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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Make Me Laugh

I would argue laughter is the most difficult response to elicit from a reader. Anger, pity, sorrow, fear... those are all base emotions and easy to conjure if you know your audience. Lone, adoration, respect...those are a little harder, but there are still broad baselines for humanity, certain things that we all seem to agree are worthy of respect.

But humor? Genuine laughter? "Funny" has no baseline. No two people agree on what's humerous.

Not even two people in love. My husband likes to watch Dumb Human Videos, Youtube footage of people falling off bikes, walking into glass doors, or getting hurt doing something stupid. He thinks it's hilarious, probably because he isn't the one with the huge ER bill. Me? I just don't get it.

This makes it hard for me to find a good book. I want laugh. I want to truly care about the characters, to feel their fear, enjoy their moments of euphoria, and laugh when they laugh.

But humor is so very hard to write. To make a reader laugh the text must lead them from whatever previous emotion there was to one where they are in the correct state to laugh at the kind of joke the author wants to make. Hard. Very, very hard.

I have tremendous respect for authors who make me laugh because they are master emotional manipulates. All authors manipulate emotion on some level, but some do it better than others. Keeping a reader hooked from the first page to the last involves an emotional roller coaster. You can't stick to one emotion the whole book, and you can't bounce a reader around like a ping pong ball, they don't want to come out of the book bruised. Emotions in a book need to flow, even from one scene to the next, the emotions need to lead on a path with twists and turns and stomach squeezing drops.

Without that, all the beautiful prose and carefully cultivated characters fall flat.

I'm suffering through that with a book right now. It came recommended by an agent I was considering querying, so I'm reading it as a form of homework, and I just can't find the energy to care. The world is in and of itself intriguing, the idea is good, but the main character isn't easy to like. She's very easy to pity, but I'm having trouble latching on to her in a good way. Most the side characters came from the stock department: one matronly widow, one mother's old rival, one brooding dark male, one sensual blond male with a title, one sensual black-haired male with rippling abs and a secret... Roll your eyes with me now.

Stock characters aside, I find the hardest part of liking this book is that the main character never changes emotion, and no emotions are created by outside forces. The main character says she's unloved, but it's never shown in the book (no it's not TWILIGHT! it's a steampunk book! I swear! Three of you guessed it was TWILIGHT on Twitter, and I promise it isn't). The main character mentions how she isn't a fashionable beauty, but is instantly adored and desired by every male in sight (no it's not a book with FIFTY in the title either).

This kind of disconnect between the point of view character's view and what's shown by the author causes reader ennui.

Oh! Poor Speshul Snowflake! She says she's sooooo unloved! Watch her dance with all the handsome men. See the handsome man with hair of gold and a rich title fall over himself for her! ... o.O

No. Just...no. It doesn't work. You can't make it work. You can't tell the reader one thing, show them the opposite, and expect the roller coaster of emotions to run on smooth rails. This isn't how you build a roller coaster, this is how you build a disaster!

This isn't a book that will ever make me laugh because I'm spending all my time wishing I could slap some sense into the main character and wondering what on Earth the author was thinking when s/he wrote this. Either way, it's not a roller coaster I'll recommend to my friends.

What about you? Do you have books you love because they can evoke emotions from you? Give me some titles!


  1. There are books I get swept up in when reading. Likely a big factor in that is emotion, but most often it's because I care about a character.

    I totally agree with you on the difficulty of eliciting laughter. I doubt I do it intentionally in my writing. (Or if they're laughing my betas aren't for good reasons.)

  2. Kristen Ashley's books are probably top of the pile when it comes to evoking emotions. She can make me laugh, cry, and cringe like no other.

    Unfortunately, her writing style puts a lot of people off. She jumps point of view a lot and has a habit of being a bit long winded. (Her books are usually 400+ pages) So, while she's not everyone's 'cuppa I can't help but love her stuff.

  3. Oh, I forgot to give you the titles of my favorites :)

    Lady Luck is amazing. Tt's the third in a series, but most of her books can be read as stand-alones. There may be characters from other books that make appearances, but it's not essential to have read their stories to know what's going on.

    Her Fantasyland series is also awesome! Most of her fans overlook the series, because her contemporaries are what 'made' her. But I loved them :)

  4. I'm a fan of Robert Asprin. I can pick up one of his books even when I'm in a bad mood and be laughing in a short time. But then, I like the occasional pun and absolutely love it when people play on words. Although his books aren't classified as comedies, they are usually funny.

    It is hard to find a good humour writer. I've tried some of the popular comedy series and find they fall flat against my sense of humour. I'm partial to British humour more than I am to things like Dumb Human Videos or America's Funniest Videos.

    If you want to read Asprin, I'd suggest you start with MythAdventures. I find that series starts better than the Phule series.