Humor Writing, and a Challenge

Yesterday I attended a workshop on humor writing. I learned new things, practiced new things, came away with new things. It was all good, because, y’know: new things.

I’ve taught humor writing workshops to middle grade and high school kids. Back then, I explained just twelve types of humor (examples and props included) and allowed writing and sharing time – all within one hour. Yesterday’s workshop leader gave us three humor points, with examples, and then our own writing and sharing times – all within two hours. And now I’m spending even more hours processing it all.

I like to sprinkle humor into my writing. It’s rarely a LOL or ROFL type of funny, and it’s not even in every chapter. But I know I’ve been subtly suggestive with some lightness when my Canadian on-line critique partner comments on a humorous line when none of my US critique partners do.

There is some humor I find disgusting and not at all funny, like bathroom humor or when people get injured, even though I know writers make lots of money feeding readers with these types of humor.

Everyone has a different funny bone. My writing challenge for you this week is to find three examples in literature which have tickled your own funny bone. Write a scene or paragraph using a similar humor, but twisted to be your own characters and own settings.

Merry writing.

Power Outage – End of World

Our electrical power went out two Sunday mornings ago at 12:30 and again at 5:30. It was 24 degrees out. My first thought was I hoped my hubby backed up his sermon. My second thought was to bring in a couple of gallons of water from the garage to warm up to our 62 degree house temp for cleaning up, since we’re on well water which requires electricity to get the liquid into the house. No electricity = No water.  Then, when I looked out of every window to see not a single light anywhere, my third thought was IT WAS THE END OF THE WORLD! Of course, with me revising one of my stories which is an apocalypse tale, it wasn’t hard for my mind to slip into what survival items I would need for a three-week walk to our grandchildren’s house three states away. Wait. We’d have to go around, not through, Chicago. After all, if it was the end of the world, we would have to avoid urban zombies, too. So make that a four-week walk.

I write historical fiction (a time of no electricity). I write fantasy (a place of no electricity). In reality, in my 20’s I did a lot of backpacking. Our seven week honeymoon was all tent camping except four nights in hotels. It’s not difficult for me to plan for and imagine an extended walk like this — until I remembered we had half a tank of gas in our car, which might well get us past Chicago, if the roads weren’t blocked with abandoned vans and semis…and zombies. So, that would amend the time to just two weeks of walking through an everyone-for-themselves crazy world. Oh, and my heart was nearly breaking for our son 3,000 miles away in Arizona whom we’d never-ever see again.

At 6:20 a.m., the power came back on and all was well-ish.

Just so you don’t think I’m normally this mental whack-o at something as simple as a power outage — I mean, some writers are mental wack-os, I’m told — I must assure you that I was sick and my head was, I was certain, twice its normal size with plugged ears, sore throat, deep cough, runny nose and eyes, and sickly marshmallow-brain thoughts. The world didn’t end. I got healthy again (physically and mentally) followed by another cold. And I get to see our extended family again. (Hurray.)

But I think I’d better hurry up and finish the revision on my apocalypse tale so that at the next power outage I can figure out how to successfully battle dragons in our backyard or stampede my family to safety with the unicorn herd. That is, I’d only imagine things like that during a power outage if I’m sick again. When I’m heathy and think up those very things, it’s okay because then it’s the writer’s creative imagination working.

Does anyone else have odd mental images or thoughts when you are sick? I think we can take those and work them into our stories. Seriously.

Michigan Signs (for the balance)

After my post about British Signs and Street Crossings, I started thinking how someone from another country coming to upper Michigan would react to some of our signs here. For example…

There is the infamous Michigan no-brainer: “Do Not Pass When Opposing Cars Present,” a sign I always go by too quickly to whip out my iPhone for a shot. It is for a two lane road opening to a three land road on a hill. The third central lane is for passing coming up the hill. But if no one’s in that lane, feel free to go into it to pass your slow downhill car in front of you.

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There’s the caution sign that the road ends…before you drive into Lake Michigan.

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There are the “Icy Bridge” or the newer “Bridge freezes before road” signs.

Hotels up north warn to be on the lookout for falling icicles (even in summer?) or instructing guests to not use hotel towels to wipe down sleds, or no snowmobiles allowed through the parking lot.

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A central Michigan truck company placed this sign on the back of their truck:

IMG_9156  But you had to drive up real close in order to read it.

Is this sign for a zoo? Or to be on the lookout for mating wildlife (X-ing)? Or is it a misspelling and polite way of indicating a nudist camp crossing ahead?

