On Writing – Two Routes to Humor

chuck

Sense of humor is a difficult thing to discuss as far as writing is concerned, since I think there has to be a certain spontaneity to it, but given the fact that I’m trying to make Five Talents a “funny” novel, it’s something I have to calculate and consciously work into the story.

On the surface, the immediate plot of Five Talents is absurd: a young man competing for a job against another who has a deal with a Devil. In outsmarting the Devil, the young man becomes a target for the mafia for drawing attention to their cover restaurant which is a happy result for the depressed chef who actually wants to run a real restaurant.

It does nothing, of course, to have an amusing plot if the humor isn’t woven throughout its telling, so I have two ways I go about implanting my sense of humor throughout in my writing. The first, as I mentioned in a prior post is by knowing my characters by planning and character mapping.

When I know my characters well enough, I can simply set them in a situation/setting and the humor comes through as a natural result of a sort of mental improv scene that I write through in my drafting. For example, my chef trying to kill time one afternoon by filming a cooking lesson vlog with his hostess idly reading Vogue in the room fleshes itself out naturally for me: she begins making fun of how nervous he is, the tone of his voice he’s putting on for the video, etc.

With these planned scenes I will plan out Prestige like “turns” and reveals that end these episodes in a surprising and hopefully funny way, so there’s a certain amount of it that is calculated scene by scene which I let reveal itself as I write.

On the other side of it, there’s a good amount of value found from rereading and editing. Punch up happens a lot to put jokes in at a more granular level to keep the tone consistent and light. These don’t always occur in natural “stream of consciousness” drafting when I’m just trying to get through the scene and action. While a funny concept or setup can be planned out, slipping in casual quips take second and third passes.

Two recent examples, both of which were shared in snippet posts this week were originally written:

[Gast] had thrown himself headlong into being that cog for the past half century.”

“Those who could not move for lack of motivation without the light surrounding and propelling them became the demons of Sloth. Then there were the demons who consumed all that they could to fill the emptiness they felt in the grief of their loss, the Gluttony.”

 In rereading my work for the evening I found opportunities for a little more humor and the passages became:

 “[Gast] had thrown himself headlong into being that cog for the past half century with the kind of joyless gusto reserved for accountants in tax season.”

Then there were the demons who were eating their feelings. They were Gluttony. Obviously.”

 Whether or not they’re actually funny now is a matter of reader opinion, but the point is that editing serves a lot more purpose than cleanliness and grammar cleanup (although trust: those are important), it’s an opportunity to deepen voice, tone and message. Or in this case inject more droll humor about accountants and people like me who eat their feelings.

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