Adding Humor to Enhance Drama

As I finished writing my YA mystery short story, “A Rose from the Ashes” in 2018, I faced a dilemma. My main character Rae has found her father. How did I write the scene without drowning it in gooey sentiment? I learned adding humor to enhance drama prevented this from happening.

I knew I had to go for the big emotions. In the first draft, I had tried to write the story by playing it safe, keeping the emotions at a distance. That version felt empty, and readers would feel cheated. But if I wallowed in all he feelings the father-daugher reunion required, I risked turning my mystery into a soap opera.

Humor to the Rescue

After toying with the scene, I realized humor could keep the emotions from veering into high school drama queen territory. That sounds counterintuitive. How can humor make a dramatic scene better rather the undercut it? I think it works like combining salty and sweet, like salty caramel. The sugar and salt seem to be opposites and yet the contrast makes both flavors stand out.

So as Rae experiences the thrill of finding her father, he’s trying desperately to hold himself together and not pass out from the shock. The humor allows the drama to go big but prevents it from getting out of control.

Keys to Adding Humor to Drama

The first key is to establish the tone of your story. Rae has made humors observations throughout my story, so the tone that isn’t deadly serious even if the mystery is. Readers don’t think it’s out of place to find something to smile or laugh about in the story. But this isn’t a hard and fast rule. I’ve watched scenes in shows or read them in books that are very serious and humor still works in them.

Years ago, I watched an episode of the western TV series, Gunsmoke. Marshal Matt Dillon and several women are traveling through a desert when outlaws begin following them and mounting attacks. The outlaw leader tells his men before the latest attack that “No one lives.” But when the outlaws close in, the marshal and the women repel the attack, and the outlaws scramble for their lives. Back at their camp, one outlaw, spitting mad, throws down his hat, turns to the leader, and demands, “‘No one lives?’ Us or them?”

The remark was so unexpected in this serious drama in which the heroes are struggling to survive a hostile setting and merciless enemies that I almost busted a gut with a laugh. But it worked because of the second key to adding humor to enhance drama: root the humor in the personality of the characters.

It made perfect sense for this character to say that line because of the situation he was in and the way he said it. I can add humor to any scene if I’ve already established that a particular character would say or act in a humorous way.

For more of my posts about humor writing, click here.

Do you think humor can enhance drama? What have you read or watched where this technique worked?

Christin Fiction Writers Online Conference

For all my writer friends, I wanted to tell you about Mt. Zion Ridge Press Christian Fiction Writers Online Conference. From May 13-15, attendees get to hear two great speakers and authors, James L. Rubart and Rachel Hauk. I’ve heard both Mr. Rubart and Mrs. Hauk speak and they are funny, thoughtful, and full of encouragement.

Fourteen different workshops will be offered. I’ll be teaching “Build a Better Teen–How Character is Key in YA Fiction”. I’ve had a wonderful time putting this workshop together and know I’ll have a great time teaching and learning from the writers who take part in it.

To register or learn more, click here for site for Mt. Zion Ridge Press Christian Fiction Writers Online Conference.

Great News about “A Shadow on the Snow”!

I hope you can tell from the look on my face that I am thrilled beyond words. Actually, not really beyond words because I’m typing this post to you. But I’m still in shock. I sold my WIP, my YA Christian mystery A Shadow on the Snow, to Mt. Zion Ridge Press. They published my two short stories, but this is my first book. I’m a novelist!

I got the news while we were taking a spring break vacation at Burr Oak State Park in Morgan County, Ohio. It’s fitting that I read the email there because southeastern Ohio is the setting for my mystery.

This has been a long time coming and yet I wouldn’t want it to have happened any sooner. I’ve been writing stories since I was seven. I’ve dreamed of publishing a novel since high school and began writing regularly when I was a freshman in college and was recovering from an appendectomy. I took time off when I had my kids. Not a conscious decision, but I didn’t have the time or brain power left after a day of wrangling preschoolers.

For the past six years, I buckled down to effort of getting published. I’ve also learned so much about writing, mostly gaining an understanding of the current interpretation of “show, don’t tell”. The effort forced me tackle things I’d never considered possible, like social media, which I’m still learning, and flying by myself.

I’m very grateful to Mt. Zion Ridge Press for giving me this opportunity. But mostly I’m grateful to God. A Shadow on the Snow is truly His story, and I am so happy that I could work on it with Him. As a Christian writer, I know God wants me to use these stories to touch and help people. But He also uses the writing process to help me get to know Him better. That’s what I love and find so exciting about writing for and with my Father. I’m always learning something new about Him!

I’ll have lots more about my novel this year. So happy I can share this with those of you who have been kind enough to follow me. Stay tuned!

Funny Haiku

My last prompt of April combines my two themes, National Humor Month and National Poetry Month, into a funny haiku. I love haiku but working in the humor was difficult. If you want to read how it’s done, visit Lori Z. Scott’s poems. The weird thing is I wrote this poem almost a week before we got three inches of snow dumped on us.

