etc. Just like any kind of revising, you need to always look for a way to kick things up a notch. When you're trying to come up with suspense, you think of the worst thing you can do to your character - the thing that will utterly destroy them - and then you do it. When you want to make a surprising twist, you look for ways to widen the gap between the expected and the actual events. Sometimes, that means you have to backtrack through your WIP to add in other details to lead up to your goals. Humor works the same way. You look for ways to increase the absurd. :) Okay, I'll shut up now and hope that Murphy comes back with something brilliant. LOL!

Jami G.

Jami G. said...

Diane,

Yes, I think one of the most important points in Murphy's post is the fact that just because you're not good with humor in real life doesn't mean you can't do humor in your writing. In real life, humor often takes a talent for remembering jokes or a skill with quick wit. Neither of those limitations apply when you can take as long as you need to work your written humor out.

All you need is your first idea, a "wouldn't it be absurd if...". Then you figure out a logical (if absurd), easy-to-relate-to reason for how that situation came to be. Then add in more and more layers of outlandishness. :)

Jami G.

Wes said...

Murphy,

Really and truly you did a magnificant job on this post. It's encouraging to see the amount of talent our little band of wannabe writers have.


Theresa,
I agree that physical comedy doesn't come thru well on the written page. A rare exception is a recent topic in the blog of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. Much of the humor is in exploding cars, crashing funeral homes, Lulu trying to stuff herself into her clothes and car, etc. But other than those books, I can't think of others.

And Murphy, I see you worked mantasy into your post. I hope you weren't thinking of me trying to write an erotic romance.

Jami G. said...

Theresa,

I think one of the main problems with slapstick in writing is that we want the reader to feel an emotional connection to our characters. This is different than a quick skit or blooper where we can laugh at someone and not feel the sting of embarrassment ourselves. But in a novel, if we put our characters into an embarrassing situation, the reader won't laugh, they'll feel mortified along with the character because of that emotional connection. The only way that slapstick can work, IMHO, is when it's done with sensitivity so that's we're laughing with the characters, not at them.

For example, in Murphy's scene of the mud puddle, the next paragraph would make or break that scene. Either she'd feel painfully embarrassed (which would cut off the reader's amusement unless she was a bitch and we wanted her to suffer) or she'd accept her situation with grace and aplomb and we'd be free to laugh with her. It's just very difficult to do slapstick without exposing that mean side of humor, but that doesn't work when we empathize with the characters.

Thanks!
Jami G.

Deb Salisbury said...

A brilliant post, Murphy! I've bookmarked it and plan to link back to it from my blog.

Babs said...

Thanks JG! I agree. It's a matter of layers and revision. The question I have is: that darn girl makes it look so easy doesn't she and is that fair?;)

Yes I agree about the revisions...but somehow I don't think Murphy has to worry about this a lot. Kick it up a notch. I like that.:)

Dave Shaw said...

For an example of physical humor that comes through in writing, I refer you all to Dave Barry's collected columns. The man's brilliant, IMHO.

Murphy, many happy returns on the anniversary. I just didn't realize you came aboard here so late... ;-)

Jami G. said...

Babs,

No disrespect to Murphy here, but don't ever think that you can't measure up because you know you need to revise your work. We don't get to see all the "sausage-making" that goes into every published book, so we think we suck compared to them. That's just not reality. Trust me, Murphy makes her sausages the same as the rest of us. (Okay, why did that come out sounding vaguely indecent??? LOL!) Ignoring the poor cliched analogy, my point is that revisions are just a fact of life for writers and don't judge your drafts against anyone else's finished product. :)

Jami G.

Anonymous said...

OK, what real guy could resist the fabulous women of Amazonia, no matter how heartbroken he is??? LOL Especially if you add an unlimited beer supply??? Very fun article. I never thought about writing humor before, but this gave me lots to consider. Arlene

Anonymous said...

Hi Murphy... your sister-in-law, Deb, has talked about you and directed me to your blog. A most Happy Anniversary to you, by the way! Loved reading your article and insights on the art of humour in writing! I'm not a "writer" per se, though many have said as much over the years... Yes, like the monster under the bed, "IT" lurks... just for that ripe moment... to blunder out of hiding... ambushing every one of my comfort zones, to impale upon my block of pen to paper...

