Friday, February 16, 2007

Humor Me, She Says

Okay, so it’s my turn. What tickles my funny bone when I’m reading? Lots of things, actually. (And don’t tell Christie, but I often laugh out loud when reading her scenes. It’s not good to tell her that, though, since it will only encourage her to throw in more naked, tattooed men, male perps in pink negligees and oversexed dogs.)

Like Christie, I think that humor is a natural extension of characterization. After all, just as every individual has a slightly different way of looking at life, so do our characters. And for some of them, a good sense of humor is a necessity since their view of life is more than a little askew.

Humor, to me, is taking the ordinary, twisting it around a little and looking at it from another angle. Preferably a funny angle. Like, for example, the other day when I was up to my ears in snow here in upstate New York. I’d been clearing my walkway and decided to take a break before I turned into a human popsicle, so I planted my shovel in the snowbank and went inside to defrost. When I came back out about 20 minutes later, my shovel was gone. Somebody had stolen it.

No, seriously.

Somebody stole my snow shovel.

They’d waded, uphill, through three feet of snow from the edge of the street and swiped a $6.99 piece of cheap metal. I was furious. I honestly considered following the footprints and confronting the thief. I would have, too, except, well, they’d taken my shovel and I didn’t want to wade through all that snow. Then I thought about calling the village police. I didn’t do that, either. When I’d called them two years ago to report that somebody had stolen my trash can in the middle of a freaking snow storm, I’d gotten the county sheriff by mistake and, well, let’s just say that stolen trash cans apparently aren’t high on their priority list of crimes to solve. So, I decided to whine about the stolen snow shovel to my friends. But, did they give me sympathy? (Or offer to buy me a new shovel? Or, better still, offer to come to my house and help me shovel the 79 feet of snow that was now piling up outside my house?) No. They just laughed. They thought it was funny.

Of course, they all still had their snow shovels.

Or, they lived in places where snow shovels weren’t necessary.

It was that perception thing again, and that’s how I think of humor. It’s a matter of perception.

So, what about you? What are your thoughts on humor? Please feel free to share. And don't forget. As Christie said, we're giving away a $10.00 gift certificate to B&N to some lucky commenter this month!



Samantha Hunter said...

Also in the position of just spending two hours outside in about 5 feet of snow (and it's still falling...) I don't find much funny about snow at the moment, and yet while I actually don't think having anything stolen is funny (especially if it means you have to get back in a car and drive crappy roads to get another one), your *retelling* of the story is funny -- you have great delivery, so the line "Of course, they all still had their snow shovels" did make me chuckle.

I guess what I'm saying is if you received less synpathy than you wanted, it's because you are obviously a storyteller who's good with humor. ;)

So yes, humor is completely due to perception, which is why many of us often find ourselves laughing at things that others don't find funny at all. Although I think humor can shape perception, too, especially about touchy issues. Comics can say, like the old court jesters, things that the rest of us only think. ;)


kim said...

no it is not it is dangerous

Maria, Lover of All Things Romance said...

I love dry, ironic humour. It can be great in a romance novel, but it's not absolutely necessary for me to enjoy the book

JoAnn Ross said...

Faye, this doesn't answer your question, but I've been meaning to tell you that Keith Olbermann, on his nightly MSNBC show, Countown, has a feature called the Worst Person In The World. The day your snow shovel was stolen, having grown up in the Cascades, where it could -- and did once -- snow on the 4th of July (while I was on a parade float in a swimsuit!) my sweetie and I decided that weasel of a thief deserved the title.

Once again, since we're now on our second winter without a single snowfall (please don't hate me, I really have paid my snow dues!), I sure wouldn't mind you sending us a little bit of yours.

Anonymous said...

LOL, JoAnn. Believe me, if I could shit this stuff to Tennessee, it would be on its way to you. lol.

And, Sam, yikes on your own snowfall totals. Now, it could have been my delivery that made my friends laugh. I think it was just that they are EVIL. lol.

Kim, I'm thinking it was probably neighborhood kids trying to make some extra money shoveling sidewalks. (Christie thinks it's just buried in the snowbank and I didn't see it because I wasn't wearing my glasses but, hey, did I mention that I think my friends are EVIL?)

And Maria, I agree. A book doesn't always have to be funny for me to enjoy it. Like JoAnn's books, for example, which are chock-full of great stuff and always keep me turning the page.


Nancy Morse said...

Well now, sometimes the funniest things are the ones that aren't meant to be. For instance, Faye, did you really mean to shit the stuff to JoAnn in Tennessee? Now, that's something I'd really like to see. What kind of position do you have to get into to do that? Or maybe you just hit the t instead of the p. No matter. I laughed my ass off.

Christie Craig said...

Nancy, I don't think JoAnn is going to be as happy to get that snow as she thought.

Okay, do you guys see what I mean about Faye's "sedate" humor? She doesn't know she's being funny.

Oh, Lordie, I haven't laughed so hard in weeks. But I must confess, Faye isn't the only one who goofs. I entered a contest once where I had my hero hiding out behind a shed. He'd been beat up pretty bad. I had him look down at his bloody shirt...only, I had left out the "r".

So I guess we are all prone to typos. Yet, I have this feeling that Faye is going to try to blame this on me. She always blames it on me.


Anonymous said...

Okay. This is just the kind of thing that I was talking about when I said that my friends were EVIL.

My phone rang a few minutes ago. It was Christie, laughing her ass off. I figured her opening line of "Did you read what you posted in the Comments section?" wasn't a good sign. lol.

But Nancy is so right. Often, what makes things funny are the little mistakes we make in life. Like using a "t" instead of a "p".


