Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Freaking hilarious. Let me diagram it for you . . .

This one time, I felt sorry for Robison Wells and it's not even because a horn is trying to erupt from his forehead. That in itself is not a big deal. (I mean, if it's a unicorn horn it would be pretty cool. If it's a goat horn, well then . . . yeah. Okay, that's a problem.).

Anyway, I felt sorry for him because he was talking about how he had to put together a class on how to write humor for a writer's conference.

Now I also pity Sarah M. Eden for the exact same reason. She's stuck with this topic, too. I think they are both brave and good people (of questionable sanity) for taking this on . But I still feel sorry for them.

Here's the thing. I don't think you can teach people to be funny. You got it or you don't. It's that indefinable thing that makes someone become a massive pop star and someone else never make it at all when they have equal talent and looks. The "it" factor, maybe. (Oh, and minus any sleeping with the right people hijinks. (Cheating slutty McHohos. [I'm looking at you Susan McBoyle. {I'm totally not, cuz I'm writing about jokes, see? See how I did that?}])

But you're funny . . . or you're not.

Unless you're like me. In which case, you are HILARIOUS to the people that know you and often lock up around everyone else.

But, and for the sake of this argument and also because I think it might be true, my books are pretty funny and those jokes are cracked in front of thousands of people I'll never meet. And yet if you put me in a social situation where I  know less than 20% of the players, most of the time I morph into this interested observer and nothing funny to say comes to mind at all.

Get me in a room full of friends, I kill.

Get me in a room full of friends who are also funny, I lock up again. I think I can only be funny if I'm the clear alpha funny dog or if I've known everyone in the group FOREVER.

It's a weird thing.

Anyway, the point is, I know funny. I am funny. This has been voted on and ratified by the marketplace, so say the sales of my book. That's the expertise I'm claiming. Oh, and you can ask the 25 classes worth of 8th graders I taught over five years. They'll tell you: I'm funny. And get me in front of a room full of teachers in a staff development meeting? I will destroy them.

The thing is, I can't turn it on or off. I just am or am not. There's no deciding I want to be funny and then the jokes come. They're there or they aren't.

I truly believe most funny people are this way.

It comes down to this: as soon as you explain a joke, it's not funny anymore. Or put another way by Sarah Eden, "In my experience, classes on humor are the unfunniest classes at all."

I bet if you surveyed the attendees in Sarah or Rob's classes on humor (and I've been to other classes they taught and can vouch they are each hilarious), this is what you would find. 15% of attendees are friends or acquaintances who are there for a good laugh and didn't even read the title of the class. The rest are people who have no inherent funniness and will leave with lots of earnestly taken notes and still no clue how to crack a joke, much less a good joke.

Case in point: This Wired magazine article from May looks at humor through the lens of science, trying to quantify what makes something funny. (Yes, I read my  husband's magazines in the bathroom. If he can stay in there with it for an hour, so can I. Also, I'm suddenly a genius when it comes to buying his gifts because, hello? I could blindly point to any item on any page in that magazine and he'd want it.) And while it's an utterly un-hilarious article about humor, it's fascinating. This is kind of the nutshell, although seriously, go read the whole thing:

It makes perfect sense.

But if you have to explain it to someone . . .

I'm just saying. Rob, Sarah . . . you have my deepest sympathies.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Lose the Jeep

Or maybe not lose it. But we probably don't need to know it's red yet.

Nathan Bransford, former literary-agent-turned-middle-grade-author, offered a critique of a first page for someone on his blog the other day. It's a fascinating look inside the editing process from someone who knows what he's doing, so it's well worth a look for the handful of you writers out there who don't already follow his blog. I find his red line markup especially helpful. Anyway, you can check it out HERE. He makes a GREAT point about the difference between writing and being writerly.

Seriously. Go read it. Then come back.

Well, hey again.

What caught my eye in the author's submission was the last sentence in her opening paragraph: The telephone rang, awakening me from a deep Valium-induced stupor. A disembodied voice said, ‘the Inn’s on fire’, and then the line went dead. The clock read 3:00 - the witching hour. I grabbed my dog. Still wearing pyjamas and slippers I jumped into my red Cherokee Jeep, and drove to The Witch’s Inn. 

It's the very first thing people are reading about your character and her world and her voice. So what really, REALLY needs to be there? Do we need to know that she drives a red Jeep Cherokee? And if we do need to know that because it tells us something about her character, do we need to know it very first thing? Maybe yes. Maybe no. Probably no.

Maybe we never need to know at all. Most likely at some point, as readers, we would like this little detail because the profile on someone driving a late-model Lincoln Town Car is far different than the profile on the person who is driving the red Jeep. It's a helpful clue.

Just not opening paragraph helpful.

I think this really caught my eye because I recently won a 1200 word critique from one of my dream agents, Sara Megibow. I sent her the most polished pages I could bleed out. I really thought I nailed it. 

She liked it. She didn't love it. But I'll tell you what she said and why.

Here's my first paragraph: Jolie fingered the remnant of soft gray corduroy in the moldy pile of fabric and wondered about her odds. Could she yank it out without toppling the massive stack on top of it? With a quick prayer to the imaginary saint of crazy hoarders, she jerked it and ducked, ping ponging her way between a wall of newspapers on one side and precarious piles of nearly everything else on the other.

Here's Sara's response:

Writing – You are using lots of imagery in the opening pages. Your writing is interesting, engaging, full of life. I really “feel” the chaotic, cluttered world that Jolie is navigating. A suggestion – it feels a wee bit as if you are trying too hard on the first two pages to insert details. It’s not a deal-breaker, just an observation. If I were reading this from the slush pile, my response would be along the lines of “new writer, trying too hard, a bit too wordy, hopefully it smoothes out.” For example:

“I fingered the remnant of soft gray corduroy in the moldy pile of fabric and wondered about my odds. (soft gray corduroy and moldy fabric) Could I yank it out without toppling the massive stack on top of it? (massive stakc) With a quick prayer to the imaginary saint of crazy hoarders, (quick prayer, imaginary saint, crazy hoarders) I know this is just the opening paragraph and we think “goodness, that’s nitpicky” but it’s my observation. My suggestion would be to trim the details just a hair in order to make the narrative flow a bit more smoothly. ***

So, I'm thinking . . .yeah. Lose the Jeep.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Just what the world needs . . . another writing blog.

When I started my other blog, I thought I was going to spend all kinds of time writing and thinking about writing and blogging about reading.

But I realized as a novice writer, there's only so much to say.

And I quickly discovered that I'm not a super huge fan of people blathering on about writing when they don't really have any credibility. Meaning, they're not published.

I'm good with people talking about their journey and their thought processes, etc. I just don't think I can get behind someone setting themselves up as an expert on point-of-view or . . . you get the point. I'm always left with the same question: And how are you an expert?

I have no idea what I'm going to do with this new blog, or if it's even going to be a thing. I dunno.

But I've been thinking about writing so much lately, about the process of creating and breathing life into words and all of that good stuff that I had to let it out somewhere.

Oh, and also, it gives me an excuse to play around with templates. Because I needed another time waster in my life.

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