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October 22, 2010

Humour-envy

You may not know this about me, but I suffer from humour envy.

I did promise my posts from now on would be gems of honesty and personal insight. No safely hiding under an umbrella while the heavens open around me. No pretending my closet is oh-so skeleton free. I'm going to let the rain fall where it may, and the skeletons walk free. It is almost Halloween, after all. So here goes.

Ever since my time as a teenager on the school debating team, I've been aware of the fact that some people have a natural knack for coming up with observations or comments which are downright funny and have people in stitches - and often off the cuff. Impromptu. With little if any time to pre-think, plan or prepare. They don't have to work hard at being funny, they simply are funny, because that's the way their mind works.

Not me. Oh, no. On the debating team, I was one of the serious ones. Give me a meaty argument and I'll sink my teeth into it, but attempt to get the audience laughing and I sink. That's not to say I'm completely and utterly serious all the time, or that I'm lacking a sense of humour. I don't take myself too seriously, and I'm more than capable of sarcasm, wry humour, and self deprecation. In certain areas, I'd even say I have a modest talent. (When it comes to innuendo and double entendre I'm pretty much unbeatable. Don't start me. Please.)

But slapstick, rolling in the aisles, ultra light-hearted stuff is not my thing. I appreciate how well others do it, but I just don't find it comes naturally to me. I'm more one for emotional entreaty, heartfelt conflict...and here I suppose I'm talking as much about my writing as about my long-dormant debating career. I may never successfully write chick-lit. And it's a safe bet that everything I write is likely to have a serious undertone, or at least try to present characters and situations with a little realistic depth and complexity. (Not that I mean to imply that humour and depth/complexity in writing are mutually exclusive. Many talented writers combine them beautifully.)

The truth is, though, it's taken me a while to accept that I write the way I write, because I am the way I am. And I am just a little bit serious. But, you see, I want to be funny. Or more funny. Just like the kid who has curly hair always wants straight, and vice versa.

I read something about writing recently, though, which put things in perspective for me. It centred around the idea of tension. Building tension between characters, maintaining that tension, and being aware of the things which can release it. The article I read was discussing this in the context of romance writing, but it applies equally to any genre or style which makes use of suspense and building tension to hook readers and keep them reading. And in this context, humour can be a tension deflater, which is certainly not always what you want.

It really depends what genre you're writing, and your aims. And it's important to recognise that there are plenty of writing styles for which an endless supply of humour is not a prerequisite. There are many many writing tools available to us, and humour is just one of them.

Potato latke made from Hairy Manischewitz bran...Image via Wikipedia
Kartoffelpuffer, aka latkes
Think of it in the context of a kartoffelpuffer. (For the uninitiated, a crispy and delicious German potato pancake; they're also often known as latkes.) Goes well sprinkled with icing sugar and with stewed apple and cinnamon on the side. But it does double duty as a savoury, with sour cream - or, say, accompanied by spinach and fried egg. Same kartoffelpuffer, two radically different applications. Humour is like that. Just a tool for getting your message across to the reader. It can be used in many different ways, and you can use it a little, or a lot.

For the kind of stuff I write, having just a little touch of humour here and there as I tend to - some sexy banter and innuendo between two characters, some dramatic irony, and the occasional wry or sarcastic comment - is probably pretty much the perfect balance.

Talk about a silver lining. I've discovered it's actually lucky I'm not more funny.

By the way, for those who are applauding (or questioning) my use of metaphor in this post, the credit (or blame) should rightly be attributed here. Cos this is a Crusade, people, and the challenge is on...

17 comments:

Su said...

I read this before I read the challenge... good job! I have a similar problem-- people laugh at the stuff I didn't intend to be funny, but don't laugh at the stuff I think is hysterical.

Rachael Harrie said...

Adina, well done on posting your Challenge entry so quickly, go you good thing! I've still got a smile on my face, great use of kartofflepuffer!!! The people at Google will be wondering why there's so many searches on that word in the next week...

As for me, innuendo, witty banter, and double entendre are perfect - I'm not the slapstick humor kind of person either. And talking about that, I'll take on your challenge any day!!! ;)

Rach

Amanda said...

Humour is a funny old game isn't it, Adina? - what one may find funny, another will not. I had my MS read by a critique/writer once. She told me to stop *trying* to be funny. So, I dutifully stripped away any areas where I thought I was trying too hard to *make 'em laugh*. Only to be told by an agent that I needed more pathos and deliberate humour. Ho Hum!

Grandpa said...

