This week, I’d like to continue talking about humor in writing – today is about incorporating antics and hijinks.
But first, allow me to take you back in time to the summer of 2007. Due to a variety of circumstances that are relevant yet uninteresting, I bought an iPod that summer. Initially I packed my 60gb device with all the music I could lay hands on and it was good; but eventually I wanted something more. I forget now how it happened, but my search for free schtuff led me to discover podcasts, which in turn led me to discover start-up authors reading chapters of their books in weekly installments – or podiobooks.
It didn’t take long for me to identify my favorites and download everything they had on offer.
One of those podiobook authors was Christiana Ellis.
Christiana’s writing is a great example for our study of humor in writing. Though her books are sword & sandal fantasy or full-on science fiction, what drives her work is not the setting so much as the farce and banter. The two storylines she has shared through the podcast format are both rollicking adventures full of sarcasm and comicality, with a few pratfalls sprinkled throughout for the young at heart.
My favorite of those two storylines is the far-future adventure titled “Space Casey”.
Casey is a human con artist who tricks a man (Fleeblo) into letting her steal his spaceship. The ship is piloted by a fully evolved Synthetic Intelligence presence named AL who secretly wishes he had been programmed for an artistic job instead of pilotry. On board the ship is Fleeblo’s pet Slorta (a kind of furry spider/crab with the personality of a dog), Stripeen. During her journey, Casey cons her way out of one disaster only to find herself fueling another.
Casey is devil-may-care, financially-motivated, irresponsible, and wily – but not as adventurous as you might think. The situational humor in Space Casey ranges from madcap to smartass to awkward.
Here are some examples.
In episode two of season one Casey realizes she is in over her head when the field manager of the guy she stole the ship from turns up on the ship’s monitors demanding answers – and he’s an alien. After the initial wow moment (humans in this far-future have spaceships and space stations, but no contact with aliens), Casey gets into a verbal tussle with the ship’s computer over un-muting her side of the communication to talk to Fleeblo’s boss. Eventually, AL just flips the switch and the ever adaptable Casey slips into an improvised role opposite extra-terrestrial middle management. She learns CYA really is universal.
In an effort to avoid dissection (Casey) and being decommissioned as a garbage scow (AL), the two decide to play to their strengths to earn money. Casey sets a Nigerian Prince style scam transmitting and AL convinces Casey to be his model as he pursues his life-long love of fashion design. Since not all clothing in the vast universe can be human-centric, AL uses his organic synthesizer to temporarily change Casey’s form to suit the designs.
“Okay, Casey. Cosmetic modifications complete. How do you feel?”
“Like a giant bug wearing a tutu.”
“Perfect.” AL exclaims with sincerity.
A few lines later, as Casey is doing her catwalk thing with a few too many legs and AL asks:
“How does it feel? Does it bind at all across the carapace?”
“I have no idea how to answer that question.”
“Let’s see. Your brain would experience it something like a thin cable wrapped around your ribcage and digging into your skin.”
“Okaaaay. That’s an alarming image, but…I don’t feel that so. I guess it’s fine.”
Part of the fun of going through the experience with Casey is that everything is new and, because these are untested waters, she has no choice but to be herself. For Casey, being herself is playing the role of whoever is needed to get through a situation, but with human limitations and motivations.
In episode one of season two, Casey steals a time machine from her best mark to date. The scene below follows the mark exiting an airlock on a moon. Casey offers up a coy excuse and tells him she’ll be right behind him. Then beeping and whirring starts behind the door:
“Fleeblo. Honey. I’ve got something to tell you but please don’t take this personally.”
“What are you? Oh no! Oh nonononono. Not again. Casey.”
“Sorry, Babe. But it’s a time machine! How could I not steal it?”
“You can’t just leave me here. It’s an uninhabited moon!”
“We’ve got a time machine. I’ll come back for you.”
“I’ll send someone back for you. Eventually. After I’ve had a little fun. Then, if you want, you can use it to come back in time to now and stop me from stealing it.
“Let’s see if that happens.”
“Nope! That is like the future you giving me permission.”
The thing about writing with a humorous voice is that it has to have a natural flow for authenticity and timing. Even in non-fiction podcasts you can see Space Casey’s wit come through in Christiana’s demeanor.
That’s not to say it has to come naturally as from birth. It is a cadence that can be adopted over time like an accent or even learning a foreign language. If writing humor is a skill you would like to hone, review the comedic and comical fiction on the market, discover which appeals to you the most, then immerse yourself in it – read the books and articles, listen to recorded examples, watch the movies. Eventually, you’ll surprise yourself in a clever retort or jotting down biting dialog with a chortle.
Yesterday we learned that our due date for the June “Lost & Found” contest is Monday, June 29th. Please change this on your calendars so you don’t cheat yourself out of precious writing days. I’m almost 3,000 words into my story. How about you?
Did you scratch out a little thought experiment or character study for your story in response to Kathy’s prompt here? I did. The sprint is still open if you want to play with it and get feedback.
We’ll have our 2nd Flamestorming session of 2015 via Google Hangouts this Sunday, June 14th. Don’t miss it. We’ll have writing sprint prompts and community fun support to help you shape that June story into something truly awesome. Don’t forget to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the guest list.
Tell your writing and reading friends about Brigit’s Flame. Bring them over. Give them the Koolaid.