Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Conflux: Part 1

My first panel at Conflux was the Secret Of Writing Humour - and I feared it was to be no laughing matter. Humour is such a subjective business, I was worried what would be said and if I would end up looking like the joke.
After all, The Wounded Guardian has a fair bit of humour (at least, it was intended to do so, and plenty of people have said they found it funny) and it is something I enjoy having in my writing. I find it breaks the mood if things are getting too heavy and can have multiple benefits.
But I needn’t have worried too much. Moderator Richard Harland (who’s funny in the nicest possible sense) and fellow panellist Val Toh made it easy for us to relax.
My theory (as I told the audience) is humour flows from the characters. Get the characters right, get them real enough that people can visualise them and then put them into situations where humour can arise. You don’t need snappy one-liners, which, after all, often fall flat!
The perfect example, of course, is Fawlty Towers, where such “unfunny” lines as “Don’t mention the war” are almost guaranteed to have people in stitches, even though on paper they don’t look like much. It is the character that gives life to the words so, if you have strong characters, you can have them generating plenty of humour.
In-jokes and pop culture references, we all agreed, are not easy to make funny - and can easily date, so should be stayed away from.
My thought was to have no more than 10 per cent of the book as humour, to use it sparingly - unless of course you aspire to be the next Terry Pratchett, in which case you either need no advice from me or are doomed to failure. (Sadly the latter is probably more likely).
Another little trick is to have “sidekick” characters, whose purpose, at least initially, seems to be to provide light relief - but if then they get swept up into the action (and, hopefully, tragedy) it has even more of an impact.
One thing both Richard and I felt very strongly about was the need to assess your characters as you write - if someone placed for humour then turns out to be particularly interesting, then give them more. Keep going with them, because sometimes they can take your story in new directions and give it an extra dimension. Sometimes characters demand to be given more of the story - and you should give it to them!
TWG, with a peerless warrior forced to look after a small girl and an ex-bandit without a filter between brain and mouth, was designed to have humour breaking up the action.
So, for me, the secret of writing humour is giving your story strong characters and putting them into incongruous situations.
Feel free to tell me I am wrong!

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