Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's not funny

If one of your characters is an archaeologist and you know nothing about that, you do some research, right? That seems straightforward.

It seems to me that it gets a bit harder when one of your characters is cleverer than you are or is funnier. What do you do then?

Maybe when a character is cleverer than you, you can be smart with dialogue and syntax to convey intelligence. And you could research subjects that they talk about to show us the things that concern them.

But funnier?

No book I write will be a laugh a minute funny. I mean there may be a smirk here or there, possibly I could even raise a chuckle from you. But I won’t be writing a comedy anytime soon. People tell me I make them laugh … but I'm never quite certain how or why. If it happens it happens.

I just can’t turn on the funny.

So if a character is funnier than I am … how do I do that?


liz fenwick said...

Tough on, JJ. I went to a workshop by Katie Fforde on this and right now I am desperately trying to remember what she said but it was four years ago...... so I'd suggest you look at books where you laughed out loud as a starting point. What made you laugh? What they said? Or was what they did? Was it the situation they found themselves in? Was it miscommunication? and so on. Then check your work to see if any of these will work.

Good luck.

Leigh said...

Google is your friend, and so is Jumbly Girl, who recently posted this link, and so is Spiral Jen, who has a link to this book in her sidebar.

Yvonne said...

That is tough. I have a sneaky feeling that my characters all sound a bit like's so difficult to write characters that are unlike you. I think you are funny though, and with the above tips you're sure to unlock your funny written side!

SpiralSkies said...

Actually, the book I link to is v good... I would also recommend watching the 'old' comedies - Dad's Army etc and also Friends - there's no slapstick, no gags so the funny's all in the subtlety and writing. It's just a case of remembering to examine it rather than just watching/laughing!

if you ever have a character who types stuff about bits of grass and counts cows, you know where to come. Can't help with the archeology though, soz.

Helen said...

I have no idea either although will check out those links myself. I also recommend watching The West Wing along with Friends - there are jokes and sad bits in there and it is so clever how Sorkin has managed to do this. Especially seasons 1-3.

JJ said...

Hi y'all. Thank you all for your pointers. I'll give them all a go.

This really troubles me. I only need a funny anecdote that isn't part of any subplot a few lines... to demonstrate calm and peace in the household for a few minutes.

I have sat in front of my bloody computer unable to write because I can't get through this bit. I've tried writing in square brackets to return to it later... but it's just not happening. Eeeeehggh.

liz fenwick said...

Does it have to relate to anything specific? Is the character relating a story or antedodote that they were involved in? Is the character a non-native English speaker - that is an area ripe with possiblities as I discovered with my house guest this week......

JJ said...

Liz, oh yes, of course, cultural differences are always brilliant. I've stuck something in ... but it's not right. Normally I steal them from friends and family - real anecdotes. I do usually ask permission!

KAREN said...

It's difficult because humour's so subjective.

I laughed out loud at a scene in a book I was reading last night when the main character had an argument with a male neighbour, then got in her car and realised her wrap dress had come open while they were arguing, revealing a bra cup and big lacy knickers. She was so embarrassed she accidentally reversed into his car in her haste to get away.

It was so typical of her 'character' that it seemed natural that she would do something like that, so maybe humour comes naturally out of a scene, rather specially created dialogue for instance - something I've been guilty of writing in the past!

Not sure that's much help really...

ChrisH said...

Oh - when you find out the answer will you tell me?? (Sorry, I seem to have missed a couple of your posts - think I went into hospital mode)

Calistro said...

God JJ I wish I knew!

When I was told to 'make the funny bits funnier' in HoWG I nearly threw myself off the nearest cliff! How the hell do you 'do' funny?

I can't do 'funny on demand'. i.e. I can't just sit down and write funny. I'm more likely to have a funny one-liner pop into my head while I'm doing something else. I'll then scribble it down immediately and find a place for a character to say it in my novel! Sometimes ideas for funny scenes pop into my head so I scribble them down too. How successful they are when I actually come to write them I have no idea - I still stare at people in disbelief when they tell me HoWG made them giggle.

I've bought a few 'how to write comedy' book in the hope they would help but, to be honest, I haven't opened them yet.

Writing funny is scary. A few weeks ago I wrote a scene that had me grinning my head off it was so puerile, but there's a big part of me that think I may be the only person on the planet that finds it funny so am fully prepared for my agent to tell me to cut it!

How to write a character cleverer than you? I think maybe you need to switch that around a bit - think about what makes a character 'appear' clever. Is it their self-confidence, their air, the words they use, the way they address others, the speed at which they come up with an answer to something, their logical thought processes etc. It's probably easier to write 'clever' in the 3rd person than the 1st I would have thought.

Calistro said...

Sorry - just realised I didn't answer your question. I think the answer is - do something else instead. Go for a walk, do the ironing (I once had a good idea whilst knitting and watching the Antiques Roadshow - old granny that I am!) or read a book you find funny (or even one you don't). Just give your subconscious time to mull it over. The answer will come to you when you least expect it.

Leigh said...

Calistro knits?
Now there's an image!

Lane said...

Good question and what great answers.

It's a toughie and as Karen says, it's so subjective. We've all read books with 'Hilarious' on the cover that haven't raised a smile.

Jen raises a good point with 'Friends' in that the humour is often generated by the characters failing to see their shortcomings, not by jokes.

Oh I'm no help at all. But Calistro knitting in front of the Antiques Roadshow is funny:-)

Anonymous said...

Oh that is hard, I can see what is funny but write it I can't.

Good Luck, let us know if you crack it :)

Debs said...

No idea how to do funny, but shall take note of all the pointers here. Thanks all.

Writing funny is so hard, and I certainly haven't mastered it yet.

Susie Vereker said...

I think it's very difficult to set out to be funny. Some of the more (hopefully) amusing parts of my books have evolved from real life incidents which I've changed and adapted. Expat life is full of amusing incidents - trouble is one can't use half of them. Perhaps if you make notes, then you will find that vaguely amusing characters or incidents spring to life in your mind. The links Leigh posted are good on character - it is Capt Mannering's pretentiousness that creates any amount of fun. The comedy in Dad's Army springs from character or character flaws as much as from the zany activities.

As for an intelligent character, well, I guess you just have to listen to a few eggheads and write down the odd sentence. That's usually enough to establish them. I don't think I could write, say, an Oxford don as a major character either!

JJ said...

Karen, I think you might have hit the nail on the head there - as to why I couldn't find an anecdote... because the ones I did find in my head were wrong for the characters.

Chris, no worries, 'furious hospital mode' you mean?

Cally, thanks. Writing funny is scary. I remember being hugely relieved when I read that Bill Bryson can't (verbally) tell a joke! Phew, hope for me yet.

Leigh, (LOL, isn't it?) Are you not taking my problems seriously?

M&T, I'll let you know, but don't hold your breathe, will you?

Debs, it is hard. I know sometimes I do it, but I don't really know how...

Susie, thanks for all that. I do think that that's worth remembering... it's about character, isn't it? Not telling jokes.