I especially LOVED your image of the damsel in belligerent distress in the mud puddle! Oooooo, I could CLEARLY feel the ire beneath those muddied, raised, eyebrows in her precarious state, and the playful mood of the scene’s flirtatious tones... Reminds me of my most favoured masters of written humour, Erma Bombeck, and Robert Fulghum - one VERY memorable chapter was Fulghum’s “Mother of the Bride” - had me in such a fit of laughter, there was little hope of turning pages, so blinded was I by steady streams of tears of laughter! DELIGHTFULLY worse than peeling onions!

Wishing you many “peeling onions successes” with your work in written humour!

Sincerely,
Mary-Jane H.

Edittorrent said...

T, Janet Evanovich has some physical humor. I think she does it by taking it slower, not trying to make it happen in "movie time," really describing what's happening, almost in slomo.
A

Edittorrent said...

Murph isn't old enough to be a cougar anyway! Right, M???
Alicia

Murphy said...

You guys are great! I mean that!

Diane H-B and SueFi - Thanks!

Leona? No to the Cougar blog! Trust me, that ain't happening. Murray has convinced I'm much too young to be a Cougar...well, actually, I'm sad to report that right after Murray said this, he was sucking back a dirty martini at the time, and inadvertently woofed back an olive in the process. He had to be airlifted to a nearby hospital for quick treatment. That's why I'm a big fan of the twisty straw. The straight straw may work for those covert times you need to wear a burka - but look at the risks. Tsk ,tsk, tsk. Poor Murray. You see PEOPLE? With a twisty straw, the most you'll choke on is a sliver of pimento - maybe...Ah, it was good while it lasted. Murray really was a great guy. I’ll miss him. *sigh*

Wes, how could you say that? I was going to set you up with my mother, remember?

Hi Deb! :) I’m glad you liked the post. Thanks for your comment.

Dave: Came here so late? As in, you were hanging around this blog longer than I was? Is that it? Here’s a challenge. Count up the number of comments I’ve posted over yours for my meager year here. Come on - I dare you. ;0 So late indeed...sheesh!

Murphy said...

Wow, Mary-Jane H, you belong here! What a great comment.
Thanks!

pilatesgirl said...

Very well written Murph, as usual!!! So, when might I expect to find your latest masterpiece at a book store near me?!
Loved the guy on Amazonia .... I can only imagine the hilarity that would ensue as the warrior women that reside there gradually wear the poor guy down, until Heidi Klumderson has finally gotten her wish ... and we ALL know that he absolutely WOULD cave!! If anyone could take that idea and run with it, it would be you! Thanks for an insightful blog on how to write comedic scenes ... food for thought, for sure ... but no sausages!!
Cheers to you on your anniversary! You always make me laugh ... I have a feeling that we could be great friends ... perhaps someday we'll share a pitcher of sour apple martinis?! :)

Katy said...

Happy anniversary, Murphy. Thanks for this post. It was really interesting, and I learned a lot. I look forward to reading more from you!

Dave Shaw said...

Now, Murphy, no need to get all tense over it. You have more to say than I do, so you make more comments. I'm a male who's been cowed by women for longer than you've been in this world, you know. ;-)

If you check back to the very beginnings of the blog, though, you may notice a few comments, here and there, by some old guy with a rat on his shoulder. I took a hiatus for a while due to a trying time in my personal life (lost both parents in 5 weeks), and didn't come back until you had begun livening things up around here. I do appreciate the contributions you make - for a youngster, you're quite astute and pleasant. 8-D

Murphy said...

Okay Babs: This one's for you. :D

But...

Let me just say first, Jami did an awesome job of summation for you. I’m not sure where she was going with the sausages...but, well that’s JG. :D Actually, without you Jami, my post would have sucked the bag or, um, paper, as it were. Here’s the truth - I may tease JG, about her precision and tight assism (another made up word. Hey I’m on role here!) over the comma, PPP’s and anything else I have a hard time remembering ;), but that's only because I'm jealous that she can technically kick my proverbial ass all over the place. ***Thanks Jami!*** You're worth every bit of the screams: Holy freaking blue horizon of edits I see after you return my work.. (Sadly it’s true, sometimes my work comes back and it looks like the Aegean sea). I used to want to go there...now? (imagine me turning my nose up here). Not so much.

Okay, I’ve refocused.

Babs asks: When you came up with this plot as example, what was the first thing you started with?

