Monday, April 24, 2017

Comedy is a Serious Business

I have always been first and foremost an actor. Yes, I’m writing this but I’m an actor who writes. To be precise a comedic actor. I am never happier than when I’ve earned the audience’s laughter; it’s a giant hug of warmth.

Comedy isn’t easy. It’s all about timing. Say the line too fast and you lose your laugh. Say it too slow and you get the same result. Not getting an expected laugh is like tripping unexpectedly; you’re not hurt, but you feel rather foolish. That said (or wrote, I suppose), every audience is different. Although smaller audiences are less likely to laugh, once they get started, they’re fine. The getting started part may take time, though. Everyone is afraid they’ll be the only ones laughing. I’ve known actors who get people to come and laugh so the risk of being the first to laugh is taken off the table. Seriously. People do this. It’s a thing.

You also can’t get a laugh by yourself (unless you’re doing stand-up, of course, which is a unicorn of a completely different colour). Every actor depends on her colleagues to get the laugh. Every laugh line comes with a set up - which is usually three or four dialogue exchanges before the laugh. If this is done wrong, the laugh disappears. This is a difficult lesson for actors to learn. Some actors do not possess comedic timing, but get cast in comedies.

This is tragic. And ironic. I hate irony.

Never think that writing comedy is easy either. It ain’t. When you want the funny, the funny decides to go on vacation. You’re starting at an empty page because (say, hypothetically) a blog post for the Blood-Red Pencil is due and your post is supposed to be funny because that’s what She Who Must Be Obeyed is expecting you to write, and the funny is sunning itself on a beach in Bermuda. I hope it gets burned….just like I do when I have to write and force funny. Because it’s not.

Arg. More irony. See above.

I’m part of a theatre professionals’ writing cooperative and I’ve been working on a historical play about Wallis Simpson. I’m attempting to write something which shows her not as a villain, but as a victim. It’s not supposed to be funny. You know what I’m hearing in critiques? ‘We love the humour’.

Arg. See above.

Elspeth Futcher is a bestselling author of murder mystery games and playwright. She has been the top selling author at since 2011. Her British games are published by Red Herring Games in the UK. Her latest game is "Which Guide Lied?" Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Friday, April 21, 2017

#Fridayreads Home Country by Slim Randles

Since this month has been focused on humor here at The Blood-Red Pencil, I thought I would give a shout-out for humorist, Slim Randles. He has written a weekly column, Home Country, that has been syndicated in hundreds of newspapers across the country, and several years ago the best of the best of those columns were collected into a book of the same name.

He has also been a frequent contributor here with stories about his friend, Dud, the writer who struggles like the rest of us with finishing his novel.

I first met Slim when he was a contributor to, and online magazine where I was the Managing Editor for a number of years. I've always had a special affinity for humor writing - that's where I got my start as a writer - and I believe that humor helps the days pass in a much more enjoyable way than if we never got to laugh.

When the online magazine closed down, Slim was kind enough to still share his columns with me to post on my blog, It's Not All Gravy, as well as here. Like so many other writers, he is a good and generous soul.

He's also a cowboy, and I have a special affinity for cowboys, too. I love to listen to them talk about working on a ranch, connecting with animals and Mother Earth. When I first moved here to East Texas, my husband and I often went to a local diner where farmers and ranchers would gather on a Saturday morning for breakfast, and I always made sure we had a table close by so I could listen. For a little while, I could pretend that I was one with them.

But I digress. This is about Slim and his books, of which he has many. Quite a few are filled with humor, and most contain a bit of wisdom, too. All are worth a read and can be found

Here is just a sampling of what you can find in Home Country:
If you didn’t know what time of the year it was, or what the weather was like, you could tell simply by eavesdropping at the philosophy counter of the Mule Barn coffee shop. Let’s give it a try.

“Good to see you here, Doc,” said Herb Collins. “That warm water on the battery trick work for you?”

“Thanks, Herb. Yep. I tried it this morning. What’s that you got there?”

“Travel thingie. You know it’s more than 80 degrees in Guatemala … right now?”

“Saw a deal on TV,” Dud said. “They’re water skiing in Florida. You can go fishing down there all year round.”

