Writers in the Storm asked me to talk about my strengths as a writer as part of their fantastic new WriterStrong series.
Huh. Do I even have strengths? All writers have days where this question brings doubt.
I know I don’t always have enough strength to open jars, but I have a husband who takes care of that for me. (He’s not all that helpful with my writing except when I ‘lose’ a word and he finds it for me.) But surely after 50+ books I must be doing something right.
Okay, I think I’m pretty good at plotting—that’s left brain stuff -- but all that layering is a hard to show in a short blog. It’s a little easier to ‘show’ how I use humor in my books, which my readers say is one of my strengths.
There are three basic types of humor:
By saying one of my strengths is writing humor, I don’t mean that my books are rollicking, laughing-out-loud funny. Certainly not in the often deeply emotional stories I write for Love Inspired. But humor does slip in as part of characterization or the situation. Apparently I can’t help myself.
Humor before a heart-touching scene deepens the emotional reaction.
This excerpt is from Montana Love Letter, October 2012 Love Inspired release: If you’ve ever gone fishing with children, you can probably relate to this scene.
Set up: Adam has taken his 10-year-old daughter Hailey, his girlfriend Janelle and her 5-year-old daughter Raeanne out fishing on his boat on Bear Lake, MT.
After some missteps, he has gotten both the girls’ fishing lines all set. Now he’s going to help Janelle, and the humorous scene turns into a bit of sexual tension.
“At the rate we’re going, you’re not going to have time to do any fishing yourself,” Janelle pointed out.
“I just have to get everyone organized.” He stood with his arms around her guiding her hands. She swung the pole back then started the forward motion, determined to get it right this time.
“Ouch! Ow! Stop!” he yelled.
“What’s wrong?” She turned quickly. The pole slipped from her grasp.
The pole splashed into the water.
“Daddy, what’s wrong?”
“My bobber jiggled again!” Rae cried.
He clamped his hand over his shoulder. “The hook. It caught me in my shoulder. Hailey, help Rae.” He gritted his teeth.
“Let me see.” He turned so Janelle could take a look. Janelle gasped. “How in the world--" The hook had gone through his shirt right into his flesh. Her stomach clenched.
“See if you can haul the pole back up before we lose it.”
“I need to get that hook out of you.”
“Rae caught a fish! It’s a rainbow.”
“Get the net.”
Torn between helping Adam, seeing her grinning daughter catch her first fish or retrieving the fishing pole, Janelle opted to do as she’d been told. The boat didn’t ride very high out of the water. She leaned over the side to snare the line to pull up the pole. Just as she gripped it, the boat rocked in the wake of a passing boat. She lost her balance. And fell into the lake. Head first.
The icy cold water stunned her. She gasped, swallowing a mouthful of the lake water before she popped to the surface. She shook the water from her eyes and coughed.
Adam leaned over the side toward her. “You okay?”
“The water’s really, really cold.”
“Yeah, I know. Grab my hand and I’ll pull you up.”
“Oh, no, Rae’s fish got away,” Hailey cried.
With amazing arm strength, Adam lifted Janelle out of the water and helped her into the boat. He held her for a moment, steadying her. Looking into her eyes, he brushed a wet strand of hair away from her face. He warmed her cheek with his palm.
“You know what? I think I just caught the best looking fish in the lake.”
As the warmth of his look and words heated her from the inside out, she smiled up at him. Her heart fluttered. “Seems to me I hooked a pretty handsome fish myself.”
Excerpt from Montana Wrangler, a July 2013 Love Inspired release:
Set up: Jay is the hero, a wrangler/trail guide who works for Paige’s grandfather in Bear Lake, MT. Paige has been terrified of horses since she was thrown off of a horse at age five. Jay has convinced Paige to ride a very gentle horse, Peaches. He is leading the horse around the corral.
Jay stepped away from the railing, leading the horse. Paige rocked in the saddle with each step Peaches took. Paige closed her eyes. I do not like this. No, I don’t. I do not like this at all. In her head, she sounded like the Grinch in the land of Who.
Later in the story, Paige manages to saddle and ride Peaches around the corral on her own. When Jay is told of her accomplishment, he reacts with this thought.
Surprised as a grasshopper about to get stepped on, Jay smiled to himself. That was worth a celebration.
Here’s how I used a child for humor in my Love Inspired Big Sky Family, a 11/2011 release.
Set up: Arnie, the hero, is a paraplegic and lives in a small Montana town. He and Ellie, the heroine, once had a relationship, but she moved away. Now she has returned, with her 5-year-old daughter Torie, who she had out of wedlock.
This scene takes place outside the church where Arnie is sitting at a table taking pledges for a Paralympic event.
“Look, Mommy, Arnie’s here!” Breaking away from Ellie, Torie bee-lined it across the patio to Arnie’s table. Instead of stopping in front of the table, she squeezed in behind it next to Arnie.
Sheila (Arnie’s service dog) stood, backing away from her spot next to Arnie to avoid being stepped on by Torie. Arnie leaned back in his chair, equally startled by child’s sudden arrival. “Hey, squirt. What’s up?”
“I want to ask you an im-por-tant question.”
He glanced toward Ellie, his lips twitching with the threat of a smile. “Sure, ask away.”
Torie’s face scrunched into its most serious expression. “If my mommy bought me a horse of my very, very own, would you come take care of it for me?”
Ellie choked. “Victoria James! You’re not supposed to—”
“I don’t know, squirt,” Arnie said with equal seriousness. “That would be a big job to take care of a horse.”
“I know, and I’m too little. I get a dollar a week allowance. I could pay you that much.”
By now those standing around Arnie’s table were fully engaged in the conversation, to Ellie’s mortification.
“High time you earned an honest dollar, Arnie,” a man said.