Truthfully? It was a guy. How boring is that? ;) But then I thought, okay, I have this guy, what's the worse thing I can do to him? COME ON, nobody wants to be dumped by me (I'm really mean about it ;) and hey, just to be clear, I haven’t dumped a guy in over 30 years. You know it’s bad when I remember that far back :D). So, there it started, and let me tell you - the funniest part of this whole scenario - would be the finish-up. Oh hell yeah, I play fair. I'd have the tall (for Jami) heroine, show up on the Amzonia planet and find the ex-love she'd dumped. Only? Now she sees all these women. In particular: the AnderKlum mutation bitch, wanting his ass - and she starts rethinking her gripe of: but he leaves the bodily function collection cavity lid up, Now the tables are turned, Babs, and things are not so great for the little witch who dumped him. Shouldn’t she have her turn in the bucket? So, what would you make her suffer through? And then, what would make them reconnect? I know what I’d choose - anyone care to give it a shot?

Anonymous said...

Miss Murph- I totally liked what you said and could actually follow the logic. thanks for an interesting idea laden blog. look forward to meeting you one of these days. meski.

Jami G. said...

Murphy,

*sigh* Haven't you ever heard about how if you knew how they made sausages (what went into them and all that), you'd never eat them again? Really, that's all there is to the sausages. Promise. :)

I was merely trying to draw an analogy that you can't tell by looking at a published work everything that went into it. I know, I know... :) I may know the technical side of things, but you're obviously better with the easy-to-understand examples. LOL!

Jami G.

Anonymous said...

You have simplified something here that is so difficult for a lot of writers throughout our industry. It is nice to know that there is original, smart talent out there and this blog just gained a fan because of you Murphy.

Anonymous said...

I heard about this blog and brought it up in my writing class at UGA (advanced fiction writing) and the discussion lasted 30 minutes!!! I have a question, will Murphy be writing on this a lot or is there a contact so I can use some stuff again, let me know Murphy because it made me finally get my point across:)

Murphy said...

Alicia? ALICIA! Man, you're hard to find. Movie time? What a great comment. I should have spoken to you before I wrote this post. It could have been so much better, now that I think about it. That's it, isn't it? Physical comedy is cute on the page (done well) because it moves slow and understandable - or only as fast as the person that reads it. I have a question for you. There is a way to write fast - almost breathless - so that the reader is carried away. I can do that with, um, other kinds of scenes - but maybe it can be done with action scenes. Crap! Now that I think about it - we see this quickness in action scenes - why can't this translate to comedy? It should, shouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

I would like to point out to everyone that it is not the jokes, or examples that stand out in this. It is proof that this writer, this "Murphy," has some serious talent. Being able to explain abstract ideas in a way so normal readers can understand and even possibly take on into their own writing proves that Murphy has the ability to explain a situation or emotion in the same sense. I for one will not only be showing my students, but could possibly learn something from this article (dont tell the kids).

-Prof Robber

Anonymous said...

Just thought I should say this article worked in reverse for me. I had a silly scene involving mud, and I simply related it to...well...to shit. It was silly and took away from the professionalism of the writing. After reading this, I understood that sometimes it takes the skill and time to truly pull out details, metaphors, and truly make someone feel as if they feel in that mud as well, because simply put, we all like to laugh at ourselves! So instead of being funnier, I learned how to make the "funny" real in my story because of this article and murphy you seem to konw the business, if I could possibly get a hold of anything else you have done let me know, or when will you be on the blog again? Thanks and I will let you know how mine turns out!!

----FSUAlum@aerotek.com---

Edittorrent said...

Welcome to all the new commenters!

Murphy, I'm very proud of you right now. Just want you to know that.

Alicia, you guessed why I'm looking for examples. Want to break them down and find the patterns. :)

FSU alum, are you by chance one of Elizabeth Stuckey-French's students? She and I were classmates in the way back when.

Theresa,
making extra-spicy sausage tonight

Edittorrent said...

Dave, we're glad your back. Alicia and I were looking at some old posts recently, and of course that made me think of you.

Theresa

Babs said...

Murphy! LOL! If YOU dumped him he'd be really upset.:) I get that. To do with the story. For the woman he left behind as you say, she'd arrive and gets jealous. Then she's trying to win him back. Then the Amazonian, Pamela Anderson woman would be adamant about keeping him. That's the conflict? Until they resolve in the end?