Cadillac, MI

Other states have their own peculiarities. When we lived in South Dakota there were official signs like, “Next Rest Area 365 miles” or “Do not cross road when flooded” or my personal favorite, a series of old pickup tires hung on fence posts in the Black Hills with the white words painted on them: “No Hunt.”

In defense of signs in England, we’ve all got our own local signs which may bring a smile or questioning look to outsiders. Mostly they’re used to keep us safe, I suppose, or on the flip side, not get sued.

So when you are writing your real or make-believe worlds, be aware of your region’s culturally different signs intended to help or guide, not confuse people.

Samsung  IMG_5262

 

Reason #7 for Self-Publishing — Um

And my final post in this series, reason #7 for self-publishing, is… oh, fiddlesticks. I just had it. Um…Give me a moment, please. Oh, yeah: memory loss.

I believe I can deal with lots of normal old age junk, like my eyes taking thirty minutes longer to wake than other body parts, or my knees informing me when a storm is coming in, or my ears failing to pick up each and every word. (I mean, how important is Each. And. Every. Word?) But losing my keys… no, wait. I meant, losing my books. Rats! What’s the word? Oh, yeah. Losing my mind would really be the pits.

HOPEFULLY, I will be physically and mentally fine for many decades to come. But just in case I become old, old, old soon, soon, soon, I’ll self-publish my stories (until I get a better offer, that is).

An Evening With Gary Paulsen

Literature Blogs

Last night I hd the privilege of attending a library-sponsored “Evening with Gary Paulsen” at the W.K. Kellogg Auditorium in Battle Creek, MI. Known for his Newbery Honor Books, HATCHET, THE WINTER ROOM, AND DOGSONG, at 73-years-old, Gary looks like a cross between Santa Claus and Red Green. Although his hour-long talk was biographical, listening to him was as much fun, and certainly as interesting, as reading a book by him. It isn’t that Gary has led a good and lucky live. Quite the contrary. His real-life adventure demonstrates a fascinating and interesting life of a writer.

Gary grew up in northern Minnesota with both parents drunks. As a kid, he was never a reader. His life changed when he escaped the cold one winter day, by stepping into a library. The librarian asked if he wanted a card. He never had anything with his name on it before, plus, someone took an interest in him.  It took Gary a long time to finish that first book, but when he did, he went back for another, and another. Each book took less time to read. He is the author of over two hundred books. 

At 17, he forged his parents’ signature and joined the army, mostly to get away from his parents. He worked as an engineer on missiles and satellite tracking. In 1963, he was making “two grand” a month, at a time when teachers made two grand a year. He decided one night he wanted to be a writer, got up, turned in his security badge, and quit his job. He wrote a story involving missile guidance systems, forcing the FBI to question him, thinking he was a spy. He was so excited with his first book that he didn’t tell them they misspelled his name for fear they wouldn’t publish it.

He went to Hollywood where he got a job by lying about his writing credentials. He made a penny a letter, which amounted to about $380 per month. He knew he wasn’t a good writer, but there were good writers where he worked. He wrote westerns. Gary approached three of them who agreed to meet with him each week to critique writing, insisting he write a chapter a day during the week, and three chapters over the weekend.

With no money, he left Hollywood, just like he left engineering. He paid $25 per month for a cabin on a Minnesota lake, snaring rabbits for food. He wrote all winter and in spring, he sold two books. He went to New Mexico where he started drinking for the first time in his life, and became “a full-blown alcoholic.” In 1973, he got sober and went back to writing. He signed a 20-book deal with a children’s publisher, but the book club never sent him money for his books. He went from rich to poor, and moved back to Minnesota.

Minnesota passed a law that it was legal to trap animals by dog sled, but not with motorized vehicles. So Gary invested in dogs and a dog sled. This experience changed his life. He didn’t have a lead dog, but he saw a dog lying in the back of a pickup truck, ready to be “put down.” Gary took the dog, fed it two beavers, and the dog, Cookie, survived and because his lead dog. Cookie also saved Gary’s life when he fell through some ice and was sinking in the water like a rock. He grabbed a dangling rope and Cookie pulled him to safety.

Gary heard about the Iditarod in Alaska, and businesses in MN supported him, allowing him to participate. He came in 42nd place on his first race, and was hooked. He wrote the Newbery Honor Book DOGSONG after a young Inuit boy approached him during a race, wanting to see what a dog looked like.

I could only post a few of Gary’s stories here. I could easily have listened to him for hours. Gary Paulsen is a fascinating man with fascinating adventures, and, of course, excellent writing skills.

