Making the Laughs LAST

Photo credit: jugbo / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: jugbo / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

My father passed away 8 years ago today, one day before his birthday.  Not so funny.  So why is this post about infusing humor into writing?  A few years later, I started writing the first book in my soon to be released BROTHERS OF AUDUBON SPRINGS series, RETURN TO AUDBUON SPRINGS.  This book was meant to be a sweeping epic family drama exploring grief, forgiveness and rebirth for a family at odds over one summer at their Jersey Shore home.  Before I knew it, the house had been bequeathed to the heroine and her hot carpentry-former lover, a ridiculously steamy battle for ownership between the two followed, enter a secret baby and…holy cow….I’m writing a romantic comedy.  I fought it for months.  NO! I’m writing an epic family drama, but instead, laughter, love and tears flowed onto the page.  Finally I took a step back and realized it all made sense.  Laughter lingers in our hearts and humor will always resonate across time and distance.  My father had a warped sense of humor, more signature catch phrases than you could imagine, along with a penchant for quoting Shakespeare.  Now, eight years later, I find myself using those same catch phrases (“You can’t ever be sure of what you’re going to get” – this was a favorite he used on my husband when it came to me!) and quoting those same lines from Shakespeare.  I do NOT, however, ask my daughter to pull my finger! 

Humor In Your Prose

I am by no means an expert. Writing humorous scenes usually grows naturally often from taking life’s most embarrassing moments and incorporating them into a scene that works for the heroine/hero. I don’t want to give the impression that all my scenes are a laugh riot, they aren’t, but I do enjoy life’s funny moments. So what are some ways we can do this?

Serious Characters in Extreme Circumstances

This is the top usage in my stories.  I like to think of this as the “setup,” something similar to what we might have done during an improve class back in the old acting days.  “You’re sitting on a subway station platform when you spot a ten dollar bill lying on the ground.  There are several other people, all strangers, around you (and since we are romance writers, one of them is smoking hot), Go!” Maybe your heroine is a hot shot attorney, who has never wanted for money a day in her life, but she’s having THE WORST day. Her wallet was stolen and the city is sweltering hot.  Temperatures down on the platform are over 130 degrees, she’s dehydrated and shaking.  She needs water fast or she’ll pass out and that crisp ten, looks like pure H2O or even a cab ride home. Our girl is going for the ten and smoking hot guy is going to call her out on it.  Maybe it’s his and someone put him up to putting the ten on the ground as a social experiment.  Whatever the case may be, they are both about to act in a manner they never would have dreamt of on a normal day. 

I have no idea where that came from other than residual effects of our recent horrible heat wave because this scenario does NOT happen in any of my stories. Other unusual circumstances, however, do. You get the idea.  Merely by pulling a character out of their comfort zone and throwing them into hot water, humor may logically follow. 

Physical Comedy

Photo credit: sea turtle / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: sea turtle / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

I never thought I’d be one for physical comedy, but when a couple is covered in splatterings of food following a sexy food fight, a double spill onto the floor followed by an interruption at the scene of the messy crime by the hero’s disappointed, dominating mother, to me IS funny. 

Wardrobe Malfunctions

Yes, I’m talking about the popped button on a blouse and the toilet paper attached to the shoe or pants/skirt.  Years ago, I was a waitress at a comedy club and we served these cocktail beverages with lots of whipped cream on top.  We wore black leotards for shirts.  You know the exact two spots where I was unknowingly sporting whipped cream while serving a table of men.  Funny to me now, back in the moment not so much, soon AFTER…pretty damn funny mostly due to the antics of my fellow servers.

He said…She said

I love asking couples how they met knowing two very different versions of the same story will follow. Often we can write a scene with our hero and heroine then realize further into the story they had two very different takeaways on the moment.  The miscommunication can be key to adding a bit of levity to a situation.

The Funny Secondary Character

Of course, you could also have a character in your story that is just plain funny. Secondary characters are great for this and can add levity to your prose by either their antics or their unique spin on the world.  I tend to have the secondary character as a friend who sees the humor in everything and likes to poke fun at the hero or heroine. Then again, in light of recent news, sometimes a guy in a cubicle is all you need!

Cautionary Note

Above all else, I encourage you to let your humor grow organically. Fellow Violet Femme, Michele, wrote a beautiful post on the various layers to work with during your revision stage including Humor with Purpose.  Since she explained it so beautifully, I’m going to quote her here.

