I Wish I Could Be Funny (on purpose)

Posted: April 9, 2014 in Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Because of this blog and my first few posts, I’m beginning to realize that I can write short bursts of slightly amusing prose.  But a blog post is a completely different beast than a fantasy novel.  The Last Princess already has an established voice and tone and pacing, and trying to shoehorn in a funny scene that our outline calls for is proving to be much more difficult.

In the scene I’m writing our hero, Cat, decides to confess her Big Secret to her mother, who she is sure will not approve.  However every time Cat plucks up the courage to broach the subject someone comes along and spoils the moment.  They all know about Cat’s Big Secret and they assume Mom does, too, and each time someone almost spills the beans Cat finds herself frantically trying to cover before Mom gets suspicious.  Finally Cat loses her nerve altogether … and … scene.

Right out of I Love Lucy.  Perfect for a middle grade novel.  Inherently funny, right?

Yeah, it’s not that easy.

It turns out that most of the jokes and funny moments in The Last Princess have all pretty much happened spontaneously.  I didn’t plan any of them.  But now, faced with the task of writing a whole funny scene on demand, I seem to have developed stage fright, or cold feet, or whatever other euphemism for “paralyzed” you care to use.

I can’t even imagine how someone writes a sitcom every week.

It’s like Justice Stewart said: “I know it when I see it.”  But that doesn’t necessarily translate into the ability to produce it.  I know a good lemon meringue pie when I taste one, too, but don’t ask me to bake one.  I tried, once; it turns out that in recipes it matters what order you add the ingredients.

There are lots of things I don’t do well which I have the good sense not to attempt.  Building a campfire.  Picking out clothing.  Any kind of activity involving a ball.  But this scene calls for humor, and I can’t farm it out.  So here I am.

I think I’ve got the basic set-up.  In classic I Love Lucy tradition, it begins with a misunderstanding:

If I was going to confess my problem to Mom, now was as good a time as I was ever going to get.  I took a deep breath as my heart started beating faster.  “Mom?  Do you think you can help me with a problem I’m having?  I don’t know who else to ask.”  There!  If she thinks I’m in trouble, maybe she won’t be so mad when I tell her about my quest.  And the fae-born.  And my superpower.  My stomach clenched as I started having second thoughts.

Mom misread the panic in my eyes.  She lost her smile and peered at me, concerned.  “What is it, Catherine?  What’s happened?”

I gulped.  Now I had to tell her.  Cheese!  What am I supposed to say, now?  “I need your help to scare away a prince so I can be princess of the faeries?”  I swallowed.  “Um … there’s this boy.”

Mom’s eye narrowed and she frowned.

“See, we both want the same thing … but … I don’t know how I’m supposed to—”

“Catherine!”  Mom’s eyes were wide with panic.  “How old is this boy?  Have I met him?  Where do you know him from?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!”  Great!  Now she thinks I want to date him!  “No.  It isn’t like that at all!”

Then, before she can explain she gets interrupted, and more confusion gets added to the mix.  What do you think?  Does that “feel” funny to you?

When people ask Steve Martin what makes him feel funny, he says he likes to put a tuna fish sandwich in each shoe.  I haven’t tried that yet.  Depending on what you think, maybe I should.

Steve Martin

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Comments
  1. I think it’s a great start to funny. It feels funny. Not funny weird but funny humorous. You’re probably thinking about it too much so you cant see the humor in it anymore. Or you’ve never been a girl. But I have and to me, I can see where it’s headed…and it’s headed to a funny situation. Plus, while tuna fish sandwiches in your boots could be humorous, you should know that I read an interview by Lucille Ball before that said she had no idea what was funny. She had to ask Desi all the time why her lines made people laugh because she just didn’t get it. And yet they called her the Queen of Comedy. So just keep doing what you do. It’s working. 😀

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  2. MOM says:

    I love it …MOM

    Like

  3. Hi, first time reading your blog and I found this post, so I’m going to go ahead and comment and hope #1 that you see it and #2 that it’s helpful.
    My husband is hilarious. He’s quite possibly the funniest person I’ve ever met so I asked him where he gets his jokes and anecdotes from and he said, “Wordplay, absurdity and deliberate misunderstanding.” I recently read a great book about writing by Francine Prose titled “Reading Like a Writer” (it was at my local library, it might be at yours too lol) where she discusses dialog in books. To boil it down to it’s most basic level, her thought on dialog in books is that it’s how people would talk if people could be more clear and understanding. In a book, someone says something like, “The subway smelled like feet,” and someone else says, “Really? I thought it smelled like cheese!” whereas, in the real world, people say “um, uh, eh, err, ………..” so it’s hard to duplicate what’s funny in the real world on paper. Reading about someone slipping on a banana peel isn’t funny, but watching it is. Another book that might help point you in the right direction is George Carlin’s “Napalm and Silly Putty.” The text version of his stand-up obviously lacks the physical delivery system, his voice and facial expressions and gestures, so you can see for yourself which jokes/rants translate well in their written form and which ones don’t.
    Happy Writing 🙂

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