Anonymous said...

Um, yeah. It was Christie's fault.



JoAnn Ross said...

Personally, I think Faye's t instead of a p was a perfect example of a Freudian slip. LOL One thing I learned early on was to be really careful if you put the word "public" on your website. Leave out that all important l and you're in trouble.

We used to get 120 inches of snow a year up at our AZ cabin, which was up in ski country, at 7600 feet elevation. But it was dry western powder, which would evaporate within a couple days, then blow east over New Mexico, to -- wow -- maybe all the way to Faye's Snow Hell?

We're supposed to -- finally! -- get snow this weekend. I just went outside and sniffed the air and don't believe it. But maybe Faye did pull it off.

Terry Z McDermid said...

I do think humor is in the perception of the situation. My parents always encouraged us to find the funny in something, especially if the options were to laugh or to cry. That lesson has been very helpful throughout my life.

One of my favorite situations happened when my two teenage, over 6' tall sons and I went to Disney World while their dad was attending a conference in Orlando. I convinced them to go on 'It's a Small World' for their grandmother, who had loved the ride and wasn't with us anymore. "Just for her memory," I said. They reluctantly agreed, happy that the line wasn't too long and not many people would see them on such a lame ride.

Of course, life doesn't work out easily for teens. Their mom (me) dropped her sunglasses into the water as we climbed into our boat. The ride was stopped and a worker came over to our boat and tried to fish the glasses out of the mechanism. Meanwhile, the line had multiplied and our boat was being closely watched. The boys tried to scrunch their tall frames into the bottom of the flat boat, with little success.

The glasses weren't found but it was finally deemed safe to start the ride again. "At least we'll have a funny story to tell your dad at dinner," I said. The looks I received were definitely not humorous!!

Sally MacKenzie said...

I think Sam made a very important point about humor. Though much of humor is in perception, to convey humor effectively, you have to have the right delivery. I know I edit and edit my humor scenes. Just a few extra words blunts the delivery and thus the impact.

JoAnn Ross said...

Sally, I once saw an interview with the writers of Fraiser (who were probably the best comedy writing team in the business), and they showed a writers' meeting where they were trying to come up with a line to end a conversation between the brothers and their father. The first three they came up with were great and probably would've been accepted on any other program at the time. But the fourth was absolutely perfect, making the others pale in comparison.

I don't write humor, but since I pile lots of problems -- Alzheimers, children with brain tumors, pregnant nuns, unmarried pregnant teenagers, etc in my women's fiction days; serial killers in my RS stories -- on my characters, I use Shakespeare's grave digger concept and make sure I toss in some humor to lighten the mix a bit from time to time.

One thing I noticed early on was how often I had to explain a reference to my Canadian editors, because humor, while being much more subjective than drama, is also very regional. Which partly explains, I suspect, why humorous books don't have nearly the foreign sales as some of the other sub-genres.

JoAnn Ross said...

Faye!! It's SNOWING like crazy here in the foothills of the Smokies!!!!! (Not sticking yet, but I am hopeful!) Thank you, sweetie!!!

Dr. Bill Emener said...

My experience has been that the best humor in a novel is when I can visualize it happening (as Terry suggested – the perception of the situation). And in my novels, I am careful with my humor (and I tend to use a lot of it) – for example, I only will have my heroine be the brunt of a joke or humorous situation if she can laugh at it (stated or implied).

Anonymous said...


Yippee on your snow! I hope it sticks.

And as for the Freudian nature of the "typo," Christie enjoyed pointing out to me that the t was nowhere near the p on the keyboard. lol. I really am sick of snow. lol.


JoAnn Ross said...

Faye, it stopped! And the teensy bit that stuck quickly melted and we're supposed to have sun again tomorrow. Sigh. But I did get a picture of it coming down. Maybe I'll make it into a screen saver. :)

Anonymous said...


I love your story about your sons at Disneyland, although I'm sure they aren't as fond of the memory. lol.


I agree. Presentation and delivery is just as important as all the rest, maybe even more so.


I loved Frasier. Still do. The dialogue on that show was amazing.


Thanks for dropping by. I always love it when I can visualize any scene in a book, humorous ones included.


Anonymous said...


Well, phooey on the end of your snow! But my offer of sharing is still open. The stuff is so plentiful around here that my cat can't see out the downstairs windows anymore because the snow is so high. lol.


JoAnn Ross said...

Oh, I forgot to say, Terry, I, too love that story. What great kids you have! (You must be a fabulous mother.) I always made my sweetie and son go through Small World at least twice on our annual trips to Disneyland. They were very patient as, year after year, I'd point out all the singing dolls as if seeing them for the very first time, lol.

Faye -- your poor kitty! Maybe you'll have to buy one of those kitty bird videos to keep her amused until the snow goes away.

The paper said we might get some more flurries this afternoon and early tomorrow morning, but not to expect any measurable snow because our temperature's going to be in the high 30s. It also said we can expect our heating bills to go up 80% this month from last, because our weather's been so cold.

Terry Z McDermid said...

I was ignoring the snow comments, partly because we can't get rid of the stuff this year! Every time we turn around, more flakes coming down. Most aren't sticking this time, which is good, since we still have those huge piles of plowed snow in parking lots and other places.

My guys don't completely laugh at the Disney World memory as much as they roll their eyes whenever Mom goes looking for her sunglasses. My youngest once asked if I had to have them everywhere I go! I just remind them that as long as they're on my head, they can't be causing problems anywhere else! A fun, inside joke for the three of us (their dad knows the story but he wasn't there).