If you have heavy moments in a plot, you can balance them with humor. But you need to be careful that there’s a purpose to the funny scene or witty banter. The opposite is true—if you write romantic comedy, you need to balance it with hard-hitting, emotionally-charged scenes.

I love this reminder.  In my stories a poignant revelation usually (hopefully!) follows immediately in the aftermath of the funny event.  It is important to remember that every scene, funny or otherwise, propel your story forward and fit into your characters journey.

I’d love to hear about some of the funny scenes that have resonated in books you’ve read over time, scenes so funny you can easily recall them years later, much like a line from Shakespeare eight years later still makes me think of my dad.

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29 Comments

  1. Jenna Blue

     /  July 29, 2013

    RoseAnn, wonderful post! One of the reason’s I like to read contemporaries and historicals so much is the humor. The oddball situations or quirky outlook. I always think of Susan Elizabeth Phillips! For historical, Eloisa James. In romantic suspense, there’s less, and sometimes none, of those goofy situations, so I like to use humor in the main characters’ points of view. Their outlook or phrasing. Might not be a laugh-out-loud, but hopefully it quirks up a reader’s lips!
    I’m sure after all this time, you still miss your Dad. Hugs!

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 29, 2013

      Thanks! I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read a SEP novel! Shocking, I know! Absolutely humor varies from genre to genre, that comes with reader expectation. Knowing your work, you do a great job with infusing humor where appropriate either in dialogue or internal POV. Your line about the buffet instead of plated made me laugh out loud. 🙂

      Reply
      • WHA????????? You write contemp and you’ve never read SEP?!!!!!

        Hyperventilating at all the joy you have yet to experience. Will see which ones I have in hard copy for Thursday night.

      • RoseAnn DeFranco

         /  July 30, 2013

        I know! I’m hanging my head in shame. I haven’t read Kristen Hannah either although I have one. I’m in no rush because I hear she’ll make me cry, or as one friend so aptly put it…she will cut open your veins and then watch you bleed. That’s INTENSE!!!!

  2. Great commentary on human nature. We use humor in the worse situations. Its why we as a race still survive. Asking couples how they met or their first date gives plenty of info. Wardrobe malfunctions while a main character is waiting for something important to happen can draw your audience in. That secondary character with quick dry humor advances your work.
    In Terminator 2 Sara(the hard nosed mother) asks her young son John (after she hears the police outside) “John, how many are out there?” He answers, “I think all of them.”

    Reply
  3. Humor does help both in real life and fiction! After my dad passed away 10 years ago I couldn’t write for months; finally I started a project I probably won’t finish, just to get back into writing. You’ve done well RoseAnn!

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 29, 2013

      Thanks so much Roni. This wasn’t my first project after Dad passed away, but it was the first one in which I tried to somehow come to terms with losing him. My father was young and I’d been in denial when he was sick and then even after we lost him. Humor heals, and so does our ability to put thought to paper.

      Thanks for your comment and for stopping by!
      RoseAnn

      Reply
  4. Great post, RoseAnn. Writing funny is SO hard. People don’t realize how hard it is. And what makes me laugh as I’m writing rarely makes anyone else laugh. But you know, you can only write in your own style—not anyone else’s. So if you’re not humorous by nature, chances are you’re not going to pull off a Kristan Higgins-esque romance.

    I love that you started out with ideas of a sweeping, epic family drama. I think of Tennessee Williams or The Corrections. That’s so not you! Glad you ended up where you did, and I think readers will, too.

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 29, 2013

      Thanks, Joanna. Me and the sweeping epic family drama just gave me a bit of a chuckle. Funny that you would think it hard when you make it seem fairly easy!

      I’ve never read Kristan Higgins and now I’d like to. Any specific recommendation for something from her list?

      Reply
      • Oh, jeez. There aren’t any that are terrible. I have a few that I can loan you to try out. My favorite is the one where the heroine is a serious tom boy. Name is escaping me, but Maria might remember….

      • Just One of the Guys, maybe? I like that one. Of course, I like all of them! Fools Rush In was good, too. It’s the one with Joe Carpenter, the carpenter. Makes me laugh every time I say it.

      • RoseAnn DeFranco

         /  July 30, 2013

        Seems as if I’m missing an entire world. Thanks so much, guys!

