Serious Humor

Dear Readers:
I am an expert at being totally serious about life, love, work, parenting – all of it. I’m naturally cautious by nature. No riding roller coasters for me. No sleeping on airplanes while bouncing across the skies. My to-do lists add an element of assurance that I will not overlook something important. One of my former bosses told me in a business meeting I needed to “lighten up.” My response? “Sorry. I take everything seriously.”

So, starting to write my story, I had to wrestle with this challenge. I like humor in what I read – even the scary stuff – so how could I add fun to my story? I thought about the funniest people in my life. When my grandchildren were little, I routinely jotted down witticisms emanating from their blithely unaware lips to be quoted in our annual holiday letter. I thought about all the wise tidbits that come from parents, grandparents, and numerous aunts and uncles. The “don’t let me catch you doing…whatever” type of precautions that in retrospect became absurdly funny. And my husband comes from a long line of humorists. I can never trust him to read me the incoming mail because he proceeds to outrageously embellish the narrative and I am horrified until I realize the spoof. These gems needed to be put to useful work.

I started writing. Some of my story characters were figments of an over-active imagination, so I could imbue them with quirky traits that added humor which hopefully made them memorable. And a modicum of exaggeration never hurts. One character, based on a real person, I embellished with a deep belief that the stars controlled her destiny. Her astrological guidance was actually quite a fad in the 1930’s era.
My real life person, my Patsy character, had a great sense of humor. She was good at assuming a dignified look and then surprising her audience with something wry, funny, even hilarious. She would be cruising along in a conversation and out of the blue start telling a story which, in reality, was a joke. With a straight face she dove into something downright funny even if it meant laughing at herself. One of her favorite stories related a conversation between two women, both hard of hearing. Towards the end of her life, she was very deaf and spent a large amount of money and effort purchasing and using ever more sophisticated hearing aids with very little improvement. So to hear her poking fun at deaf dowagers was funny. I discovered that, oddly enough, putting my characters in danger can lead to funny situations. If they are in precarious situations but respond with humor, they seem more real. Comic relief is always welcome in tense situations.  Throwing in pets never hurts. Dukie the slobbering pal dog, Bandit the slobbering attack dog, Baldy the patient, smarter-than-the-rider horse, were sympathetic characters in their own spheres. Another thing that’s difficult for me is relying on my reader to do some of the mental work – putting the puzzle pieces together without my burning need to tell all. But I knew if I could tie the beginning of a scene to the end using subtle recall it would make the humor do double duty. The plot thickens.

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