“You need to make her suffer.”
As I spoke these words to a friend today, I caught the horrified glance of an older man sitting at the next table. No, I wanted to tell him, I’m not a professional hit girl. I’m an author.
Today was my monthly critique meeting at Wildflower Bakery (highly recommend the new chicken pomegrante salad, by the way), and I was offering my usual variety of advice.
Kill him off. You’re not in enough trouble. Can’t you drive her closer to despair?
Why? Because I think books need some pain. Some gut-wrenching-heart-tearing conflict. A really good moral dilemma is always nice and a problem that can’t be solved is lovely. I want to take my characters, destroy their hopes, challenge their dreams and saddle them with bad hair days.
And I write funny books.
Believe it or not, you don’t need to do just one or the other. You can have both in a book. In fact, I happen to think those are the best books of all. Still, I know it’s a tricky thing, and I get asked the question a lot: How can you write about serious subjects and yet make them seem funny?
Here’s the thing. Serious subjects are serious. A tragedy is a tragedy. What changes–what affects how you see that event– is the person dealing with it. It’s the same in real life, isn’t it? Some people fall apart, some people dive into their sadness and live there, some people look for the silver lining, some people avoid and downplay. And some people deflect and deal — with humor.
Like everything else in a book, it all depends on your characters. I’ve written characters who are so intense that could never respond with humor. If that’s your character, then you have to stay true to who they are. But what if your character has a sense of humor or irony? If they look at the world with a brave face? If they are the type to put others at ease with an easy quip? If so, then you’ll find the opportunity to bring humor to what isn’t a bit funny.
So even if you love laughter, don’t shy away from conflict. Your story needs that. And if you have deep dark conflict, don’t be afraid of humor. There can be room for both.
And to the man at Wildflower Bakery today. Um…sorry. I really need to hang a sign above my table: ”Writers at work. Approach with Caution.”
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