Babs said...

Did I miss something? Is there a better resolve?

Leona said...

Murphy, this post obviously touched a lot of people and I'm delighted that I found this blog in time to enjoy your wit as I've gone through some troubling times.

It's also helped me to enjoy the relearning process rather than making it a chore, as I mentioned before.

That's too bad about Murray. See what happens when I'm not there doing the DD? Tsk, tsk, I offered.

Jami, you did a wonderful job as well. And don't mind Murphy. I'm withholding my IWM stamp on her about your PPPs, etc., as you ask the questions I can't seem to formulate:P Thanks. BTW I liked your response to Babs and can I just say ditto?

Theresa and Alicia,

Jami G. said...

Leona,

Thanks for your support. :) Don't worry, I don't mind Murphy at all... LOL!

Jami G.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry. I don't know how to put my name up. I don't usually speak in blogs. I liked this because it's clear that the person wants to teach humor writing. Is there an online course to attend?

rachelcapps said...

Go Murphy! Brilliant post!

Wow, what a fabulous response from everyone. And, my commiserations for the loss of Murray. Note to self - stick to twisty straws.

You have a gift, Murphy. Thanks for sharing :)

Eva Gale said...

What a fantastic breakdown of writing humor! And now I can see where I might have made a right, when I should have turned left. I'm going to send a few people this way. Great post, Murphy!

Anonymous said...

edittorrent-
I was actually a student of her husband, Ned, they are both AMAZING teachers and I hear that Elizabeth is doing big things with her short stories. Ned actually wrote some letters of recommendations for me and I forwarded over him Murphy's blog as well, I wish I could say I wrote it!!
-FSUAlum@aerotek.com

Anonymous said...

Given this link by a fellow (aspiring) writer. It's nice to read something that's easy to understand and useful. How many humorous writers take the time to discuss the process. Not many, I can tell you, I've googled. I read where many think you're either funny or not. I was heartened to read the insight here. I happen to think this is true. A writer has time to workout their humor. Thank-you for sharing some of the tips many writers don't share. I have bookmarked this one.
Ted
(From Fl. Do you belong to any local Chapters here?)

TommG11 said...

Murphy, that was really informative! I don't know how many times I've read (or written) that scene about the woman in the puddle and can't quite take it to that level. Placing adjectives (such as elegantly)in the right places goes a long way, and I'll remember that! Do you write for a weekly, I could really use some more tips!? RIP Murray ;)

Murphy said...

Thanks Rachelcapps! And yes, a twisty straw is the only way to go. Just ask Murray...oh dear, I guess we can't do that anymore.
:( Olive asphyxiation? *sigh* Murray's untimely demise turned out to be as odd as the way he lived. Did I ever mention that his office was located in an Airstream RV? Some people may have thought that this was strange, but heck, he used to park it next to the water when we had our Agent to client meetings. How many writers can brag that their agent had an office with a full ocean view? Darn, he will be sorely missed! :D

Hi Eva Gale! I'm glad you liked it. I wish you the best with your MS! Make sure you're around when we do log lines. You want funny? Be around when the troops pull apart mine. They laugh - I cry. ;)

Ted: It's tough when you write period. Humor is one of those funny things though, (pardon the pun) if you don't place it appropriately within your story or scene, I don't care how funny you are - it will fail. And I'll let you in on a little secret. I would never have known how to analyze the why and how something in my writing works - if I hadn't started following this blog. Alicia and Theresa (both editors and writers - check out the Mantasy post if you want more funny) are two of the smartest women around.

Murphy :D

Murphy said...

Someone in comments asked about an online course. This blog is better than any course I've taken. Trust me. Between Alicia, Theresa and the group of people who frequently post in comments? These are some of the scariest smart people I've come across...

@TommG11: if you need tips, you came to the right place! Hang around. About the puddle scene? I don't know why, but the few times I was asked to look over someone’s scene that wasn't working the way they wanted? It invariably involved a heroine, a ruined dress and dirt or mud. (insert head shake here) I can't say why that is, but I figured I'd try to use that kind of example to make the point that Jami clarified in comments for me. Kick it up a notch or two or ten. :) The more over-the-top the better. Providing it's appropriate. In my scene, notice that the hero kept his amusement in check until she got all belligerent on him. In fact, if I kept writing that scene - she would have swiped the mud off her shoulder and negligently flung it his way - so that he’d have to side-step it. I don’t like my heroine to be a victim. :D Good luck with your future scenes and I meant what I said about hanging around here. It’s like smart just rubs right off on you. Really.

