I’ve been sitting at my word processor for nearly an hour, alternately squirming in my chair, rubbing the back of my neck and watching the clock, hoping that somehow, some way, the Great God of Mirth will sidle up and whisper to me the secret of writing with humor—so that I can reveal it to you. After all, that’s my topic.
I’m not really sure how to proceed, but I’m not flustered; I’m pacing myself. And what’s more, I lied about it being an hour; it’s only been ten minutes…so far.
The problem with writing about humor is that the reader is geared up to be amused. This, more or less, puts the writer on the spot. It won’t be good enough to Google the topic and paste up the seven secrets of comedy writing. I read them already, and they didn’t make me laugh. People don’t laugh while their analyzing. To paraphrase Cyndi Lauper, “People just want to have fun.” And besides, if I cut and paste all seven, I’ll get nailed for plagiarism. So I won’t go there. My mission is to make you laugh.
Now… Fear of failure has always been a great motivator for me. So I’ll get myself going with a pep talk. Picture a manic, red-faced football coach at halftime with his team down by twenty-one points, and I’m the quarterback:
“OK, wise guy,” coach Ditka yells, looking me right in the eye. “You want to sell your book, right? Then you’d better get off your duff and find a way to be funny. Fake it if you have to, but I want to hear a chuckle in the third quarter. Otherwise, the reader will figure out that you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, and what’s more, she’ll be pissed.”
Jesse Thorpe is the narrator/private detective of my mystery novel, Dead Down East. Jesse has a cheeky sense of humor, which he allows to leak out now and again, not just because he likes to have fun, but also to maintain calm when things get perilous. The first really dicey moment for him occurs in the middle of chapter four, as he is trying to worm his way through an FBI roadblock. In the first draft, I had chosen that moment to insert a rather lengthy internal monologue, to expose the witty side of Jesse’s nature. I was having so much fun with it that by the time I was done, it was almost fifteen hundred words long. And while I liked the tension it created by suspending the dramatic moment in mid-air—for several pages—eventually I decided that it would be more effective as a prologue for the book. This way, on the very first page, the reader gets a preview of the inner workings of Jesse’s mind, a snapshot of his modus operandi and a quick peak at his girlfriend.
What follows are the first two paragraphs of that prologue. I hope it serves to demonstrate the use of humor in writing, and, most of all, I hope it tickles your funny bone.
Apologies and compliments are two remarkably effective devices for disarming adversaries in life and hecklers in bars. If you consider the socially adept people you know, you’ll see that they use these two conversational tools frequently and with ease. I remember the first time it fully dawned on me how valuable they could be.
Angele and I had been dating for a couple of weeks. Our next planned event was scheduled for Saturday night. So I was a bit surprised when she arrived unexpectedly at my place on Tuesday evening. I guess she decided that there was something that couldn’t wait until the weekend. The moment she walked through the front door, I began to suspect what that “something” was. She had a gleam in her eyes that seared me from the inside of my nimble imagination right down to my insteps. I surmised that she was either ovulating, or she had a sudden urge for a tour of the Thorpe habitat. I began to mentally review the floor plan of the house. “Now, where is my bedroom?” I thought. “I know it was here this morning.”