“You going to Guatemala, Herb?” said Doc.

“Maybe. Been thinking about it. I don’t know much Spanish, though.”

“All you need to know,” said Dud, “is ‘Hace mucho calor,’ Herb.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Sure is hot!”

“I was just thinking yesterday,” said Doc, “of the unsung beauty of sweat. You know, we take sweat for granted in summer. Heck, we even dislike it and go swimming to wash it off.”

“That’s a fact,” Dud said.

“But I think it would be kinda fun to sweat right now. You know, just sit in a hot sun and bask like an old lizard and sip iced tea…”

“… and wear dark glasses,” said Herb.

“ … and watch girls in bikinis,” said Dud.

They looked at him.

“Around here?”

“Well, no. I mean, Guatemala or Florida, you know.”

“Yeah,” said Herb. “Guatemala.”

About that time Loretta came up. “You boys want your coffees topped off, or should I just turn the hose on you?”

They shoved their cups forward and grinned.

“Sale on snow shovels down at the hardware store,” said Doc.

“Heard that,” said Dud.

You can find all of Slim's books on his Author Page on Amazon

Slim Randles writes a nationally syndicated column, Home Country, and is the author of a number of books including  Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing. That title, and others, are published by  LPD Press.

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Visit her Amazon Author page to find a list of all of her books, and you can see her editing rates and references on her website. Maryann is on Facebook and Twitter, and her Twitter handle is @maryannwrites. Her most recent book releases are Doubletake and Boxes For Beds, both mysteries that are available for Kindle and in paper. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. Slim Randles always makes her laugh.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Art Analysis

Image by M4D Group, via Flickr
When I ghostwrite memoirs, I often ask my clients to tell me the movies they loved when they were young teenagers, say between the ages of 12 and 15. Young adolescents are very impressionable, and it’s at this time in our lives when we start paying attention to the world outside our family, and making decisions about what is good and bad, and how we fit into that world. Our decision-making ability is in its infancy so we often draw the wrong conclusions, or conclusions that are too black and white, but the movies we’re exposed to during this time often color our personality, beliefs, and even deeds for our entire lives. So when we remember those movies from our early teens, the results are always illuminating and help me to “get” my client’s personality so I can write as them.

This works when you do this for yourself, too, in order to explore who you are. It’s an easy form of self-analysis. When I did this for myself I googled which movies were popular in the years I was 13 and 14 – and discovered that although I did remember some of them, none of them made a big impression on me, so I thought my great insight was wrong.

But then I remembered that the movie that did make an impression on me was an older movie I saw on TV when I was 13 or so. It was “On the Waterfront” with Marlon Brando, and it indeed did speak to me and color my development. (I must admit that as a 13 year old girl, Marlon Brando’s hot and sexy looks may have contributed to my admiration.)

The movie is about corruption and politics, but what I took from it was how admirable it was to act on what you believed to be right, even if it went against your family and cost you your job, your community, even your life. Because if you didn’t, you would never be a contender. At this time in my own life I was dealing with my own beliefs coming into conflict with my parents’ beliefs, and it was costing me plenty. The movie contributed to my rebelliousness that both fueled me and held me back during much of my twenties.

Good art is so much more than entertainment. If you are writing a memoir, I recommend you try this. Besides being helpful, it’s fun.

Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 12 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 45 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit

Monday, April 17, 2017

Drop It on the (Comedic) Beat

I am a lover of most things comedy: stories, movies, and TV shows.

For me, comedic writing is one of the toughest genres to write. So many of us (new and old writers) try too hard to be funny, and in the end, it sounds forced and… well, just plain not funny.

Comedies entertain me, and they also make me think. Slapstick, ridiculous comedies (sometimes fused with drama) like Psych; genre-shifting, parody-laden, bawdy comedies like Archer (my fave show on TV); and comedies that speak harsh truths to social issues, such as Chappelle's Show all speak to my funny bone.

As a writer, I like thinking about the comedic writers' ability to make comedy integral to a story, not forced but fluid.

The biggest takeaway I get from good comedic writing is TIMING, and to that end, comedy has a lot to do with music; it, too, has rhythm, tempo, beat.

