Sunday, March 12, 2006

Writing the Funny

So I'm at this book signing for a few friends, which turns into almost an unofficial second OSFW meeting for the month (we'd had the official meeting the night before). And somebody brings up the fact that the writing in the group seems to be taking a funnier turn lately (I believe the term used was "arms race").

And I felt kind of put on the spot, because I'm the most prominent among the "funny" writers, I think.

Which is to say, I'm not the only funny writer: Sargon the Terrible, K.D. Wentworth, and M.T. Reiten have all presented side-splittingly funny stories over the past couple of years, and that's not even counting the flood of humor that has poured out of the annual Christmas fragment contests.

But I'm the only one who seems to be almost exclusively funny, which is odd, because for most of my life, I've been a pretty serious writer. I wrote action or suspense with only occasional touches of humor (at least intentionally). I tried to be funny in person (often tried too hard, as a matter of fact), but even when I thought to myself that I ought to try channeling that humor into writing, it seemed that all my good ideas were serious ones.

It wasn't until I began writing Blue Falcon that I seemed to break through the seriousness barrier, and even Blue Falcon ended up being mostly dead serious with light-hearted moments. The first four pieces I presented at OSFW meetings were:

Prologue to Blue Falcon - funny opening to funny/serious book

Opening to Cybersorcery - scene from sci-fi action screenplay - the overall story is serious, but this scene happened to have humorous moments and a funny punchline - Christmas fragment

"Skins" - serious science fiction short story

"Frame By Frame" - horror short story (novella?)

So about fifty-fifty serious to comedy ratio. Since then, the things I've read have been:

"The Night They Raided Pulinsky's" - supposed to be funny-ish, but mainly, just bad

"Out of His League" - superhero comedy

First three chapters of Flip - comedy suspense novel that's stalled at about the 2/3 mark

"Deep Shit" - military sci-fi comedy

"Astromonkeys!" - more superhero comedy

"White Rose" - kung fu action - Christmas fragment

"Haunted" - Horror comedy - summer fragment/flash contest

"Double-Secret Weapon" - even more superhero comedy

"Shell" - science-fiction, starts out funny, ends up serious

"Fischer's Wild Goose" - light-hearted suspense - an extended car chase

"Timestorm" - sci-fi comedy - Christmas fragment

Another funny story that I cannot name here

First two chapters of Hero Go Home - superhero comedy novel

So out of the last thirteen things I've presented, all but maybe three were comedic in nature, and two of those two had funny moments.

Now, this isn't all I've written, although it is most of it. But the other, more serious stories, like "Pushing," and "Wolf in the Fold," and "Lurking Beneath Red Blossoms," I haven't read publicly. Some members of the club have seen them on our critique list, but I haven't presented them to the group at large.

I know why I do it this way. I am very insecure about my writing at the best of times, but especially when I'm trying to be serious. If I'm going to be laughed at, it might as well be on purpose. And let's face it, I love the attention and the positive feedback.

And I think it's making me a better writer. I've needed to write the humor to get excited about writing again. That list above represents the greatest creative output I've had since my years at the Oklahoman in the mid-Eighties. In the last three-four years, I've written substantial amounts of three novels (one of which I may actually finish), and something like fifteen or sixteen short stories, plus other fragments that may yet get fleshed out. I'm not super-prolific, but compared to my past, I'm really churning stuff out.

But now I'm seeing that, yeah, I've been turning the writer's group into sort of an entertainment venue, and that might sour the mood for more serious, contemplative work. If I decide to do something about that, I've got basically two choices: stop reading so much, or write more serious stuff. But it's hard to force a serious story if a funny story wants to come out.

So I should probably stop reading for a while. I need to buckle down and finish Hero Go Home anyway, so the shorts will probably get put on hold for a bit. We'll see.


Naamah Darling said...

We love your writing (Sargon and I) because it's good, it's funny, it's terrifically human, and it provides a high point every time you read at a meeting. It's like chocolate cake. If, every time you see someone, he gives you really yummy chocolate cake, you start thinking of him as the "chocolate cake guy." And you know that chocolate cake is going to be good, because he makes damn good chocolate cake.

But that isn't all you do, and I have to point out that humor always, always falls flat without humanity under it. And honest to donuts, one of the most affecting stories I've read (well, heard) in the last couple years was Shell. The funny was actually acutely uncomfortable in places, because it was set against such a maudlin and sad idea for a story -- and one that hit home with me, and hit hard. I could relate, not just to the funny but to the humanity of it.

Pushing was and remains an uncomfortable, closely-observed, fascinating piece of fiction that I will never, ever forget.

I'm terribly insecure about my own work, so I won't tell you not to be insecure. I know it doesn't do much good. But I will say that I know you don't just do chocolate. You do some pretty amazing stuff as a main course, and I really do enjoy all of it.

Hell. If you're "the funny guy" then I'm "the girl who writes porn." And that's a hell of a label to go carrying around. But there's more to it than that, in both our cases.

And that's my rambly comment for the day.

Marccarlson said...

Funny is good. Serious is good. Being able to keep people interested and coming back is very good.

I think the funny works in yor case because the way you *tell* stories. In many of your stories, your style is that of an informal raconteur, and humor is a critical part of that.

The fact that the stories where you don't do that are STILL good is suggestive.

Personally, if you ever decide to make your stuff more available, even the unpublished stories, I'd be interested in copies.

mtreiten said...

Didn't mean for a casual observation to lead to such introspection, but...

Just do what you need to do. I'll accept the arms race. Challenging writers is what OSFW should be doing. I just worry that I personally start writing to a venue rather than the story I want to write.

But that's what happens when you value the opinions of those you respect. Especially when they're as opinionated as we are. =)