Category Archives: Creativity

Me Write Funny One Day Part II: Building Funny Into Your Novel

In Part I we discussed that smorgasbord of giggle-busters: one-liners, including how they are great for adding a touch of little levity to scenes or keeping the guffaws rolling, but, much like Tribbles, can easily end up being too much of a good thing. That’s because focusing too much on the one-liners means you are likely selling character development and plot short. But, you ask (hopefully in your best outrageous French accent), how do we get beyond the one-liners? That is the topic of today’s post: The House that Funny Built.

 

bounce-house-550x671What’s so funny about a house?

Well, nothing, unless you BUILD it funny. A house built with straight walls, flat floors and ordinary right angles as far as the eye can see will not be funny. But give those floors a wobble and those walls a tilt, and your guests will be smiling all through the tour. It’s the same for humorous fiction. One-liners are funny, but in the house that is your novel, they are nothing more than the interior decorating. For true humorous fiction, the jokes must be built into the very structure of the novel from the ground up.

 

The Foundation

The foundation of your house, the thing everything else will be built on top of, is its premise. For humorous fiction, your premise is like the lead in to a good joke: “A giraffe, a camel and a naked mole rat walk into a bar…” It will probably sound inherently ridiculous, and it will definitely make the reader eager to hear the rest of the joke. In Kibble Talk, an enormous Great Dane wants desperately to be a teeny tiny lap dog. In Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones series, a kindergartener dispenses wisdom. For Douglas Adams’ Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a hapless Englishman travels outer space with nothing but a towel and an eccentric digital travel guide. In A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, a brilliant but utterly slovenly and rude young man expects the world to take him seriously.

 

The Walls

Next come the walls, which in our funny house are a book’s characters. With one important exception, straight, upright walls aren’t as funny as ones that hang at odd angles or veer off in unexpected directions. My protagonist Tawny isflat,1000x1000,075,f generally a rule follower, but she is also unable to resist a dare, which sends her into the oddest adventure (so far) of her young life. Her best friend Jenny is a brilliant schemer, but she never stops to think of the effect her schemes have on others, a fact which invariably ends up being the fatal flaw in her plan, the wobble in her wall. Throw in an all-knowing dog and some parents who take their hobbies way too seriously, and your fun house will be ever-teetering on the brink of hilarious disaster. At that point, even straight walls will look funny, and that is the exception I mentioned earlier. Including a few straight-laced characters can be invaluable to highlighting just how off-kilter the rest of your characters really are.

 

The Rooms

Continuing with this metaphor (cause we’re pretty much stuck with it now!), the chapters of your book are the rooms of your funny house. It’s pretty straightforward, really. Each room has some number of walls (which we already know are the characters). The best funny of all happens at the point where those walls meet up (e.g., the characters interact), with each trying to convince the other that they alone are plumbed straight and true.3674bf48b1573dc7618ad2f52a411883

But don’t’ forget that each room has a floor too, which is like a mini foundation. That’s right, each chapter is based on its own joke. It’s hard to give a meaningful example of this without reprinting an entire chapter here, but pretty much all of my chapters begin with a funny premise—what the lunch lady is serving that day, what it’s like to spend an entire school day filling out standardized tests, what pet Dinky can’t recognize by smell at the Peet-R-My-Kidz Superstore. By the end of that chapter, I’ve returned to that joke and given it a brand new punchline that is only funny because of what we learned by reading that chapter. Barbara Parks uses this exact same tactic in her Junie B. Jones books. An example I love is Junie B.’s excitement and pride over being allowed to play with a spatula—because she is mature enough to do that. By the end of that chapter, her spatula has been taken away because, she admits to the reader (and we have seen for ourselves), she is not mature enough to play with a spatula.

 

 The Doorways

Bear with me here. You know how when you’re in an actual fun house and you think you know where you are and then suddenly you walk through an opening or look through an interior window and see something you saw several rooms ago? It’s jarring, but also delightful. Recurring jokes and character quirks work this way, and as long as you don’t overdo them, your readers will love you for them. For example, Dinky, being an all-knowing dog, is always referring to things that most 10 year olds will not understand, like protoplasm or the Unknown-9Bay of Pigs or deconstructivist art. Each time he does this, he answers the kids confused looks with an offhand, “Oh, look it up,” and the story moves on. In Dog Goner, a character insists he knows Jenny’s name, but still gets it wrong every time. (And it’s not until book 3 that we find out why.)

Why are these seemingly dumb, simple character quirks so powerful? Each time you give the reader another glimpse of these ‘ticks’ in your characters’ personalities, you are reinforcing for the reader the sense that she knows the character so intimately she can predict something ridiculous the character will do or say. In other words, you are creating inside jokes between your characters and your readers, and only true friends share inside jokes.