“Isn’t she cute,” a woman said. “I bet when she’s a teenager, her father will have to guard the door and lock the windows to keep the boys out.”
Ellie had heard enough. “Come on, Torie. We have to find Grandma.”
“But Arnie hasn’t said he’ll take care of my horse yet.”
“You don’t have a horse, so why don’t we worry about who’s going to take care of it, if and when you have one?” With an apologetic smile, she handed the pledge form and check to Arnie.
Overlapping Humor Styles
There’s nothing more fun for a writer than to "mortify" their hero or heroine. Hopefully, the scene also makes readers smile in recognition of a similar ‘mortifying’ experience in their own lives.
From Montana Hearts, a December 2010 Love Inspired release:
Sometimes types of humor overlap. This scene uses both Character and Physical humor.
Set up: Teenagers are great for adding humor to a situation. In this case, hero Kurt, a widower, is in desperate need of a housekeeper. When he breaks the news to 13-year-old Beth and 9-year-old Toby that he is hiring Hannah, the heroine, here’s the reaction:
Beth said, “I don’t need a babysitter, Dad. Or a prison warden! I mean, I can cook ‘n stuff. We don’t need anybody else.”
“Wait!” Toby cried. “You can’t even fry an egg, dummy. We’d all starve. Or be poisoned! Grrrggh......” Making an inarticulate croaking sound, he stuck a finger in his mouth and flipped onto his back, his legs up in the air like a dying bug. “I’m dead! My sister—”
“Cut it out, son,” Kurt said, trying valiantly to hold back a smile.
Beth stuck out her tongue at her brother. “You’re such a jerk.”
Over the years, I’ve also had a great time using ‘situational’ humor in setting up the story.
In my Courting Cupid, a Love and Laughter release, Eloise is dead serious about breaking the all-male gender bias to earn her Cupid wings, and goes to great lengths to get Blake, her target, to fall in love with the ‘right’ woman. Of course, she fails.....but receives something better, a man who loves her in human form.
For Harlequin American, I wrote a mermaid story, Catching a Daddy. The mermaid needed to get pregnant before the next full moon or she’ll die. (My then editor asked, “How does a ‘real’ mermaid get pregnant?” Some editorial questions are harder to answer than others.) The scene of the mermaid learning how to walk on two legs must surely have brought a smile to the reader’s face.
And with a selling pitch, I sold a ‘Mrs. Doubtfire meets the Amish’ book to Love and Laughter.
What's your favorite type of humor to use in your writing? Is your humor conscious or unconscious? Do you have any questions you'd like to ask?
Read more about writing humor at Charlotte's website: Writing Humor, Part 1 and Part 2
Montana Love Letter, Love Inspired, available now
Home to Montana, Love Inspired, March 2013
Charlotte Carter is a multi-published author of more than fifty romance, cozy mystery and inspirational titles. Her books have made Waldenbooks Best Selling lists and have been translated into a half dozen different languages. Her awards include winning the National Readers’ Choice, Orange Rose and Romantic Times Career Achievement contests. A frequent speaker for RWA and community groups, she has led workshops for national conferences as well as local chapters. In her spare time, Charlotte performs standup comedy.
Married for 49 years, she and her husband live in Southern California with their cat Mittens. They have two married daughters and five grandchildren.
Visit her blog: www.CharlotteCarter.com
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Oh my gosh, Char, ‘Mrs. Doubtfire meets the Amish!' That itself made me laugh at 4 am!
Will you help me think up a logline for my next book?
Great post - and when I attempt humor, I'm going to run it by you!!!!
Thanks, Laura. When it comes to humor, it helps to be a little off center.
Charlotte, loved your different types of humor and the excerpts were the best. It's easy to see why your readers think you're funny. I was born a funny-girl and I love to use character humor for the most part. I actually can't help myself ... even when I'm going for serious I find a bit of lightness to add. I think it gives the reader a breather.
Thanks so much for participating in this great series. I intend to save each and every one of these posts 🙂
Glad you enjoyed the post. I find agents and editors appreciate a spark of humor to liven even a dark story.
Charlotte, what a great job you did!! The whole point of the WriterStrong series is to build skills via example from people like you. You're right, you don't get 50+ books out unless you've learned a hell of a lot along the way. 🙂
Thank you for sharing with us!
My pleasure, Jenn. Thanks for inviting me.
Loved the examples Char. I always like situational and character humor--probably why I like throwing my character's into their worst nightmares. 🙂 I always learn more by example and you did a great job of that.
Thanks, Sharla. I know you love the 'fish-out-of-water' tales.
Fun and informational post!
Thanks, Karen. If we can't have fun with our writing, why do we do it?
Thanks, Karen. My motto is 'Books that Leave You Smiling.' (But not necessarily laughing hysterically._
All good examples of adding humor to writing. But I'm thinking you have to be humorous to recognize situations that can make others laugh. Charlotte, are you one of those people who make others laugh in real life?
Oh my gosh, Ruby, I'm sure Char will jump in, but I can vouch for her hilarity! She used to be a stand-up comedian, and is even funny when she doesn't mean to be!
Ruby and Laura, yes, I tend to be funny (or serious or grumpy or a smart aleck or a ham). Ruby, people say a person can't 'learn' to be funny. That's probably true; I can't give someone a sense of humor. But if a writer has a sense of humor, then I can teach that person the 'tools' of writing humor.
Great post... I've never really thought about the mechanics of humor - that you can categorize it into different types, as a writer. And, there's something to be said about how humor, or bantering, can increase (or decrease) sexual tension....we see it all the time in romantic comedies. Thanks for sharing your knowledge - your examples are great!
You're welcome, Lacey. Humor is another tool for your tool box that you can use. Glad the examples brought you a smile.