Jaye Wells

Craft Thursday: Humor and Other Painful Things

I love writing urban fantasy. There aren’t many rules. Because it’s a multigenre, there are no prescribed formulas. Conventions, sure. But UF is as likely to flaunt conventions as follow them. Also, because the monsters we write about are powerful metaphors, there are many opportunities for twisting expectations and skewing perspectives. All this allows an author incredible latitude when it comes to using humor, satire and parody.

“That’s the great test, if you’re going to be a great comic writer, not a humorist, you’ve got to take it into the throat of grief. Can you make laughter and seriousness so close that they are the same thing? There’s nothing more wonderful than when the comedy’s got horror in it, got blood in it. And the seriousness is at all times aware of its own preposterousness. What’s it for, this seriousness? Everything is loss, is nothing, in the end.” -Howard Jacobson

This quote hangs over my computer monitor. Not because I aspire to be a “great comic writer” but because I aspire to be an honest writer. One who shares the truth as I know it. And the truth is messy. I might write books about vampires and demons, but they’re really stories about people. Or, perhaps more succinctly, they’re about broken people.

We’re all broken, right? Because perfection doesn’t exist. Because we don’t live in a world of perpetual abundance. Because we’re humans and not the gods we’ve created. We’re broken and we’re ridiculous and we’ve all got an expiration date. And in these truths are the seeds of all good humor.

Humor allows us to watch tragedy through a Plexiglas shield and provide color commentary without feeling threatened. It dilutes horrors and deflects tears. But to be true, humor must also be relentless. Fear has no place here. You can’t worry that your mom might read your work and be ashamed. You can’t worry that the PTA might read it and ban you from the bake sale. You can’t worry that nice girls don’t talk about those things. That little twinge in your gut? It’s there to tell you to keep going.

Telling stories isn’t always comfortable. While we’re writing about monsters, we’re really writing about ourselves. The things you fear, the things that make you angry, the things you love–ultimately they’re all fodder for comedy. Because life is ridiculous and sad and wonderful. And because if we didn’t laugh, we’d cry. Or worse, we wouldn’t care at all.



5 Thoughts on “Craft Thursday: Humor and Other Painful Things

  1. I read so that I don’t cry at my life. I may cry about a good story but I can forget my life for a while.

  2. bamafever on March 22, 2012 at 9:10 am said:

    I love how some of the characters we have come to love are not just good or bad. When an author makes us love a vampire or demon she has really done a good job. The humor in your books add so much. Thank you !

  3. That quote is awesome! Larry Gelbart was the master of writing of that kind of comedy. Comedy with so much honesty it had big sharp teeth dripping blood all the time. Considering he wrote TV that’s no small thing. I love these craft posts Jaye, thank you so much for doing them.

  4. JayeWells on March 23, 2012 at 7:25 am said:

    Mis Bliss, you’re welcome. They’re fun to do. If anyone has any topics they’d like me to tackle in upcoming posts, I’m open for suggestions.

  5. I’d love to know how you go about plotting a book. Do you outline, if so, how detailed is your outline. Do you actually lay out your chapters, etc? If you don’t outline how do you keep track of the action and organize where it’s all going? These things baffle me.

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