Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Formula and the Art of Writing Comedy


I don’t know if there is one really. I just thought that would be a cool title and fit in with the others I’ve recently written. :O)

The Formula

So if there is one what could it be? I did have my sister generously offer me her formula about how to write a compelling romance. Furious, fast action, get the hero and heroine together in the first few pages, and make it HOT. This advice, forged over a brilliant career of many bestselling novels, was apparently too hot for me to handle. This explosive piece of advice blew up in my face . . . several times. I needed something less volatile to work with—I needed my own formula and I needed it quick!  

I did devise a formula of sorts. It may not be brilliant, but it is more pliable for this girl to work with. Like Play Dough vs. plastic explosives. I love placing a character in an awkward situation and letting them react to it. I am not sure why I find this so amusing, but I do. In fact, I will spend most of my time on the antics and nonsense and completely forget that I have a budding romance to foster. It was because of this that my romantic couple didn’t even meet until the fourth chapter and he didn’t see her until the end of the sixth. Now there’s a humdinger of a tale about hot sizzling romance if there ever was one!

I obviously had my TNT rating set on low – maybe too low. My Gone with the Wind had blown away it seemed.  I needed something to keep the flow, boost interest, and keep them reading. Creating a certain amount of nonsense is a crucial part of my writing style, and highly addictive to write I might add. If I wasn’t pulling a punchline I was setting up the gag, but the romance and relationships had to mingle in with the history and madcap adventure schemes like a fine elixir.

So of course I almost forget the romance and have to go back and insert a little moment here and there because my husband, who was reading it was saying, “If this were me, I’d have stolen a kiss here.”

So it came to pass that my serious love story turned into a hilarious journey where my heroine became a woman of mystery and my side-kick stole the show. What had been a momentous story describing one of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world, complete with unknown and misidentified hieroglyphic symbols, became a madcap adventure. I remember when I first published it, I waited and waited for the accolades of my brilliance, my genius, to roll in. After all, I had just discovered the origins of the Sphinx for crying out loud and painted the picture! What would they say about my years of research . . . the result of my years of toil?

Well . . . I did get, “Funny beyond belief.” Hahahaha!

I’ll take it! In fact, I'm delighted by it. The whole idea that I can bring a smile to someone's face and brighten their day has actually given my writing a deeper meaning for me.

So there you have it. How my formula came to be. Take a historical mystery, add a dash of romance, along with a heaping dose of nonsense, and a quick stir with the chaos spoon and voila you have a madcap adventure.

The Art of Writing Comedy

So now I write comedies. Who knew, right? If someone had suggested that I would be doing this years ago I would have fallen over laughing and the real surprise is that this all came about through the most unlikely scenarios. You see, I used to bore people to tears. Not just mild disinterest either this was full out zombie like trances. My love of history was so great that I could send people running with my coma inducing fountain of knowledge. Hahahaha! I get this from my father I think.

My dad knew everything about the history of where I grew up in Utah, actually the whole United States, so you weren’t safe no matter where you went. You’d ask an innocent question regarding a dirt road and he’d tell you about the pass cut into the mountain, when it was built, who did it, where it went, and why–with the additional information about other mountain passes that were first used because they were at a lower altitude. See, exciting stuff, your eyes are already glazed over and you’ve forgotten to breathe as you looked for some type of escape from this paragraph. . . . I thought this was about being funny. . . ? I hear you thinking it!

In my own scientific research using this informational overload I conducted a few studies on innocent bystanders and other trapped guests. You know the ones who are politely listening until they have the ability to flee. It wasn’t done intentionally at first. I truly was trying to carry on an interesting conversation which I have discovered is all in the eye of the beholder, but this led me to experiment on just how much information could be given before their interest waned. How much can you impart, say on mummification, while eating birthday cake? Do people really want to know the sacred math used to make a key hole arched window while doing the dishes? No, I found, not really.

What is the fine art of creating interest? I tried other lures in the great game of, “Do I have your attention now?”  I overdid it at first. I always gave way too much information watching them sweat it out and squirm in their seats. I finally pared it down, delivering just a few key phrases to see if they had any interest whatsoever in my blathering. If they looked instantly bored or worse panicked – their eyes would dart around the room in search of someone to rescue them. I call this the life-line, the help, throw me the doughnut, look.

“She’s recounting early Mesopotamian history and if I have to hear about someone else’s Balls again I’m going to scream,” they silently plead.

“No, Baal is the god of . . . never mind.” I inwardly sigh, chalking up another experiment gone awry mark on my invisible historical facts sheet of how much they can bear it.

Even if you do have someone hooked on the end of the historical fishing line – which is rare – you must reel them in slowly or they too will balk, break the fragile thread and pick up their iphone in desperation. Like a call from your wing man if the date is going badly. “I must get this,” they apologize as they cling to the phone. “I understand.” I smile. And I do understand. . . . Remember my dad?

What I learned is this: What most people find interesting is themselves, their lives, not you. Asking questions and listening is probably the best way to keep a conversation going and if you’re lucky you may find something that interests you both or you’ll be the one looking across the room for your husband with that expression of, 'It’s time to go . . . I need a doughnut!'

So how, you ask, do you carry on a conversation in a book written long ago with someone who is just now reading it? How is that even possible? The true art to anything written, said, or drawn for that matter, is to engage the reader in such a way that they are able to participate. Have them visually become part of the action, see the comedy and don’t grind them down with too much information even if it is your idea of birthday cake. It is one of my favorite compliments when a reader says that they felt like they were there. I feel like I have accomplished my goal when that happens.

I must thank these poor unsuspecting people, most of them family members, who I may or may not be married to. They have helped me devise my brilliant comedic formula. To figure out how to tell a tale of history and yet keep it interesting even years later and after the twentieth telling. Okay – so that doesn’t happen, but my husband did teach me something so amazing, that I could see how, throughout the course of history, it has come into play again and again and it all centered around the kiss - that universal symbol of love. Talk about too hot to handle.  Yep, you got it – KISS . . . Keep It Simple Stupid . . . and be brief.

Being a comedian on paper is not for the faint-hearted, however, it may very well be the toughest things to write. Think about it. You will never hear the laughter after one of your punchlines. Talk about a tough room!  Did that work well? Did they laugh?  I know I’m laughing until I cried writing it, but I hear voices in my head and they sometimes argue so what does that mean? It happens when you have half-a-dozen characters in a room and they all want to talk at once. LOL! 
So this is for you my fellow authors of the humorous tale. Keep smiling and laughing at your own jokes – because you may very well be the only one, but don’t let that stop you . . . and to my dad who instilled in me the love of history and the ability to grin and bear it! :O)

To read a sneak peek of Treasure of Egypt click here: Treasure of Egypt Sneak Peek.

To read some of the historical discoveries mentioned click over to the Histories Mysteries part of my blog: Histories Mysteries with Barbara Ivie Green 

For those of you who love your comedy where anything of myths and legend can and probably will come true you can read the first chapters of my Paranormally Yours series by clicking here. Book 1 The Ghost Pirate's Treasure and Book 2 Cupid's Love Potion 

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