Smile Induction

My best wishes to all of you who are bravely writing away on you NaNoWriMo projects. Hope it’s going along swimmingly!

For any of you in my neck of the woods, I’m going to be part of a kids’ book author panel and then a signing on the evening of Monday, December 8th, from 6:00 to 7:30 at Fox Lane Middle School, 632 South Bedford Road, which is in Bedford, New York. If you can come, I’d love to meet you!

Also, at the suggestion of Lydia S. last week on the blog, we’ve added a new feature right to the right of these words: FOLLOW BY EMAIL, which will let you know about blog updates, if you’d like. Strictly voluntary. Thank you, Lydia S.!

On July 24, 2014, Kenzi Anne wrote, I’ve noticed that while I’m usually a very goofy, lighthearted person, my stories always end up being dark and fairly heavy. I know I need some humor and comedy in there, but it always sounds forced and unnatural. How do I lighten my stories but still keep them serious?

Elisa suggested, Have there be a character for comic relief, like Razo in the Goose Girl and Enna Burning, both books are by Shannon Hale. (I LOVE[!!!!!!!!!!] Razo.)

And Michelle Dyck weighed in with: I second what Elisa said. 🙂 That, and a bit of sarcasm or even slapstick humor can help.As for humor sounding forced… it might help to show it to another set of eyes and ask for an opinion. And if you know someone witty, he or she could help you out too.

These are great suggestions. Not only Shannon Hale includes humorous characters for comic relief; Shakespeare did it, too. In his tragedies, he gives minor characters entire funny scenes. If it’s good enough for the bard…

You might introduce a character, say Salli, who sees the bright side of everything. Your MC, Carole, takes a drubbing at the hands of a bully. Her nose and cheek are bruised an interesting shade of purple. A dance is coming up the next day, which will also be Carole’s first date with Mark. Salli says, “Wear the blue dress. Blue and purple–very pretty.”

The mood is further lightened if Carole smiles and says, “Mark will know I have good taste.”

Things get worse, since this is a story about bullying. Carole loses a tooth. She’s weeping. Salli says, “Wow, the space is just the size for a straw. Handy.”

Again, it will help if Carole goes along. She says, “You think?” Only it comes out, You zink? She adds, “Oh! I can’t say tee aitch or even tee–” though the words don’t come out that way.

Salli, cheerful as ever, says, “It sounds like Transylvanian. A vampire would say that.”

The seriousness of the situation hasn’t changed. The bully is still increasingly dangerous, but the reader enjoys what’s going on more, and he likes these characters better and better. He doesn’t want anything bad to happen to these endearing people.

Salli’s crazy optimism doesn’t pop up unless something bad has happened. When the worst happens, whatever it is, Salli’s consolation is so far-fetched and pathetic, it breaks the reader’s heart even while he’s aware of the humor.

Mishaps, even tragedy, can have a humorous side, usually do in real life. For example, I was a plump child, and once, ice skating on a frozen lake, I fell through after two of my (thinner) friends had skated safely across the same spot. I’d have died if my father hadn’t pulled me out fast, but all I was thinking about was that I was fat and that my friends were more aware of it than ever. The contrast between the seriousness of the situation and the frivolity of my thinking is where the humor lies–but only if I’m aware that my worry is silly and the danger is real. Decades later I reconnected with Michael, one of the friends, and he remembered me falling through the ice. When I told him what I had been worrying about, his jaw dropped. He was a sweet boy, and that never occurred to him.

There’s the scene in Ella Enchanted when the parrot Chock commands Ella to kiss him and then keeps flying away when she tries. It’s funny but also powerful, because it highlights the crazy things the curse forces Ella to do–and she’s perfectly aware of this.

So how do we get these deep but humorous moments?

Look for the contrast. Let’s say our villain, the bully, has managed to push Carole into a lake (not frozen). She’s soaked from the waist down and running for her life. What she’s aware of as she runs–one of the things she’s aware of–is that her skirt is clinging and transparent now that it’s wet. She isn’t sure which she hates more, being so afraid, or having her knock-knees revealed as well as the print on her panties: black bunnies leaping across a red background.

This is serious humor, but I love humor that’s silly, too, and I love word play. My Princess Tales books are full of this kind of humor. For example, in The Fairy’s Return, one of my MCs, Robin, loves to pun. They’re groaners, but I enjoy them. Here are three examples:

What’s the best food for a dwarf?  Shortbread.
What’s a jester’s favorite food?  Wry bread.
Why do elves taste delicious?  Because they’re brownies.