Murphy

Eva Gale said...

Murphy,

Someone mentioned your blog, but I can't find it anywhere-can you link it?

Thanks!

Eva

Murphy said...

Hi Eva:

This is going to sound awful (insert me blushing profusely here), but I hijack this one (in comments) on occasion. I'm like that spoiler squirrel that shows up in back of you - in the photo. There you are (insert whistle and devil-may-care attitude here), you’re having a fabulous day and you want to record it for all posterity - and drat! That darn rodent enters the picture and spoils everything. :) I can’t help it. I love this blog, that’s why I forego doing one of my own...um, what? You’re not buying that? Yet, it’s the truth for now. One day I’m going to have to leave the nest...actually, I’m sure Theresa and Alicia have been ready to kick me out of the pine needles for a long while, but for now - I’m hanging onto that branch with the grim fingers of death...so until then? I’ll be here. :D

Leona said...

And WE are glad of it, Murphy. See, when you're ready you can do the blog with all of us, so we can keep up with Edittorent blogs as well. That way, you do occassional posts like this one (love it, in case you didn't get that earlier :P) and we all get to hear from you ;;) **insert me with big round eyes innocently blinking at you in supplication.

Edittorent has taught me enough that when I get enrolled in college I'm going to challenge the English comp so I can take the creative writing instead :) (I only have so much grant money left) I will buff up on all the grammar blogs like I did when I first found this blog.

Edittorrent said...

What? Nobody's kicking anyone out. I don't know where you got that idea.

Theresa

Murphy said...

Hi Theresa!

Of course I know that! I just wanted to hear you say it! Thanks *sigh* that makes me happy. :D

Murphy

Edittorrent said...

Why would you imagine that, Murphy? We're really not punitive to people who do us a favor and guestblog. :) We're not crazy, after all. Really. Ignore all the ranting about sentence fragments and query letters.

And your q about how to do breathless? Well, you know, I think that's all in the sentences. I'd think about a series of breathless sentences, maybe using past progressive (Was verb-ing) to give a sense of movement, and running action and sensation together without a comma, just an "and" like--
And he was running through the forest and the branches were hitting him in the face and the blood was coursing from the scratches and...."

A couple paragraphs of long "and" action sentences will get the reader breathless, I think!

Alicia

Murphy said...

Alicia, exactly! But I'm thinking about applying that principle to writing physical comedy. There's a really deep thought in my noggin about this - but I haven't made the connection that's going to light it up yet. When that does happen, I'll get back to you. With maybe an example even, and we can see, first if it works, and if it does - we can pick it apart to find out why.

Murphy

Jami G. said...

Alicia,

Please don't encourage Murphy to write that way or she'll do it all the time! LOL! An average sentence length of 29 words...I kid you not.

Murphy has no problem writing breathless like that, but in contrast to action scenes (including those types of action scenes :) ), I don't know that the style would work well for comedy - with one exception. As humor often comes from the contrast, you need the reader to read slower so the contrast gets processed by their brain. If they're reading too fast (breathlessly), then they'd miss all those layered details. However, the one time that I think comedy and breathless could mix would be similar to the funny paragraph posted here the other week - when everything leads up a punch line. In other words, I think it could work if the breathless paragraph doesn't need to be fully processed, but only serves to create a situation that contrasts with the final punch. Does that make sense?

Jami G.

Edittorrent said...

Jami, just keep telling her, "Less is more. If you waste those long flowing sentences here, they will have no impact in your action scenes. Less is more."

Pretty soon she'll be so sick of hearing "less is more," she'll do anything to keep you from saying it again. :)

Works for me!

And yes, accumulation really works for comedy-- and suspense too. I think comedy and suspense work almost the same way, but the punch line is different.
Alicia

Jami G. said...

Alicia,

Thanks for the tip. :) But picture me wailing when I read your earlier comment - "No, I've just gotten her trained! Stop reading, Murphy. Don't listen to her!" LOL!

