Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Best Medicine



I have a co-worker that I absolutely adore, in part because of the way she makes me laugh. After having lunch with her, my sides ache and my stomach hurts. As painful as this sounds, laughing that hard is a bright spot in my day, and when she isn't around, I'm the lesser for it.

Everyone loves to laugh. We may not like jokes, which--more often than not--tend to be more awkward than funny, but I've never met anyone who doesn't enjoy a good giggle.

The rewriting process isn't a barrel of laughs, but I have one beta reader who softens criticism by using his sense of humour. It's been almost a year (for shame!) since he sent me his comments on Dragonfly Summer, but reading through them was a joy (even though they meant more work for me), because they made me laugh.

An example of my editor's commentary: Is Jack wearing lace panties or boxer briefs? (His way of saying this male character is sounding more like a woman.) Or, my favorite: Did Amanda turn into a medicine man? (This isn't the way people talk in real life. Too dramatic.)

My boss also uses humor to soften the less-than-pleasant messages he needs to get across, such as in the report he sent to his department before his vacation. He titled it, What? You are taking a vacation NOW?, and included instructions for what to do if:
  • You think your hair is on fire
  • You know your hair is on fire
  • A UFO lands on the Planetarium and kidnaps some of the staff
I'm often asked how to critique a friend's manuscript, especially when what you have to say isn't all roses. For these situations, I highly recommend the Oreo Approach (one not-so-nice comment sandwiched between two positive ones). It depends on how well your friend responds to criticism. Personally, I want my novels to be the very best they can be. As much as I like to hear that people enjoy my writing, saying "Good job!" when what was really meant was "Trite cliche!" is not going to help me achieve greatness. I want the truth, and I want my reader to give it to me straight. That said, a little humor always helps.

When you use humor in a critique, you're taking a risk. Humor can be highly subjective, and if the person is very sensitive or unused to having their work critiqued, they might think you're making fun of them. But if you suspect that it will have a positive response, or if it's just in your nature to be funny, go for it.

When I slip into a narrative, expository voice, I'd rather read "Too much Bill Kurtis" than "This sucks! Boring!" But maybe that's just me.

Rewrites suck in general. A little humor can go a long way.

Have you ever used humor to soften a sharp message? Or have you appreciated a humorous critique? Please share...we can all use a good laugh.

3 comments:

  1. I totally agree with you. Humour makes everything seem manageable. I know when I'm going through something rough I always try to find the funny -it's humankind's greatest coping mechanism in my opinion.

    And plus one on rewrite's sucking. Though when you come out the other end with a polished story it all feels worth it.

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  2. Humor is the honey that can make a less than easy message easy to swallow...I love humor (did you notice?) but also I take it very seriously when someone asks me to read their work and comment. It is rather challenging when sometimes you know they (not you Holli) are hoping for an effusive 'rah rah' when what you need to say is, "Uh that doesn't really happen that way..."

    I did fact finding and research for a movie script and it was so hard for the authors to hear that they had a 'great story' but not a 'real one' and 'great and real' was what they wanted. It was a fight and not easy but in the end we had a much better story and one that was real.

    Be kind, but be honest. The oreo analogy is a good one Holli. I try to keep balance as well. Humor helps with that.

    Laughter is a wonderful gift...one that is best when shared! Keep sharing, writing and laughing my friend.

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  3. Thanks for your comments.

    @ Christine - in spite of my whining, I'm actually enjoying my current rewrite more than most. Probably because it's #2 and not #475. I'm looking forward to having that feeling of accomplishment at the end. 330 pages to go!

    @ MM - I think writers have this lovely fantasy world going on in their heads, and they're often disappointed to find out reality is not as colorful. Unfortunately, there's a high demand from readers to be as accurate as possible, even in fiction. If the reader is thinking, "That would NEVER happen!", they're already out of the story.

    (A good example is in "Bag of Bones", when a little old lady and an old man in a wheelchair beat up and nearly kill--in hand-to-hand combat, no less--a strong middle-aged man in good health. What were you thinking, Steve?)

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