Workshop 13: A Merry Heart: Writing and Selling the Humorous Novel
In her workshop, A Merry Heart: Writing and Selling the Humorous Novel, Janice Hanna Thompson (right), author of the popular Weddings by Bella series and many comedic romance novels, opened her lecture with a quotation from comedian, Bill Cosby. “Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.”
Janice explained that humor is important because life can be hard. “Comedic words can be exactly the medicine for someone who needs a lift. We need to be funny for the sake of ministering in the way God called us.”
Serious books, Thompson noted, also have room for humor to “loosen up the tension” for readers.
Ten ways to tickle
- Create unique characters. Ones readers can genuinely relate to. Throw perfection out the window, make the character flawed, then use that flaw to your advantage.
- Diversify your cast. Characters should have different opinions, lifestyles, personalities, and coping skills. Think of Lucy, Ricky, Ethel, and Fred in I Love Lucy. Those different characters had the perfect potential for conflict, fun, and chaos.
- Use exaggeration. Study people around you, then exaggerate the high and low points. Remember Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables. She wasn’t simply sad; she experienced the “depths of despair.” “Don’t let your characters be average,” Thompson said.
- Use situational comedy. Put your character into a scene from real life that will play out in a funny way. Make your characters vulnerable in the silly situation so that readers will empathize with them.
- Use slapstick. Consider the Three Stooges. Tripping over things and other physical gags are funny, but use them sparingly.
- Work in threes. Think of jokes: “Three nuns walked into a bar…” Use three funny characters as a trio or three funny situations in a row.
- Be aware of pacing. If the movement is too slow, the reader comes out of the story. Keep the story moving in comedy.
- Don’t forget the punch line. Leave the reader anticipating a “Wow!” and give it at the right time.
- Do the opposite thing. Place characters in scenes, then have them do the opposite of what the reader expects.
- Live the life. Finding joy isn’t always easy, but for those who live a life of faith, it’s possible.
Thompson reminded listeners of Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones,” and Nehemiah 8:10, “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
She implored audience members to “share joy with others because joy is like an ointment. When we transfer joy to the page, others benefit.” Janice closed with the suggestion that writers “ask God to imbibe you with His joy, then let that joy come out onto the page.”