And Robin’s father is a poet. Here’s one of his poems:

Royalty and commoners must never mix.
Do not forget or you will be in a predicament.

Also a groaner, but I had fun writing it.

I also like writing subtle humor that doesn’t make even me crack a smile, but that causes an interior nod of recognition, a little spark of pleasure. In a poem I wrote this week, I wrote about forgetting things when I went shopping. Then I wondered in the poem if I should list what I forgot, and I wrote, “Lists are good in poems but these aren’t interesting, just soy milk, eggs, and almond butter.”

Do you get it? If not, doesn’t matter. The pleasure is for me and anyone else who notices.

Here are four prompts:

• Write the story of Carole and Salli and the bully. His or her target is Carole, and Salli is the eternal optimist.

• Write the story of Carole and Salli and the bully, only in this version the funny one is the bully, and this makes him even scarier.

• In the version of “The Frog Prince” that I know, the frog turns into a prince, not when the princess kisses him but when she throws him against a wall as hard as she can. This scene is begging for comedic treatment. Write it!

• Carole is a punster. The dance date with Mark is handicapped for two reasons: Carole’s face is bruised, and she keeps punning. Decide how Mark handles this and write the scene, including at least five puns.

• I listen to a comedy-news quiz on the radio every week. One of the segments, called “Bluff the Listener,” presents the contestant with three goofy solutions to a problem, one of which actually happened. The topic might be increasing tourism or winning customer loyalty, but last week it was getting kids to eat their vegetables. Figure out your own wacky solution to this age-old problem, and write a scene in a family in which it plays out for good or ill.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. Hey, I want to thank the people who answered my question about what people like to see in their heroines. I wasn't able to do so last week (school and music and what-not). Thanks! It was very helpful. Bibliophile: I know right? No selfish, self-pitying Heroines, it just doesn't work. Perfect is non-doable too.
    Mrs. Levine: Yes, I like being in their heads too. That is something I'll have to learn to do better.
    Eliza: YES! Resourcefulness is a must!
    Chicory: I agree, I like a heroine who can laugh at themselves and just make a dark situation more bearable.
    Thanks again guys!

  2. Hi! I have a question…I've never actually…uh, finished a story. This NaNoWriMo I got 30k, which is twice as much as I have ever gotten. So, it's exciting, but I've realized that I need to change something, and it's so major that it'll change EVERYTHING. Should I just continue and pretend that I already wrote it that way, or start over?

    • First, congratulations for getting that far. Some changes aren't as big as you think. If it's something drastic, like switching the POV, I'd say restart. If you can get away with rewriting certain scenes and tweaking lines in others, keep moving forward.
      This is still the same Eliza, BTW. I just tacked my first name onto my screen name.

    • Yes, congratulations! Everybody works differently. I'd recommend that you keep going and, yes, pretend you've already made the changes. By the time you get to the end, you'll have a better idea about how to revise.

    • I was about to ask the same question! I'm not quite done with mine, but I reached 30K as well and am currently feeling like i have to rewrite most, if not all of my story. I've also been having a problem with not being able to recognize anything good in my work. Sometimes I'll finally finish a short story, and after re-reading it, groan because I see so much that needs to be fixed, and rarely anything good. Any advice?

    • Thank you, everyone!
      Erica Eliza, I like your name. It's really pretty. 🙂 I think I'll probably will just keep going. Ha ha. My poor brother's probably going to be super confused as he's reading it when it keeps changing in so many ways without much explanation at all.
      Rapunzelwriter, congratulations! I have the not-sseing-any-good-in-it-problem too. Maybe you should sit down with a story and read through it and make a list of everything you like about it. Don't write ANYTHING you don't like about it, and just list as many things as you possibly can. That helps me a lot. And then, if you choose to rewrite it, you know what you can keep. And, while you're working on a story, don't stress too overly much about not seeing a lot of good in it. (That last piece of advice is ridiculously hard for me to follow.) Like carpelibris said, it's 'raw material that you can turn into something wonderful'.

  3. Sounds normal to me! Rough drafts (at least to me) are just a pile of "stuff" you make in order to have a complete thing to work on. Raw material that you can turn into something wonderful.

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