Those stories, movies, and TV shows that infuse comedy in a fluid way, making it integral to the storyline, have a rhythm to the storyline, and the funnies all manage to hit on the right beats. If the writer drops the funny too soon or too late, the funny falls flat.

The term comic timing is often used when speaking of comedic writing. Comic timing "is the use of rhythm, tempo, and pausing to enhance comedy and humour" ("Comic timing," Wikipedia). The pausing is typically called the beat, "a pause taken for the purposes of comic timing, often to allow the audience time to recognize the joke and react, or to heighten the suspense before delivery of the expected punch line" ("Comic timing," Wikipedia).

When I think about timing, it mirrors what is referred to as "comic timing," but it goes beyond that, too. The rhythm, tempo, and beat are not just about setting up a joke, its punchline. For me, it's about making the comedy so integrated to the story that there is no pause for the audience to "get it" because the comedic beat is one of several beats that help to create a story's "song." It's a very fine, subtle distinction, but for me, it's an important one.

What are some of your favorite comedies (stories, movies, TV)? How does timing make your favorites successful?

Creative Passionista Shon Bacon is an author, a crafter, an editor, and an educator whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. You can learn more about Shon at her website, ChickLitGurrl.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Humor, Satire, and Wit

Humor in literature depends on what people find funny. That sounds simplistic, but what tickles one person might not cause a twitch of the lip to another. Writing can feature many different forms of humor. Books can be belly-laugh funny, subtle, satirical, dry, ethnic, screwball farce, neurotic, slapstick, political, absurd, and probably a dozen more. Each style causes a different reaction to different readers. I’m going to feature a few humorists and some writers known for their wit.

Writer Dorothy Parker was one of the wittiest satirists ever. Here are a few of her priceless comments I find funny:

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

“I hate writing, I love having written.”

“There's a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.”

And one of my very favorites: “It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard.”

Humorist Will Rogers said some funny things about politics and politicians in his day, as I read them, I found them very current. Does that mean that things stay pretty much the same?

“Everything is changing. People are taking the comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.”

“There's no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.”

“There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

“Now if there is one thing that we do worse than any other nation, it is try and manage somebody else's affairs.”

Democrats never agree on anything, that's why they're Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they would be Republicans.

Before Will and Dorothy, there was Mark Twain.

“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

“In 'Huckleberry Finn,' I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had.”

One of my favorite satirists is Andy Borowitz. His quotes are political: they’re also so close to the truth that it’s hard to differentiate the satire. I’ll post a few of my favorites that aren't obviously political.

"To mark Michael Phelps' amazing Olympic career, I think the USA should legalize marijuana."

"If you buy your July 4 supplies at Walmart you can celebrate our independence from Britain and our dependence on China at the same time."

These were the top vote getters in Goodreads poll of funny books:

Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Catch 22, The Princess Bride, Good Omens, Me Talk Pretty One Day, A Confederacy of Dunces, The Importance of Being Earnest, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and One for the Money.

Authors known for humorous novels:

David Sedaris
Terry Prachett
Kurt Vonnegut
Janet Evanovich
Christopher Moore.
Carl Hiaasen
And Elmore Leonard because of his quirky characters.

I’ve read quite a few of the authors above, and some made me laugh out loud. Though I’m a mystery, suspense, thriller reader, even those genres require a bit of levity for a break. It can be dialogue, characters, or scenario, but it should be there.

Who are your favorite humorous authors? What books made you laugh out loud?

Polly Iyer is the author of eight novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Mailbox...

Photo by Eduardo Arenas

Sometimes it's not the tale, but the telling. Descriptions add flavor and depth and humor to an otherwise boring story, like the time I pulled a sword on a newspaper customer.

Okay, so maybe it doesn't sound all that boring, but compare that single line with the fully-detailed version:


See, I used to have a paper route. Not the nice and tidy kind that involves a bicycle and a few city blocks. No, this was one hundred twenty miles a day, six days a week, on gravel roads. When the weather was good, my job was very, very good. When the weather was bad, it sucked.

I inherited the job from a lady who quit without notice. I got a list of names and addresses, plus a lovely BLANK county map. Here, blank means "without any kind of house markings," but it might also mean a swear.

Actually, yeah. It made me swear a lot.