 

The Roof

The roof of your house, like a capstone, is its conclusion. The roof finishes what the foundation started. For humorous fiction, as we’ve already discussed, that foundation is the lead in to a joke. This means that the roof is the punchline to the greatest joke of all in your book—it’s premise. And while that may seem easy, it is by far the hardest part of any work of humorous fiction. Any fool can pour a wobbly foundation and put up some crooked walls, but only the most gifted carpenter can get a roof over it that will actually fuse that mess together into one structurally strong piece. And you can’t just have an ordinary old, gray-shingled predictable roof either. Your roof must complete the premise joke while offering its own surprises, such as being touching or mind-bending or shocking. If your original premise is ridiculous enough, you won’t be able to put an ordinary roof on it anyway. Plus, your reader will want to get to the end just to see if it’s evePerspective-illusion-roomn possible to slap a roof onto the literary Escher house you’ve built. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide, the answer to the joke is both funny (42) and mind-bending (planet Earth was just an experiment run by higher beings in the form of laboratory mice). At the end of each of her books, Junie B. Jones ends up giving us some actual wisdom after all—wisdom we’ve known all along, but hadn’t realized until it was shown to us by a kindergartner. At the conclusion of Kibble Talk…. haha, as if I’m gonna tell you!

Final pic Building Funny house

So roll up your sleeves!   

Get to work on the funhouse that is your humorous fiction novel, but first make sure your glasses aren’t on too straight, your ruler has a bend in it, and the glass in your level is cracked. Your readers, young and old, will want to lose themselves in the new, the quirky, and the unpredictable, and will delight in visiting again and again!

But before you do, please leave me a comment!  


KT front cover 2014 with gold award Dog Goner CynthiaPort




Making Hard Choices

My name is Daniel Kenney, I write books for kids, and this is my first post for Emblazoners, this awesome group of writers I’ve been so fortunate to recently join.

Since I started publishing kid’s books last September, this is as good a time as any to share with you what I’ve learned over the last year. But before I share with you what I’ve learned, I thought I’d share with you what I’ve done.

Since last September, I have published eleven books for kids. That’s right. ELEVEN. Here they are (just to give you an idea of the kinds of stuff I write)

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For some writers, this isn’t that much…but for many, eleven is a lot.  And so far, things have gone really well. My books mostly sell, I’m able to make extra money for our family and everything is hunky dory…right?

Well, not exactly. Let me tell you a little more about myself and then you’ll see why. Along with writing kids books, I am a stay at home dad of eight. That’s right. EIGHT. I have eight crazy, loud, and mostly fun kids.

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These may not be my actual kids but this is a fairly close approximation of what our house looks like on a daily basis.

You see, my wife works outside the home. I take care of the kids, get them to school, bus them from practice to practice, clean the house, cook the meals. You get the deal. And inevitably, whenever I post a new book on Facebook I get some comment like….”Dan, how on earth do you get so much done AND be a stay at home dad of EIGHT KIDS?”

For awhile you can delude yourself into thinking that you’re some kind of super genius wonderkind. Or, at least that’s what I did…at least a little. But that’s not the truth. The truth is something that became very apparent in the last month. The truth is…the reason I’ve been able to get so much writing and publishing done over the last year is because I just haven’t done a very good job at doing the DAD stuff.

Now, before you go with the whole “Don’t be too hard on yourself” I’ll just say up front that I’m not being too hard on myself. The truth is, I am not a person who can do everything. I am not a person who can survive on 4 hours of sleep. I’m not particularly good at getting lots of different things done and doing them quickly. So for me to pull off what I’ve pulled off over the last year has meant that I have had to take valuable DAD time to be a writer.

So what does this have to do with writing and why am I blogging about this? Very simply because I’m also not one of those people who believes you can really have it all. Choices must be made. Time has to be carved out of something else. Something will suffer. And, each of us has to decide what we are willing to let suffer. For me, the path I took over the last year is not particularly sustainable for me. So I need to find a new path that WILL be sustainable…for me…and my wife…and our kids. Our family. Long term, this whole writing thing can’t be just about me. It’s got to work for us.

So, in year TWO of this publishing journey, I’ll be trying to carve out a new path, one that lends itself to a healthier and happier path for my entire family. For example, as I write this blog, I’m in the lobby of a gym while my 2 youngest are in the daycare twenty feet away. I’m using my workout time to write this blog post. Then, I’ve got to grab the kids, get an electronic game fixed, bake a cake, feed the boys lunch, get them down for lunch, clean the house, pick up the kids from school, drive one daughter to soccer, take my son and two friends swimming for my son’s birthday (which by the way is today, HAPPY TENTH BIRTHDAY BRENDAN!), then I’ve got to race them home, cook them dinner, have a party, get the friends home, make sure everybody’s done homework., pray our family rosary and….well, you get the point. THAT…that truly is my life and at least for awhile longer, the writing will have to fit into my life…as opposed to my life fitting into my writing.

