As a comedy romance and mystery author, my greatest happiness comes when I give joy to my readers. But I recently had a question posed to me by another JAFF author, which caused me to consider my “comedic” stance.
“How can you be so sure that you’re funny?” she wrote.
I never once questioned my comedic timing, but had I been taking my humor for granted?
She continued, “Sorry, I didn’t mean that in a rude way but you know what I mean. How can you be so confident that something is funny versus not funny? I am worried that I am not humorous as a person.” This author was attempting to infuse her writings with humor, and was seeking my advice.
I found myself wondering, how did I know I was funny, aside from the neighbors complaining when I laughed too hard while sitting alone at my computer?
She then finished her help query, “Besides, isn’t writing humor like being a stand-up comedian in that you just don’t know if something is really funny until you try it on an audience? It might sound funny in your head but fall completely flat. So what do you do when you’re trying to write it??”
Good question. I pondered it while massaging my cheeks, which had comedic-cramps from laughing. I never labor over my characters’ wit; it just flows from my mind to the keyboard. So how do I judge my humor?
Eight to ten hours a day, I sit at my computer, typing merrily along, crafting snappy dialogue and funny scenes, while chuckling to myself. Rarely do I fret over whether readers will get the subtle humor, as there is enough to go around. If they miss one funny, I imagine them finding another—like little nuggets of gold.
Of course it tickles me when readers discover these nuggets, and as their reviews say “they feel good” after having read one of my books. Sometimes the humor is obvious as in this excerpt from a review of Mister Darcy’s Secret
“This was such a fun read with many twists and turns. But you must read the peanut butter sandwich scene. Few situations have had me howling with laughter as that scene did. I imagine that it will hit your funny bone as well.”
Comments like this make me feel as if I am soaking in a lavender-scented bubble bath while sipping champagne. They are a total high. I have made a reader laugh!
In search of Austen laughter
Jane Austen used comedy to break through the boundaries of the romantic novels of her time. She borrowed a tool that male authors had been using long before she was a twinkle in the eye of the literary world—humor. And yes, it is a universal truth that Pride and Prejudice is her comic masterpiece.
Of all the novels that Jane Austen has written, critics consider Pride and Prejudice to be the most comical. Humor can be found in its imagery, character descriptions, but mostly in its dialogue. Austen’s novels not only entertained people, but they allowed her to speak her opinions on society and the stringent rules that governed women at the time.
Austen makes it easy for readers to find themselves, family, and friends in her writings. She allows us the pleasure of laughing at ourselves. Elizabeth Bennet is the perfect foil for the oddballs in her family and social circle. Her quips help exaggerate the other characters’ traits. Without her comedic, sarcastic responses to eccentrics like Caroline Bingley, Lady Catherine, Mrs. Bennet, or Mr. Collins, these characters would not have the impact they do.
Darcy and Elizabeth find love once they discover their mutual enjoyment in teasing one another. Austen was advocating that humor in courtship leads to happiness in marriage. She contrasted ODC with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s humorless union by using sarcasm to help Mr. Bennet cope with his wife. Humor is a key element in Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps it is the teasing dance performed by Darcy and Elizabeth that has kept readers entranced for centuries.
How can I be so sure that I’m funny?
I am never sure I am funny. My only guideline is if I burst out laughing while I’m writing the scene or dialogue—I use it. Self-deprecation, awkward or clumsy movements, and just plain inner mutterings can send me over the edge with laughter.
A little sampling of Regency versus contemporary humor:
The Gallant Vicar – A Regency tale, it was not intended to be a comedy, but some funny scenes found their way into the story.
“What are you doing in there? Come out immediately!” Mr. Collins shrill voice cut through her reverie.
The rector stood just outside the cemetery, hesitant to enter.
“I am tending the graves. I shall just finish this one and be along shortly.” Elizabeth would not leave now for all the graves in England, for she did not wish to appear subservient to her cousin’s will. Her rebellion took the form of subtle revolt.
“Now!” Collins bellowed. He dangled one prissy boot over the stone pathway but could not bring himself to enter. “Now, Miss Bennet or I shall come in and get you.”
Mr. Collins did not possess the courage to cross into the graveyard. Charlotte stood a short distance behind her husband, her hands covering her mouth, her eyes as large as goose eggs, while her husband began to scream in earnest. His behavior was much more than the situation required and caused Elizabeth to act more contrary. She stubbornly dawdled.
The rector sputtered and jumped up and down. He began to cry and then worst of all fell into a heap and howled like a babe.
Elizabeth brushed the dirt from her hands, smoothed her skirt and turned to face the rabid rector. His face was an unflattering shade of red, his stringy hair flopping on his pasty cheeks. She thought to suggest to Charlotte a slip of laudanum in his tea to aid his disposition.
Mr. Collins stood on wobbly legs and ran off toward the parsonage, his hair dancing from his skull like snakes from the medusa. The supercilious rector took to his bed, which was a wonder, as normally he would revel in chastising the women.
Mister Darcy’s Secret – Contemporary comedic mystery.
Writing in contemporary allows me to indulge Lizzie with some cheeky dialogue, both spoken and interior monologues. And of course there are her pink poodle slippers that speak to Darcy on the rare occasions when words fail her.
In my contemporary series it is often Lizzie’s first-person thoughts over which she happily has no control that come out the funniest. By showing her half-thoughts and impressions, we get to see the real Lizzie as she represses her irrepressible sense of humor.
Darcy’s words caught me off guard. “Bingley told me. I am impressed,” I said.
“Please don’t be. That is one of the things that drew me to you, Lizzie. You are no easy wicket,” he said. “I don’t want to impress anyone, least of all you.”
My left poodle slipper spoke in a gruff little voice I drew from deep in my chest. “That is what attracts me to you, Will Darcy. . . your pompous humility. You are like a marble cake all dark and light swirled together.”
Darcy burst into a laugh, spraying the brandy from his mouth. He ran the back of his hand across his lips. “I have been compared to many things, but this is my first marble cake simile.”
The right poodle slipper could contain itself no longer and chirped out, “Just when I become accustomed to your shadowy side, you get all light and goodness. You are a hard man to understand.”
“Lizzie, I have to speak to you about something dear to my heart, but if you continue slipper-blathering, I shall keep my own counsel.”
“It’s the poodles what’s talking,” I tried for a laugh with my Eliza Doolittle accent.
Darcy placed his glass on the table. He stood over me, one hand on each arm of my chair. “Lizzie Bennet, shut up.” He most gently placed a finger on my down-to-pouty lips.
British humor was/is spun from the stability of British society, and carries a strong element of satire aimed at things like the class system and the former subjugation of women. Deadpan delivery, self-deprecation, and sarcasm run throughout British humor. The drollness is sometimes used to hide emotions that may make the characters appear insensitive—but we all know Darcy is the most sensitive gentleman to ever walk the earth!
I would love to hear what is funny to you!
With love and laughter!