by Jacquie Rogers
People, both readers and writers, often ask me how I write humor. In fact, this issue arises in nearly every writing conversation and interview. I’m puzzled by the question and completely stumped by the answer, whatever it may be.
All of my books contain at least an element of humor. So how did I end up writing this way? The first bit of fiction I endeavored to pen was a murder mystery set in the future. That was in 1997 and futuristics weren’t exactly the hot item then, but that’s beside the point. I have 32 first chapters. That doesn’t count the first chapters I revised and revised. It was dark and gritty. Oh, I was so happy to be lord over such drama!
Only there was a problem--my critique partners kept laughing at it. By the last half of the book, I made it into a pretty decent romance, except of course most of it took place in the Virtual Wild West Theatre. Then I had two elements I hadn’t ever bargained for: humor and western. (Westerns weren’t selling, either.)
My next venture into a novel took me to western historical romance. This wasn’t a stretch at all for me because I grew up in a sparsely populated county in southwest Idaho where the Old West still lives, sorta. But I knew westerns weren’t selling and humor sure wasn’t, so at least I could make it dramatic. Only I soon found that plopping a laced-up schoolmarm in a brothel with batch of color-coded prostitutes was . . . well, dang it, funny. And it finaled in the Golden Heart that year.
Neither of these books sold, nor did the next three. So westerns and humor aren’t getting me very far. Until I hit the short story market.
Some writers thrive in a shorter format. Me? I’d never tried to write a short story and didn’t think I was suited for it at all, but wanted to give it a try. So while I love to write full-length novels, my first success came in short stories.
Faery Special Romances was born. I decided to write ten stories chronicling the life of the lead character, Keely, a matchmaking faery princess with attitude. And the first thing I thought of was a four-year-old faery with not so good wing control and downright lousy faery dust control, not to mention a lack of understanding when it came to consequence. Made me laugh. Thus, the concept of writing ten short stories starting in 1199AD when Keely was a kindergartener and works to match the faery Shaylah with the knight Sir Darian, to the future when Keely gets her own HEA. It’s a fun book.
Situational humor tickles my funny bone the most. In fantasy, you can create nearly any situation you want. What if: Bill Shakespeare was a changeling? A servant girl’s faery godmother stranded her on a pirate ship? A Regency miss needs glasses? A faery woman singing in a speak-easy is committed to the wrong man?
I suppose another person could make all these into dark stories, but I see the humorous side. Example: I was critiquing a synopsis for a friend of mine, Eilis Flynn and raved about her story idea, laughing at all the possibilities. She looked at me, puzzled, and said, “It’s not funny.” And when I protested she said, “I have no sense of humor.” Maybe not, but nearly everything she says cracks me up. I love clever wit. That book is now published as Static Shock.
Clever wit, ah, another vehicle for humor. Rowena Cherry is a favorite author of mine, and one of my favorite quotes is from the tyrant emperor’s sidekick, Grievous: “The problem with your bloody Great Djinn gene pool is that there’s no lifeguard on duty.” Knight's Fork is rife with clever nuances.
Unexpected roles is a good way to create humor. In Deborah Macgillivray’s Invasion of Falgannon Isle, The Cat Dudley (yes, an actual cat) plays poker every Friday night at the pub. And wins. I loved The Cat Dudley--a great character. Made me laugh many times. My contemporary western, Down Home Ever Lovin’ Mule Blues, features a cogitating mule named Socrates who has decided his human needs love and sets out to find him a woman. Socrates is assisted by an Australian Shepherd named Perseus and a skunk named Guinnevere.
I use unexpected roles and awkward situations to create most of the humor in the ♥ Hearts of Owyhee ♥ series. In Much Ado About Marshals, I put an honest man in a situation where he either has to lie to protect his best friend's and his lives, or deceive a woman hellbent to marry him. There's a good-hearted sidekick, a rambunctious dog, and a couple of ornery widows to spice things up. I also have a lot of fun with patent medicines.
Situational humor is in the forefront of Much Ado About Madams, because the suffragist heroine is a schoolteacher whose students are not seven-year-olds, but six soiled doves. Now you have the working girls and a suffragist, not to mention the hero who has to buy clothes for all the ladies and is color blind. I had a blast thinking of ways to make the hero scramble in that book, but he was always game for the next adventure. :)
The city vs. country scenario drove the humor in Much Ado About Mavericks. The hero is a Boston attorney and the heroine is the foreman on the Bar EL Ranch. I loved writing this book because the heroine was everything I wanted to be when I was a kid--but wasn't. And of course the hero is the one I would've picked, too--handsome and smart. (Luckily, I got a handsome and smart hero in real life!) The point of this book is that you can't assume you know what's in someone else's heart, because you can be very wrong. And of course, that's where the humor lies.
My only advice for writing humor (and believe me, analysis of humor is very un-funny) is to let your hair down and don’t let your brain interfere with what your fingers type. And good luck!
About reading humor? Suspend disbelief as much as possible, because the more you do, the more open you are to ludicrous characters, situations, or events. Example: The Apple Dumpling Gang isn't at all believable but it's one of the funniest movies I've ever seen.
Enjoy the ride!