It’s so great to be a part of this community and a pleasure to get to know you all.  Happy Writing!  Daniel

Daniel Kenney is the author of the popular THE MATH INSPECTORS series along with the hilarious graphic novel, THE BIG LIFE OF REMI MULDOON. He and his wife Teresa live in tropical Omaha, Nebraska where they raise eight children, one gecko, and two rather unhappy toads. Find out more at www.DanielKenney.com or see all of his books by searching for Daniel Kenney on Amazon.com.

Color and Story Mood

One of my favorite things outside of writing, is color. The varying world of color. Of mixing and matching, of contrast and light. My hobbies involve color in big ways. I knit with yarn that’s sometimes bright and vibrant and sometimes subtle and soft in tone. I also love scrapbook papers with patterns of varying colors on them and cotton quilt fabrics that mix and match.

ubercolorwheel

One of the best ways to delve into the character while writing or reading is to experience some if not all of the five senses. Taste, touch, smell, sight and sound. As a reader or writer, do you notice color when you read or write? Color can give the indication of all sorts of moods to the story.

dark house

Imagine a house, dark, brown, gray, black (color) with rough planks of wood (Touch).

Now imagine a house, light, white, pink, orange, yellow, smooth with shiny slick sides.

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Two very different houses and the color effects the mood you have when reading about it.

Dark=mellow, sorrowful, maybe scary

Bright=energetic, cheerful, happy

When reading your next book take a notice at the colors used to describe everything. What do you notice? How does it affect your mood when reading the scenes?

What is your favorite use of color?

 

AnshaKotyk

Ansha Kotyk loves the color of the cover of GANGSTERLAND, it’s a muted red with dark shadows of villains in the background, lurking.  Which leads into book #2, Apocalypse Junction, where getting sucked into a book has its drawbacks: a missing sister you need to rescue, a lost gold mine to find, AND a way out.  Available later this year. Check out www.anshakotyk.com for more.

Creativity Under the Gun

DeadlineThere’s nothing like a deadline to get the creative juices flowing, at least for me. This summer I signed up for an online screenwriting class. Reading Save the Cat! (on more than one occasion) has helped me focus my story ideas and I figured taking a class would push me one step further.

Did it ever!

I’ve been working on a sequel to my first novel, Wish You Weren’t, and got stuck in the same place I always do: the climatic scenes where all the car chases, explosions and against-all-odds rescues are supposed to take place. Except that wasn’t happening in my story. The end of my outline sounded stupid. The climax scene wasn’t working. I was bored. And frustrated.

So when my teacher assigned us to write a two-page treatment and then turn it into a five-page script, I decided to take my concept for my sequel, Borrowed Time, and use it for my assignment.

By Monday noon I was sweating bullets. The assignment was due Monday at 5 p.m., but that deadline was irrelevant because my computer was about to die and I’d forgotten to bring my cord on vacation. As I watched the battery percentage drop, I came up with a crazy idea. A flight of fancy that totally fit the spirit of the story. Not only for the homework, but for the book.

I hurriedly finished the assignment and emailed it to my teacher, eager to dive back into completing my book. Once I get a new power cord…

Has your writing ever been inspired by a deadline? From an unexpected source?

(This blog post brought to you courtesy of my husband’s laptop!)

Pin it!

pinterestI’ve finally found a use for Pinterest. I’d heard several authors mention that they use the site for collecting images that inspire their writing or for organizing their ideas. Neither worked for me, so I wrote Pinterest off as a place to browse recipes.

Then I began research for a new YA historical fiction manuscript, Ella Wood.

ella wood kindle insertSuddenly my “Downloads” folder was being swamped with photos of historic people, old inventions, locations in antebellum Charleston, cover images to old books, artwork, Civil War battlefields, flags, charts, maps, and all sorts of other investigative debris. I finally smacked my palm against my forehead and uploaded them all to Pinterest.

Then I realized I could deposit facts along with my pictures. I began summarizing events, posting dates, and adding how a particular person or place was relevant to my plot. This cut down on a lot of checking back through digital note files, as so much of my important groundwork information was now easily accessible. I also linked images to the websites from which they were gleaned or to related ones, creating a quick file to further information, should I need it. The system worked fabulously!

Once my novel was finished, I publicized my board and posted the link at the front of the book. Now readers have a whole database of images and trivia to browse through to compliment the story. For someone like me, that adds real depth and richness to the plot and grounds it in actual history. As a reader, I’d be thrilled to be provided such a source!

Ella WoodI only wish I had started sooner. It took some time to really figure out how to make the best use of Pinterest’s format—and to remember to do so as I researched. I know plenty of great images got away from me early on simply because I didn’t want to download everything I found to my computer. As memory kicks in, I’ve been searching for a few of those escapees and adding them in.

The second book in my trilogy, Blood Moon, is currently underway. I’m only 15,000 words in and already my new board has nearly as many images as the first one. I will never write another historical fiction novel without Pinterest!

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me3Michelle Isenhoff is currently biking to the moon and back. Between rides, she spends a good deal of time nosing stories out of dusty old tomes.