What's so Funny? The Write Way Café welcomes author Mark Hunter, who knows humor.
This may come as a surprise from someone who eagerly awaits the newest episode of The Walking Dead, but I like humor in my entertainment. The only mindless entertainment on that show is when someone’s brain gets eaten.
But of my eight published works seven have humor in them, including a collection of humor pieces based on my long running column, Slightly Off the Mark. This spring I took it a step further by publishing a book about Indiana history: a humor book about Indiana history, called Hoosier Hysterical: How the West Became the Midwest Without Moving At All.
See how often I used the word “humor”? That means it must be true.
Humor was easy for my romantic comedies; not so easy for the history of our local fire department. But it’s doable, and what I like to do. If I was a TV writer, it wouldn’t be for The Walking Dead: It would be for Supernatural.
As an author, there are three big mistakes you can make: Try to establish a career while writing in more than one genre; mix genres in one book; and presume to tell someone how to write humor.
I’m kidding, there are lots more mistakes than that. But since one out of three ain’t bad, I won’t presume to tell you how to write humor. In fact, I only know three humor writing tips: Stay away from politics, don’t make fun of your mother-in-law, and use the Rule of Threes. (See what I did, there?) I make the rest up as I go along.
Still, I’m living proof that you can insert humor into any genre. It’s easy in some cases. In my second romance, The Notorious Ian Grant, it comes from Ian’s personality. Here’s part of the conversation when he first encounters Beth Hamlin, a teenager who’s soon to become his partner in crime:
“If you don’t move on pretty soon, Fran’ll come over here and shoot you.” The girl gestured toward the State Trooper, who now watched him with a deepened frown.
“Well, I need to get to a little town called Hurricane.”
“Are you a looter?”
“Not lately. Oh, sorry—I’m Ian Grant.”
Her blue eyes widened, for an instant. “I’m Beth. Is looting a regular hobby in California?”
“It depends on the election cycle, and who’s on trial.”
But it’s not so easy in other cases. My first draft of Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century of So With the Albion Fire Department was entirely devoid of humor. It was a history book, after all, sold as a fund raiser for the local volunteer fire department. (You’ll never guess the town’s name.) But in the final draft, I managed to insert a little gentle fun:
In some communities the law stated everyone had to own at least one bucket. As the alarm spread, people would throw their buckets out the window, where they’d be grabbed up, until everyone formed bucket brigades to splash water on the fire.
How many concussions resulted from falling buckets hasn’t been documented.
It’s not Shakespeare, but then some people claim Shakespeare wasn’t Shakespeare, either.
Beth pops up again in The No-Campfire Girls, a young adult adventure set at an Indiana summer camp. In fact, Beth is a prime example of one of those characters who takes such a hold in the author’s imagination that she runs wild and does whatever she wants. She appears in four of my books, and takes over every scene she’s in.
With The No-Campfire Girls the humor is a bit broader, and in some cases more physical, as the girls plot to end a drought. In this example, as they discuss the fire danger, it’s Beth’s friend Heather who steals the moment:
“I’ve got good news.” Heather pulled an extension cord from her suitcase, and draped it over another case; smaller, but still her third one. “Now I can get everything plugged in.”
“Heather. This is camp.”
“I know, it’s so unfair. There are no boys within five miles, no air conditioner within five hundred feet, and no Starbucks this side of Evansville. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have my makeup and curler with me, in case … well, suppose there’s a fire? Hunky firefighters.”
“You’re fifteen, and they’d be busy.”
If done right—in fiction, at least—humor comes from the characters and the situation they find themselves in. Ian Grant is incapable of taking anything seriously, even when he does take things seriously—cracking jokes is all he knows. So in tense situations he might still be funny; but when things turn serious for Beth Hamlin, despite her normal sunny disposition, she turns serious, too.
Any situation, including a zombie apocalypse, can have a little humor in it. In my Storm Chaser Shortns story collection, two firefighters have just gone through a scary moment when a roof collapses on one of them:
“Sure I am.” Getting back to his knees, Rich craned his neck to examine himself. “Am I on fire?”
“There you go, then.”
In non-fiction? Well, then you can make fun of anything, as long as you’re willing to face readers who don’t happen to have a sense of humor. In Hoosier Hysterical I don’t shy away from the fact that Indiana, the state named after Indians, kicked all the Indians out.
It’s more than the politically correct who might take offense. My aim wasn’t to teach history: It was to show history can be fun. Archeologists might have fits when they read this, about the pre-Indian culture:
Some ancient graves have been discovered of abnormally tall people, so much so they’re often called giants. This led, of course, to the phrase “corn fed” to describe tall people. Researchers later determined corn alone won’t account for unusual growth, which lead to the theory that mastodons were tasty.
Early natives left great mounds all around Indiana and neighboring states. The purpose of those mounds remained a puzzle, until a twelve year old boy from Clarksville pointed out the natives seemed to have no outhouses. This came as a tremendous shock to archeologists of the time, who were known to be very hands-on.
Maybe I’ll get lucky, and they won’t read it. Actually, I’d rather they did read it: Nothing means sales like a little controversy. Isn’t that a funny concept?
At least, I hope so.
Mark R Hunter’s newest book is possibly his strangest hybrid: a humor-history book, Hoosier Hysterical: How the West Became the Midwest Without Moving At All. In addition he’s the author of two romantic comedies, Storm Chaser and its sequel, The Notorious Ian Grant, as well as a related story collection, Storm Chaser Shorts. He also wrote a young adult adventure, The No-Campfire Girls, and a humor collection, Slightly Off the Mark. He collaborated with his wife, Emily, on the history books Images of America: Albion and Noble County, and Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century or So With The Albion Fire Department. Mark’s work also appeared in the anthologies My Funny Valentine and Strange Portals: Ink Slingers’ Fantasy/Horror Anthology.