My first day on the job took nine hours. Nine stinking hours of gravel and dust and driving and heat and mailboxes without numbers and invisible road signs. I included a photocopied note with every paper, introducing myself and explaining the circumstances. The second day was much better, only lasting seven hours. By the third day, I felt like I was getting the hang of things. Pull up to a box, double-check the map and list, drop off a paper, and on to the next stop. It was during one of the stops that I ran into Angry Farmer.

A little back story here. Pretty much the same day I got the paper job, I bought a sword. Spanish steel, nicely balanced for my size, not too ornate. Why? Because. I like swords. They help me defend my yarn stash. And possibly my life, as you will soon see. I had the sword in the car with me, in case I ran into a friend. Then I could brag.

Angry Farmer was not my friend, and probably would continue to fail to be my friend for some time. He was angry and large, and at this point in the story, he was barreling across his lawn, straight toward my car. Putting both hands on my windowsill (I felt the car sag), he stuck his head in the window and yelled, "Are you the new paperboy?"

Not wanting to irk Angry Farmer any further, I declined to correct his gender misidentification. I opted to answer in the affirmative for simplicity's sake. It failed to soothe him.

"Git outta the car!"

Excuse me?!

"You heard me, git outta the car!!"

Now, I have NO idea what this dude had in mind. I expect he was at least planning to be intimidating. Unfortunately, he picked the wrong day. And the wrong person. I smiled beatifically.

Okay. Just a moment, please.

In an amazingly athletic move that would probably land me in traction today, I opened the door while reaching into the backseat. I stepped out with sword in hand and went into full en garde mode.

How may I help you?

He stared. He blinked. He stared some more. He finally muttered something about making sure he was getting his paper.

Do you see the paper in the box? Nod.

Did you get your paper yesterday? Nod.

And the day before? Nod.

Did you get my note? Nod.

Do we have a problem? A vigorous negative headshake.

Thank you, sir. Have a lovely day.

I got into the car and drove on to my next stop, shaking and cackling madly for the rest of the trip. It wasn't until I got home that I realized the funniest part of the whole experience: it was a freaking SWORD. See, if I'd been carrying a gun for self-defense, he could have called the cops and I'd have gone to jail. Imagine this conversation, though:

"Police Department."

"My paper carrier pulled a sword on me!"

"Yeah, right, Pops! Lay off the Old Crow!" *click*

I never saw Angry Farmer again, except for one time when he peeked through the blinds. I wonder if he still remembers me? I wonder if he was nicer to the carrier that took over a few years later?

Audrey Lintner does her best to find humor in almost every situation, unless you want to talk about the morning that her husband announced that there was no coffee. When she has time to write, she posts columns as The Procraftinator.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Injecting Humor

You don't have to write a Comedy to take advantage of humor in your fiction. Whether reading Young Adult fiction or murder mysteries, I love reading a passage that tickles my funny bone. People do tend to look at me as if I am crazy when I laugh out loud while sitting in an airport or in a physician's waiting room. However, a well-written passage can leave a smile on my face for days.

So what are some ways to inject comedy into your story?

1. Colorful Characters

No matter the genre, you can insert fun secondary characters. They are often the most memorable. Don't insert them for just for color (every character should serve a purpose) and avoid clichés.

2. Playful Banter

There have to be resting beats between tense or emotional crises in a story. Injecting a little clever back and forth dialogue can provide that relief.

3. Absurdities

There are funny things in daily life readers relate to. From pet humor to dealing with toddlers, we can all appreciate life's little absurdities. That is why social media memes are so successful.

4. Jokes

It may take a little practice and some study, but being able to write a good joke that your reader can repeat later is an extra little present. Make sure it is organic to the plot. Don't have the character lob it out of the blue. But a carefully placed belly buster will make someone's day.

5. Made-Up Words

Create unique humorous names for things, places, people, or situations. You never know when a made-up term or phrase will catch on and spread across the internet or be added to the dictionary.

Remember to lighten up a little. Your readers will thank you for it.

If you are interested in writing a Comedy, check out my newly released fill-in-the-blanks Comedy Build A Plot Workbook, part of my Story Building Blocks series available in print on Amazon and via request at a bookstore near you.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...