EPISODE 7, Season 5 - Writing Humor in Fiction
In episode 7, Melissa and Jeni talk to P. Andrew Floyd about writing humor in fiction.
Listen to the audio podcast here: EPISODE 7 - Writing Humor in Fiction
Welcome to the Indie Chicks show! We are Melissa Koberlein, an author and professor of publishing and Jeni Chappelle, a freelance novel editor.
Indie Chicks celebrates and supports independent women in publishing. We’re a place for writers at all stages of the publishing process. So, whether you’re on the traditional route to publication or self-publishing, you’ve come to the right place for advice.
On this episode:
We’re talking about writing humor in fiction
End with an author tip of the week
This week we’re joined by P. Andrew Floyd. Andy writes sci-fi and fantasy, but...in a funny way. His short story “Doorbuster” was published in a limited run anthology, but is available for free at his website. He has two more short stories coming out over the next year, the first of which will be in A.K. Duboff’s anthology The Great Beyond available in late June on Amazon. He’s currently querying his RevPit-winning manuscript, FACTORY DEFECT, and is continuously working on more projects. He lives in Tennessee with his family, dog, and demon possessed cat, and when he’s not writing he’s probably making costumes or puppets.
Here's the Q&A:
When did you first start writing? Has it always involved humor?
The first thing I ever remember writing was DS9 fanfic back in the 90s when I was in high school. I didn’t know what fanfic was at the time, I just thought I could write a novel and submit it to get published. My next foray into writing — which I’ve never counted this before but it literally just popped into my brain after having forgotten it for more than twenty years but it does count — was in my college writing classes. It was technically writing assignments, but I took them super seriously and enjoyed the bad place out of them. And they did involve humor because I was huge into Dave Berry in the 90s and I was very inspired by him when writing those essays (I even used footnotes). The rest of my writing in college revolved around webcomics (or in comics for the college newspaper) since that was “the thing” back in the early aughts. It wasn’t until after I graduated that a friend challenged me to do Nano that I wrote and finished my first novel. It was terrible and probably hilarious, but not intentionally so. It took a good decade of me playing around with comic scripts and tv spec scripts and unfinished novels to really figure out my “brand” - ie, what I enjoyed writing that I was also pretty okay at.
Could you talk a little bit about how you use humor in your writing?
Mostly I use it to deal with whatever I happen to be wrestling with in my life as well as to keep me from getting bored as I write (What can I make talk that shouldn’t talk? How about... a toaster!). Though, “use” is not the right word because a lot of the time, once I figure out characters and a situation it just happens, so I guess I also use it to figure out if my story is working. If I’m not amused while I’m writing that means it’s slogging for me and probably will slog for readers. (At least, I think it would.)
I don’t particularly like mean humor, though. I’ll laugh at “punching up” stuff, but with very few exceptions I don’t tend to use it in my writing. I prefer fantastical mundanity and absurdity. To me humor starts with empathy. A lot of the time when we laugh at something, it’s from recognition - “Oh, I’ve been in that exact situation.” From there you just escalate it to the point of absurdity. It’s almost like a caricature of a situation. So feeling frustrated at work isn’t funny, but most people have experienced it. SO if you’re frustrated at work while trying to fix a broken wand that keeps turning random objects into chickens while a demon possessed cat is demanding “The wet food”, it’s kind of cathartic. At least for me because I’ve had situations that at least FELT that ridiculous.
Okay, spill. What was it like working with Jeni Chappelle for RevPit?
Is she listening? She’s listening, isn’t she? SHE WAS AMAZING! I’ve worked with a handful of editors so far, and Jeni’s one that really edits toward story and structure. She was oddly very hands off and very hands on at the same time. There was a lot of “Cut this or make it work. This is what you need to do to make it work; if you don’t wanna do that, cut it.” Also lots of highlighting with all caps “DEEPER POV!” I get so used to grammar edits and suggestions, that her general “here’s some tools for how to fix things - now fix this this this this and this” was both scary and exciting.
What advice do you have for new authors about writing humor?
Don’t be afraid, trust your instincts, and ignore your impostor syndrome. And by that I mean, if you find it funny, others probably will too. I used to get these ideas I thought were hilarious but I was convinced everyone else would think they were stupid because they were so random and out there. Shows like the Good Place have made me feel better about the absurdist nature of my writing and made it easier for me to push forward. Seeing that out there and not be treated as “stupid” has freed me to not overthink (or at least to overthink way less) the decisions I make in my world building and writing. Brandon Sanderson has a rule for his magic systems where he tries to make them make as much sense as possible, but when worse comes to worse, “heir on the side of awesome.” I basically feel the same way only it’s “heir on the side of funny.” I try to adhere to enough rules to keep the story from being completely random, but I’ll break small rules if it’s funny.
Tip of the week: Humor, like good writing in general, isn't always something that just happens. You can study it, and in fact, comedians and comedy writers do! A good place to start is the book How to Write Funny by Scott Dikkers.
Thanks for joining us. You can find updates and links to all things Andy at pandrewfloyd.wordpress.com
On our next podcast, we are talking with Erica Lucke Dean about BookBub for authors. We will also have another Tip of the Week. And don’t forget where to find us! Find our podcast at indiechicks.net or follow us on Spotify or subscribe to Indie Chicks on Apple Podcasts. We also have the Indie Chicks channel on YouTube where you can subscribe. You can follow us on Twitter @Indie_Chicks or Facebook.com/TheIndieChicks.
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Indie Chicks out.