But writing comedy is another matter. I love to write humor. I have time to set up the punch line. I have time to create a running thread of humor. Some days, I love it so much that I laugh at my own writing. Yes, I crack myself up! I also work on the theory that if you laugh with a character, you might also cry with a character.
Just as in real life, humor in romantic fiction comes in many forms. Sometimes it's bold. It catches you by surprise and laughter will erupt like a volcano you can't contain. Other times its gentle and subtle, coaxing a smile. In my own writing, I've used both. Let's take a closer look at both forms.
Bold humor. One form of bold humor is "Three Stooges" humor. Physical, slapstick humor elicits laughter as a reflex. You can't help it. Have you ever laughed when someone hit their head? Or worse, the groin shot that is a staple in America's Funniest Videos? Don't feel bad. I do too. (And if you don't...um, awkward moment. *looking sheepish* Sorry!)
(Give me a moment. For some reason, a couple outrageous scenes from the movie SOMETHING ABOUT MARY are playing out in my head.)
Okay, where was I? Oh, yes, bold humor. You see, I wasn't distracted too long. My memory of the movie was a couple of outrageous scenes (can you guess which ones?), but the rest fell flat. One or two slapstick episodes is enough. Too much bold comedy, one scene after another, and they lose their effect. I think this is what an article I read meant about keeping the humor fresh and avoiding slapstick. At first I was like, what? I love slapstick. But I realize what I love about it is the surprise.
What else for bold humor? Eccentric secondary characters. They either delight in shocking us or do so by accident. While I feel the need to limit the eccentricities of the hero or heroine, I believe there are no holds barred on secondary characters. In THE DUKE'S ANGEL, I had a butler with OCD who only stepped on the white tiles of a black and white tiled floor. And he had another odd quirk, such as one the hero witnessed:
Justin ran after Ariana and halted in the foyer. She had moved fast and he tried to decide which way she had ran. He noticed one of the medieval armored knights that decorated the hall was frozen in a position of pointing the way down a corridor.
“Soames?” he asked suspiciously. The knight raised his visor to reveal the old man’s face.
“The young lady looking quite green can be found in theconservatory, your grace.”
Justin took himself off in that direction, calling over his shoulder, ““Take off that armor before you fall over and break your old bones!”
“Precisely what armor is supposed to prevent,” called back Soames.
I did so not only for comedic effect, but to characterize the hero. He tolerated the butler's quirks because Soames had been with the family for years. It was part of the hero's character as a "Guardian" of his household. He took care of the people around him. In a way, the butler was part of the family. However, although an eccentric character might be outrageous, the humor is also subtle in the reaction of the hero.
Subtle humor. As mentioned, a character showing a sense of humor or tolerance for the outrageous is subtle humor. We can also relate to bad days of Murphy's Law when anything that can go wrong does go wrong. This is not slapstick. We're not laughing at the character out of reflex but laughing with them. If the heroine has a broken heel on her shoe looks up at the sky and asks "what else can go wrong?" and gets splashed by a mud puddle we're sympathetic, but still find the situation funny. Or compromising situations with the hero and heroine can be funny. Snowbound in a cabin and have to share a sleeping bag? Even intimacy can be funny. Awkward is funny. Funny can turn to sexy. It's all in the reaction of the character to the situation.
There is also subtle humor in the tone of entire books. I think many true Regency romances excel at subtle humor with light and witty dialogue that bring a smile to the reader's face. There are also many light contemporaries that are true romantic comedies.
Which is it? What about one liners? I admire a quick wit and one liners from many talented writers, but are they subtle humor because the effect is generally a fleeting chuckle of amusement, or bold because they take risks? Like a stand up comic, one liners take a gamble on receiving either a big pay off or groan. Some humor is best left alone if it in any way feels forced. In whichever form, humor must be natural.
If you put a gun to my head and tell me "say something funny" I'd blurt out Groucho Marx's classic line, "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I'll never know." Ba ba boom. Come on. How can you not laugh? It's a classic. Not your cup of tea? That's just it. Comedy isn't received the same by everyone. I can pretty much bet an attempt at a one liner in my writing would fall flat with many readers. But thankfully, there are many different forms of humor, and many shades of bold or subtle. And if I lack the quick wit of a comedian, I like to think an open mind to absurdity is the key to writing humor.
12/09/09 Update: Here's another blog that is discussing "What's so funny?" from Jennifer Shirk at Long and Short Romantic Reviews.
What kinds of bold and subtle humor do you enjoy? Do you like to write humor? Which do you find more difficult - - writing humor or the tear jerker scenes? Do you like both comedy and tragedy together?