Tight Writing

 Literature Blogs

I must gather my thoughts (and notes) from this past weekend’s SCBWI-MI writers conference. Lots of great stuff to allow to soak in. I’ll pass on my notes soon. In the meantime… We all hear about how important it is to have tight writing. Here is an excellent example:

A university creative writing class was asked to write a concise essay containing these four elements:
1) religion
2) royalty
3) sex
4) mystery

The prize-winning essay read:
“My God,” said the Queen. “I’m pregnant. I wonder who did it?”

SCBWI-MI Fall Writers Conference, Part I

 Literature Blogs

Our SCBWI-Michigan Fall Writers Conference is going on this weekend. I am commuting since it is: 1) close to where I live; 2) cheaper than staying there; (Those reasons should probably be reversed, but I’d sound too cheap if I wrote it out the other way.) and 3) I get to see my husband, and sleep in my own bed, actually sleep during  conference! Nice.

Our speaker for Friday was fantasy author Cinda Chima. She spoke about fantasy. (Surprise.) She directed us to: Why write fantasy? What are the categories of fantasy? And, what is magic? To greatly summarize her talk, she said that the elements of fantasy are character, setting, plot and magic, with magic being why it is fantasy, and the first three elements being the reason why others would want to read your story.

I do enjoy live writing conferences. It has been wonderful (as I anticipated) to see all my writing friends whom I only see at conferences, and some I’ve only known via the internet. I was also able to eat dinner with spot-on author-speaker, Darcy Pattison. Words flow from her mouth like diamonds. I was in a workshop with Darcy several years ago, and have her Novel Metamorphoses book, and get her Fiction Notes. Since I’d invited her to this conference, I didn’t expect anything less than diamonds.

Last night, I also had to privilege to introduce myself to Tor Senior Editor, Susan Chang. I was the one who invited her, too, to the conference, so naturally, I was looking forward to meeting her and listening to her pearls of wisdom. I’d heard many wonderful things about Susan pre-conference. Face-to-face (even for a minute) has been a thousand times better. First impressions are very… impressionable. She is gracious, knowledgable, reasonable, an excellent listener, quite charming, and (I’ve been told) humorous. (No, I am not buttering her up! She truly is quite nice.) I look forward to her talks today and tomorrow.

My guess is that I will not post again about the conference until Monday. Need to focus. On to the writers conference.

Poor Ole Secondary Characters

 Literature Blogs

As I was writing on my story this week, suddenly one of the secondary characters died.

Wait one minute! That wasn’t in the outline! Who was typing when that happened?

But then I thought to myself: total twist in the plot element. Cool. So I’m keeping him dead, poor guy. I just must take some think-time now to rework a few things, well, like the rest of the story, basically. Still, very cool.

Before this, I have intentionally gotten rid of characters, even main characters who didn’t serve any purpose except to give company to the main character. A parrot would have been more interesting. For me, taking out one of the major players was simply boring revision junk, to get rid of any sign the person existed.

Writing Challenge: Is each one of your characters essential to the plot? To the MC? Might a couple of them be combined, and still accomplish the same thing?

Poor ole secondary characters. Every last one of mine are now shaking in their paper boots.

Your Writing Space

 Literature Blogs

One of the things every writer needs is a designated writing space. It might be den space in your house, or an overstuffed chair, or a certain table at the library or cafe. All the best of the best writers recommend this. It should be a place where you go specifically to write, not to knit or eat or watch tv or check your email or Facebook friends. This is your personal designated writing spot. Writing only!

I don’t have one.

In my defense, I happen to have many. Perhaps it has something to do with the nomad in me. 1) We move into a new house (often a new state) every seven years or so, therefore a specific place in any given house changes from place to place. 2) My husband works about 1/3 of his job at home, in the den, using the computer, during undesignated times; it could be morning, afternoon, or evening. 2) We own a laptop, which I do use, but with the den taken, there is no designated space in which to use it, and no comfortable place to sit or type. Besides, each room of our house is otherwise designated.  3) I follow the sun. In the summer time, the sun comes up from the back of the house. In the summer, I spend a lot of time writing in our three-season room (unless it gets above 90 degrees — no air conditioning out there). In the winter, I set up my writing nest in the guest bedroom, in which the sun enters each morning. I’ve only got leg-space there since the room is mostly filled with the two beds. But the beds serve as both chair and tables on which to spread my notes, etc. But then, the guest bedroom only works until noon, when it becomes wintry dark in there. I consequently move to the breakfast nook off the kitchen, following the sun around our house.

(Stop yawning, please.)

My suggestion to you all is to find your own personal writing space. That’s what all the biggie-bigs say to do. I support their wisdom: Find your own space… that is, unless you have a circumstantial nomadic spirit, like me.