I was really encouraged by all the kind comments following my post last month. I’m looking forward to contributing to Go Teen Writers regularly! I love the atmosphere here and would love to answer any of your questions and offer as much advice as I can. ;)
Today I want to talk about developing humorous situations based on your life. Imagine your story is a recipe. You have so many little ingredients that give it texture and flavor. Romance, witty comments, suspense, surprise… The list goes on and on! But one of the most overlooked ingredients to potentially great stories is humor.
Every situation, no matter how grave or sad, needs something light thrown in, just to keep things interesting. Think about it—isn’t that how our lives are? Even on those days that we feel very depressed or uninspired, something comes along that makes us smile and feel a little less crummy. Humor is so much a part of everyday life that the two are somewhat inseparable in my mind.
Just about every funny instance in my books was inspired by something that happened to me in real life. Many of the strange little character quirks came from people that I’ve met or even just seen in the grocery store. Several of the awkward conversations were encounters I overheard in movie theaters or waiting in line at the pharmacy. Inspiration is found in everywhere in life.
In my book, Interrupted, Allie’s mother is dying of a brain tumor. Now that is a very serious and tragic thing. She begins to lose her memory and falls out of touch with reality. When I first wrote the scenes where Allie’s mother unravels, everything was very dark. Allie cried all the time and there was little joy in their interactions with each other. Several months later, when I was re-reading what I’d written, I found myself dissatisfied with the tone of those chapters. It didn’t fit the way Allie remembers her mother later on in life.
That’s when it clicked in my mind: Her mother wasn’t always a morbid, crazy, depressed woman. She was full of life and color. They loved each other and showed it in the way they viewed their life together. So I went back and rewrote the scenes, making her strange behavior more humorous than depressing.
So how did I make something as terrible as memory loss seem almost rosy tinted and happy? I remembered a story my mom had told me about a man who lived next door to us when I was a toddler. He had Alzheimer’s, and was slowly losing his memory. One thing that defined his life was the fact that he thought it was Christmas all the time. He constantly listened to holiday music and made sure the house was decorated. When my mom asked his wife what she thought about that, she just shrugged and said, “If you have to be stuck somewhere, Christmas seems like the happiest place to be."
It made sense. So I made Allie’s mother the same way. She thought it was Christmas, even in the middle of July.
She was as cheerful as that crazy old man who used to live next door to me. It was exactly what her character needed to come across as happy and sad at the same time. And I didn’t even make it up myself.
Why is stealing ideas from everyday life so wonderful when crafting stories? Because life is funny. Seriously. There are people all around you that do the craziest, funniest things that you might not even notice. Until you take the time to look.
I remember one night I was sitting in church and this crazy red-headed girl walked up to me started talking. I half-listened for a few minutes, before noticing something strange on her arm. She was wearing four different watches. I interrupted her to ask why she felt the need to wear multiple watches. She only shrugged and said, “Well, I’m always sure at least one of them will be off.”
That definitely made me laugh. It made me laugh so much that I came home and wrote it down. I haven’t used it in a story yet, but I just might someday. Another humorous instance was when my mom backed our minivan into a tree the day after Christmas, only after my dad had been up all night with food poisoning. Or the time I was baking an apple pie and the insides bubbled over, catching the oven on fire and setting off every smoke detector in our house.
That is life. These are the things that stories are made of. Every day people doing everyday things with surprising results. There are going to be days when your character is going to catch ovens on fire. Or back cars into trees. That’s not necessarily what’s funny. What makes those types of events and people amusing is the way that you, as the author, depict it.
That old man with Alzheimer’s had a sad life. He didn’t remember events, or friends, or anniversaries. But he also had a happy and humorous life, because of the way he and others viewed it. I dare you do to the same. Throw your characters into funny situations or give them quirky trademarks. Think about the strange things that have happened to you and transfer them to your writing. If you’re a teenager like me, I’m pretty sure you can think of some pretty hilarious, awkward, embarrassing, or confusing things that have happened to you recently. So write that down. I think that you will find it will only strengthen your stories and make them more relatable and enjoyable to read
P.S. Thank you to everyone who posted comments to my blog after my post last month. I enjoyed reading each and every one of them! My book is coming out on February 28th, but you can still preorder your copy from Amazon if you’d like!