I think that's a great point in comparing comedy and suspense. Comedy ends with a humorous twist and suspense ends with a "dun dun dun" twist. I know how to do suspense, so I might also be able to do comedy after all. :)

Thanks!
Jami G.

Murphy said...

Hey, hey, hey! Once I started cutting those stacked adjectives, my word count shrunk by half per sentence. And trust me, I get sick of hearing things - still - like: Passive, intro comma, oxford comma, interruption comma... These play in my head like Bubba's shrimp fixation in Forest Gump.

Jami G. said...

Murphy,

Good! *pat myself on the back* Then I call that a job well done. LOL! Sorry, I'm not trying to pick on you - really! Seriously, you don't need me to tell you that you've improved greatly! :) That was just me worrying that you'd stop listening to me and say: "But Alicia said..." :)

Jami G.

Leona said...

Good catch Jami G! You must keep Murphy on her toes and that means staying ahead of her :D

Quick question: What's an oxford comma?

Jami G. said...

Leona,

An oxford comma (also known as a serial comma) is the comma before the "and" in a list.
- Leona is smart, funny, and talented. (oxford comma) vs.
- Leona is smart, funny and talented. (no oxford comma) :)

Some people are very particular about not using them, but (and picture me cringing for the onslaught here) I believe in using them just to clarify that it's a list and not a combination like "peanut butter and jelly". I think it also makes sentences easier to parse. To each his own, but if a writer doesn't care one way or another, I'd suggest that they use the oxford comma just for clarity's sake.

Jami G.

Leona said...

Oooooh, see everybody? Who needs an English Comp class when we have this blog? I'd much prefer the creative writing or something :D

Thanks Jami. All of this is a big help and helps to clarify why I can't always be sure whether a comma goes there or not :P

Hopefully, this all sinks in for the romantic comedy I'm attempting. *insert me biting nails here* Like Jami, I think I can do suspense well as it's not only my favorite category of romance, its pretty much my favorite of all genres. I like suspence/mystery in the books I read even the paranormal or sci-fi. My erstwhile 'published' book has a mystery even though its probably better classified as an adventure on the whole. I can't help it :)

I'm going to attempt using that layering skill against (for?) the humor factor in my story. We shall see.

Alicia said...

Don't say "Oxford comma" around Theresa, please!

Alicia (ducking)

Edittorrent said...

You can duck but you can't hide!
*flings Oxford commas like darts*

We treat the Oxford comma as optional, with a preference toward leaving it out. There are reasons for that, but I've been Christmas shopping all day and I'm too tired to argue punctuation. Let me drink some tea and restore myself first.

Theresa

Jami G. said...

Sorry, Theresa, I just can't help myself... :)

*insert me throwing gasoline on a fire*
http://www.sff.net/people/alicia/artcommas.htm

Leona, Check out #8 for a perfect reason why I lean toward always using them.

Evil Jami G.

Murphy said...

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! Are you telling me I had an option????? I really have to start paying attention.

Gee Theresa, if we had this discussion on Tuesday you could have edited out the oxfords in my post. That would have freaked them both out and I probably wouldn't have noticed...

Murphy :D

Jami G. said...

Murphy,

Yes, it's a choice. That's why I asked you if you wanted me to edit for that or not, remember? ;)

Jami G.

Leona said...

lmao Jami, I wish I had your courage. I'd be ducking when Murphy read that! LOL

Murphy, I think you may have met your match! I'm giggling here everytime I think of the post. It's appropriately labeled don't you think!

Murphy said...

Sorry, JG, but I don't remember a choice. Of course, it could very well be that I was hearing the muffled voice thing - you know, like the ones the kids on the Peanuts cartoons hear when grown-ups are blabbering. Not that I think you blabber...no, you do more of a really great droning/whine thing. ;)

Jami G. said...

Murphy said: I was hearing the muffled voice thing - you know, like the ones the kids on the Peanuts cartoons hear when grown-ups are blabbering.

What can I say? It's a talent. LOL!

Jami G.

Murphy said...

...Yes, and you're a VERY talented girl! ;)

You see, Leona? I can play nice...sometimes. :D

Murphy

Babs said...

Murphy, you always play nice.:) I love the word V!

Leona said...

Murphy, you're never mean, just scary :P

Murphy said...

Scary? Leona, please tell my honey that? All that man does is laugh at me. Scary? Are you sure? Crapatola! I never would have guessed...huh.

Murphy.