I think Adina should get a prize for burning enthusiasm and for being the first off the starting line!

Megan K. Bickel said...

I suffer from that too! And illustrator envy. Good post! You are just speedy-quick on that challenge!!

L'Aussie said...

Oh, this was quick. I'm still buzzing around following/commenting fellow crusaders. Putting up the urls took ages. Great to be in though..:)

Jenny Beattie said...

Oh brilliant. I had no idea it was written for a challenge as I've been out of the loop for the last couple of days. Brilliant.

But I'm so like you. I have humour envy too and despite being told my blog is funny, my fiction is always darker.

Marieke said...

Innuendo for me too! Or sarcasm. Or both. I'm a huge fan of dark English humour ;)

Really enjoyed your post! Great way to use latkes ;) (Which is way easier to type, even when I do actually speak German.)

Karen said...

Humour is subjective anyway - what makes one person laugh won't work for another. For some reason I'm more comfortable writing humour, but it has to rise naturally out of the situations my characters find themselves in. If I try and force it, it doesn't work.

Great post :o)

Kraxpelax said...

GAMMABLIXT


SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE

There's much in the world that you can't explain.
It's revealed for you to remember
by the whispering voice of a distant train
or a midnight rain in november.

Horizon within! You can always find
the keys to Enigma. Let's mention
one basic Truth: of spirited Mind
is Nature naught but extension.

Internal expanses! In dreams, ridden
by fear and longing you roam
that deep Southeast in your soul hidden
...on your random journey back home.

---

As a native Swede, I am particularly proud of my love poetry suite Sonnets for Katie.

My Poems

*

Po├ętudes



And: reciprocity: for mutual benefit, you will do me a favor promoting your own blog on mine!

The best way to do it is lining up as a Follower, since then your icon will advertise you indefinitely, and I will follow you in return. Let's forge a mighty alliance of synergy and common interest.

Yours,

- Peter Ingestad, Sweden

Rachel Morgan said...

I completely understand your humour-envy! I have a brother who can crack people up with his nonsense ANY time and a favourite author whose super-wit has me tinged green with envy.

But you're absolutley right: we write the way we write because we are the way we are. We shouldn't try to change that.

Great post :-)

Hart Johnson said...

See now... we could just swap. I want to be dark and mysterious, and I end up with Cozy Mystery... *sigh* (it was nice though, to find a genre that lets me be a nut... and I still try on that dark stuff (though I tend to have a character or two each book who can't behave)

I think though, you managed to find humor here quite nicely-- the self deprecation is GOOD, and innuendo ROCKS! And you've left me oddly hungry... I think I had one of those at the Kristkringle Market in Chicago...

Rachael Harrie said...

WOOT!!! Congrats on 50 followers :)

Rach

The Weed said...

So, I have this weird dichotomy. On my blog, I'm silly almost to the point of absurdity at times (but I'm laughing as I write, so I guess that's all that matters? Please, tell me that's all that matters!) But my fiction tends to be extremely serious--verging-on-death-march serious. (Paranormal mystery/thriller.)

Shall the twain meet for me? I'm not sure. They both feel like genuine parts of me. Maybe true success for me will follow when I can marry those parts of myself?

I really liked your discussion here on the topic. I also really liked your kartoffelpuffer metaphor!

Adina West said...

Sounds like we have an even mix of funny and serious folk out there - and @ The Weed, I hope the twain shall meet for all of us!

You know, Rach's challenge inspired me and I actually made some potato pancakes (kartoffelpuffer) for dinner last week.

So that must be blogging imitating life imitating art...or something.

:-)

Julie Hedlund said...

You definitely get extra points for including a PICTURE of a kartoffelpuffer - lol!

I have humor-envy too. I can be funny sometimes, but not all the time. I love blogs where humor oozes out from the writer, and I do feel like if you can be funny, you can attract people to you more easily.

At the same time, when I read I much prefer more serious books. I guess I find them more thought-provoking, more REAL. So I'd be more likely to pick up one of your books than one by someone funny. :-)

Having said that, my own entry for this crusade is funny. It was a lot of fun to write, so I might try to incorporate more humor in my writing too.

Wow - I blathered on for a while, huh? But you definitely put together a great post here.

Joanna St. James said...

I see you got a visit from the gammablaxit too.
Okay now you are just tempting me to make some kartoffelpuffer and try them for the first time.
Ha ha so yesterday someone asked for random words from her followers that she would use in her WIP, guess what i suggested -- Kartoffelpuffer and I told her to blame rachel

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