Snowstorms in April?

Winter, such rude behavior

Only hurts your rep.

For more haiku prompts, click here.

What funny haiku are you inspired to write?

Author Interview with Philip Rivera

To celebrate National Humor Month, I have an author interview with Philip Rivera. We met through an Instagram loop and I’ve read early drafts of some of his hilarious humor stories about life in the suburbs. Raising my kids in the country, I’ve found his stories eye-opening to a world that is both very different and exactly the same as mine. No matter the setting, but parenting is parenting. Welcome, Philip!

What inspired your book Suburban Luchador: The Cul de Sac Chronicles?

Lots of idle time pushing my lawnmower back and forth across my lawn like a mindless, suburban drone. This combined with other quotidian activities like taking out the trash, taxiing the kids in my minivan, and co-managing a household of four kids. I was kinda like Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, fluttering from one domestic duty to the other, wondering if there was more to this suburban life. Instead of bursting out into song about this existential search (which would have alarmed my neighbors), however, I wrote about the ‘more’ that exists in suburban life, or at least the ‘more’ I imagined. 

Your stories cover many different situations in family life. What do you think is key to taking real-life events and turning them into humorous stories?

Most real-life events have a story nugget buried deep within them. As authors, our job is to mine it out and polish it off with a little creative license and over-the-top imagination. For example, one of my stories was inspired by the everyday act of bathing my two kids in the bathtub. My daughter was one year old and my son was three. She was in the process of potty training. He enjoyed imagining his rhino-man action figure was a deep-sea diver who defused missiles. Add some fatherly creativity and the story almost wrote itself. 

Which story was the easiest to write?

The previously mentioned story, Rhino vs La Caca, had so much built-in humor and gag-worthy potty mishaps, it just needed a story flow added to it. 

Which was the hardest? 

I’m currently working on the sequel to my first book, and I’m trying to expand my creative abilities. One story I’m writing is not based on a specific life situation, but more on the universal parenting experience of keeping a stirring baby asleep before it erupts into screams. I’m portraying the scenario as if I was a SWAT team bomb defuser entering a booby-trapped apartment. It’s a fun setup, but getting the details and tension just right has been challenging. 

Who are some of your favorite humor writers?

Jack Handy, Dave Barry, and Jenny Lawson (although I could do without the profanity). 

One of my favorite humorous stories was written by Dave Barry about how he, his wife, and infant daughter were pulled out of the line by security at an airport for a more intensive inspection. As he said, what terrorists brings their baby with all her gear to the site of a planned attack?

What advice would you give a writer who wants to write humorous stories?

Humor is everywhere! It’s the sudden twist that our brain wasn’t expecting. Start practicing by looking for it in your everyday life. Keep a notepad with you (just don’t write it down in front of your spouse if they are the subject. Not that I’ve ever done that.) Identify the main character in your scene and what his/her conflict is. Then identify the unexpected twist. Take the real-life ingredients and stretch them out into a humorous or awkward scenario. For example, a man at the self-checkout line keeps getting the “unidentified item in bagging area” alert. A clerk comes up to reset the protesting machine multiple times. Stretched out: the automated register accuses him of passing off a bag of dog food as a box of tic tacs and calls in the SWAT team, who bursts through the ceiling and apprehends the unwitting criminal. Just another day at the grocery store.  

What a great way to look at a situation that would probably have me grinding my teeth at the check-out computer.

For another interview with an author who knows how to write humor, check out this post with Jen Turano.

*****

His minivan is his chariot. His mower is his weapon. Enter the whimsical world of suburbia’s favorite underdog.

Meet the average Joe who’s a father to three, a husband to one… a hero to all. When he’s not fighting crime in his fighter-jet-cloaked-as-a-minivan, he teaches high school and patrols the ‘hood for story material.

In Suburban Luchador: The Cul-de-sac Chronicles, an ordinary guy conjures up extraordinary tales about his family, marriage, and teacher job. He’s the man who’s making mortgages, meatloaf, and the middle-class sexy again.

This is the anthem of those who envision mowing and mopping as legendary movie scenes. These comically self-deprecating short stories will inspire you to take a fresh look at the wondrous, valiant and touching moments in everyday life.

Dive into Suburban Luchador: The Cul-de-sac Chronicles and ride shotgun on a domestic road trip of epic proportions.

*****

Award-winning author and family man, Philip Rivera, is out to dominate suburbia, one lawn at a time. Besides moonlighting as a humor author, he doubles as a high school teacher, diaper changer, princess ballerina ballet judge, and ninja fighter. His stories prove that minivans, child-rearing, husbandly duties, and teaching high school can be the subjects of epic adventures. His book, Suburban Luchador: The Cul-de-sac Chronicles, is a collection of humorous slice-of-life stories loosely based on his average Joe misadventures. Philip’s stories highlight the magic found in mundane life… if only we let our imaginations get carried away. 

Follow his relatable and comical suburban struggle on Instagram @philipdrivera. Get free short stories by signing up for his author updates at philipdrivera.com.

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