Saturday, April 18, 2020

Is There Humour In Your Writing?

Our topic for April is: How easy or difficult do you find including humour in your writing and/or have you ever incorporated a true life humorous event in your own life or the life of someone you know in a book you were writing?  

This is a great topic. I would love to say I inject humour into all my writing but that just isn’t so because I find writing humour incredibly difficult. It isn’t that I don’t have a sense of humour. I do but, as I tend to be a visual person, ie: I learn best by seeing and doing, it follows that I find visual humour, such as slapstick comedy, the funniest. That is not easy to write and if humour does find its way into my writing, it’s more by accident than design.

Being funny, and humour as a whole is subjective. I remember a movie from the early 80s called ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy.’ Very briefly, a Kalahari bushman encounters civilization and its stranger aspects. It was a low budget $2.5 million South African film which netted about $20 million. I couldn’t stop laughing at it but my kids barely cracked a grin.

So, what is humour? Like the example above, what one person finds funny another won’t. It’s a bit like beauty being in the eye of the beholder. Humour is defined in Webster’s as having the quality of being amusing or comic. Wit, on the other hand, is defined as having a natural aptitude for using words and ideas in a quick and inventive way to create humour. Forms of wit include the zinging one-liners aka Violet, the Dowager Duchess of Grantham in Downton Abbey. Other forms of humour can be satirical, self-deprecating, surreal, or plays on words as this by John Lynn: his legacy will become a pizza history.

But in every instance, I come back to the slapstick comedy routines favoured by Victorian music hall and vaudeville audiences. These I remember, not from personal experience until the advent of the BBC TV series The Good Old Days, but from hearing my aunts and uncles talk about them and sing songs when I was little. One of my father’s favourite acts, Wilson, Keppel, and Betty, did a sand dance routine which still makes me laugh. You can check them out here:

Before we had a TV in the house, we listened to radio programs such as Hancock’s Half Hour, Round the Horne, and Much Binding in the Marsh. Later there were TV programs with the comedy duo of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, Fawlty Towers and Monty Python. These were all English programs but I Love Lucy and the Carol Burnett Show were amongst my favourite classic comedy shows.

And then, of course, there were Donald McGill’s saucy English seaside postcards of the 50s and 60s. They were risqué humour at best but that didn’t prevent one of his postcards, featuring a bookish man and an embarrassed pretty woman sitting under a tree, with the caption: "Do you like Kipling?" / "I don't know, you naughty boy, I've never kippled!", holds the world record for selling the most copies, at over 6 million. (source: Wikipedia.) That was the upside. The downside was a police raid on stores in Ryde, Isle of White, confiscating 5,000 of his postcards for indecency.

I love reading books that make me laugh out loud. Elizabeth Dearl’s Diamondback and Stuart J. West’s Zac and Zora series are recent reads that did exactly that. They are the positive side of humour. The negative side of humour is all about deriding, belittling, demeaning and ridiculing which are all aspects of bullying. Nothing funny there.

I find it impossible to write things that make me laugh. What I think I do manage from time to time, is more wit than humour  As for including real-life situations in any of my stories, the closest is a scene in my book Loving That Cowboy where Cameron Carter and his brother Mackenzie remember a fistfight behind the barn. Their father comes across them and, rather than try to stop them, he hauls them in front of their mother and insists they finish their fight in front of her. We didn’t have a barn, but my two boys were once in a similar situation. The chagrin they experienced was too good to waste and it fit perfectly in that story.

Thanks to Skye Taylor for suggesting this topic. I hope you visit my Round Robin blog partners and see what they have to say.