Something funny happens to you when you write books that are meant to be something other than bleak and depressing.
Yeah, that’s closer.
See, if, like me, you believe that a book doesn’t have to leave you wanting to lock up the household cutlery as a precautionary measure, you realize it’s possible to write an engaging story with interesting characters doing intriguing things and still have a few laughs along the way.
But be careful—if you go so far as to write such a story and, worse, see it published so that people might actually heaven forbid read it, you might be labeled as something beneath notice, something so inconsequential as to be ignored at all costs, a creature of less societal importance than the sound board engineer who synched up Beyonce’s performance of the national anthem.
That’s right. You could be labeled a “humor writer.”
Avoid that label at all costs. People think, for reasons that are both understandable and wrong, that writing humor is a breeze, something that those infinite number of chimps typing out Shakespeare could toss off on their banana break. They think that, because humor is meant to seem—and this is a word I sort of hate—“effortless,” that it really requires no effort at all.
Um, no. Think of this: Those who write funny—one of the few words I hate more than “effortless” is “humorous,” which is the comedy equivalent of “pleasant”—novels have to do all the things the “literary” novelists have to do. That would include coming up with an idea that you might care to spend months working on, which is the hardest part in the process. It would also include developing a story that is not predictable, characters who will work their way into the reader’s mind without being simple or exaggerated, plot twists meant to deflect without being unrealistic, dialogue that sounds like real conversation and not spoken plot points, chapter endings that encourage if not demand the reader keep those pages turning, and an ending that satisfies without telegraphing itself a hundred pages previous.
For the mystery writer, add in a decent number of possible suspects, motivations, a method of murder that seems unusual without being ridiculous, a few red herrings for spice, and preferably an explanation scene that doesn’t include the villain spouting out every possible type of confession unsolicited just for the sake of convenience.
Now. Do all that and be funny, too. Organically funny, meaning the humor comes not from contrived “wacky’ situations and “wacky” characters but from the suspenseful situation and the three-dimensional characters needed to sustain believability. Go ahead. Be a riot now.
Not so easy, is it?
And yet, those who work in comedy are considered “light entertainers” who just breeze through their work between trips to the bank to deposit their royalty checks.
Do I sound bitter? Because I’m really not.
This is a cautionary tale, not a complaint: Stay out of the comedy trenches, young aspiring authors! Don’t get caught in the quicksand of hilarity and get pulled under by the unthinking assumptions of those who haven’t tried it themselves. Write something with no laughs at all, with an ending guaranteed to inspire all-night drinking binges. Because you don’t want to be dubbed a “humor writer.”
On the other hand, if you get labeled a “humorist,” you’re golden. Mark Twain was a “humorist.”
Whatever that is.
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