  5. Hi RoseAnn. I love to laugh, regardless if it’s in a book or in a movie. And I agree with my fellow Femmes that writing comedy is difficult. My favorite is Grandma Mazur and Lulu from Janet Evanovich’s Plum series. Jill Shalvis also does a great job putting her heroines in funny situations.

    Hugs as you remember your father.

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 29, 2013

      I love Grandma Mazur and Lulu. Part of what makes them so funny is Stephanie’s responses. Janet Evanovich has the right blend of characters there. Sometimes that’s more important than any other element on the list.

      Thank you all the hugs for Dad. The One-two punch of the anniversary of his passing then his birthday always has me blue, but this year I keep thinking of the funny moments we shared. Even used one of his catch phrases on my daughter tonight. 🙂

      Reply
  6. Mia

     /  July 29, 2013

    Hello RoseAnn,

    I love Julia Quinn books for her family humor. She said she comes from a big family where they all interrupt each other when speaking, amongst other things. I envied her use of it in her novels.

    Well, I sent my manuscript to an editing company for some help. He shocked me good when he rewrote the line “Jayne’s bed smells of her.” to “Jayne’s bed smells of Jayne.” his reasoning was it adds to my humorous voice. I reread that comment a zillion times – because really me funny? I do not think of myself as a funny person – odd definitely but not funny. This is a great post for me to review to get my funny on. Thanks for the tips.

    Mia

    Reply
    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 29, 2013

      Hi Mia,

      I love this becuase it tells us someone else saw something in your writing you had been unaware of. Isn’t that how we develop those pesky things called Voice? It’s sounds like this is developing naturally for you. If anything I wrote in this post can help, I’m glad!

      Thanks for stopping by, and for the great comment!

      RoseAnn

      Reply
  7. Hi, RoseAnn,
    Nice post! I can so easily recall those improv classes, too, lol!

    As far as humorous writers, definitely Kristan Higgins and Jill Shalvis. Most times the humor I love is the stuff that sneaks up on you. Joanna does this really well, although she says it is difficult. I just find myself guffawing over some of her stuff.

    Although I try to infuse some humor into my work, my current WIP is the first one I am consciously trying to make funny. Visuals really work for me. I mean, come on…a longhorn steer with a red nighty hanging from his horn? How many puns come to mind with that one?

    I’m still coming to terms with losing my parents (many years ago now), but the things that remind me of them mostly bring me comfort now. And what a great character your dad seems to have been. You could definitely work his doppelganger into one of your stories.

    Hugs,
    Jaye

    Reply
    • Mia

       /  July 30, 2013

      Jaye,

      I use visuals for everything – good thing I write sweet romance otherwise that sentence could be taken the wrong way. What I meant was I found pictures for my hero, heroine, the school, their houses. I think it brings the story alive. Good luck with the adding humor, I’d never try it on purpose. Danny Kaye once said you have to learn it the correct way first before you can make it funny. I’m still learning how to write so I think I’ll stick to the straight and narrow road.

      Mia

      Reply
      • RoseAnn DeFranco

         /  July 30, 2013

        I love the art of collaging, Mia. I’m a very visual and auditory writer. I like to see what they see, feel what they feel and then I have to talk their story out loud until it sticks. My husband is a great sounding board even when his eyes are glassing over, he knows he’s pretty much a prop in those moments! 🙂

    • RoseAnn DeFranco

       /  July 30, 2013

      Thanks, Jaye!

      Are you guys going to revoke my Violet Femmes card if I admit to not having read Jill Shalvis either?

      I love it when humor sneeks up on you when you least expect it. I also love the straight character in movies. I haven’t seen it yet but I hear The Heat is very funny. I love Sandra Bullock. She’s playse the straight character so well. In part because she’s likeable and her characters are so sympathetic. Also something important to have when character that is the butt of a joke in a scene.

      Can’t wait to red that Long Horn Red Nightie scene! Sounds like a keeper. There is nothing like a great prop to add spice or humor (or both!) to a moment. Pretty sure this is one of Michele’s favorites too!

      RoseAnn

      Hugs on your parents as well!

      Reply
  8. Hello again…I am posting LITTLE (and I mean little) tidbits on my blog. My sisters…as I have always felt something feminine inside me. (Can that be taken two ways?) You are invited to check it out. Bring Kleenex…

    Reply

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