This blog post might be a complete disaster, proving once and for all why I’ve procrastinated in writing it for a couple of years. The element of which I speak is humor (or humour, which my spellcheck doesn’t like). What I’ve learned as a writer is that humor isn’t what I thought it was. I also never, ever plan it. Am I here to teach everyone to be funnier? I am oh so not here to do that.
I am here, though, to expose the importance of humor as vital element in writing.
Am I funny? Quirky for certain. Humorous, though, is subjective. I’ve been told that I have an unusual sense of humor. My wit tends to be rather dry and my self-depreciating humor is always alive and well. I also have a knack for making unusual, off-kilter observations, as anyone who ever worked with me could tell you.
When I worked at the university part-time, multiple people told me that my Monday morning update emails (I know, who writes those?) were often the best part of their day. When I went back to retrieve the things I’d left behind when fleeing Covid, I was shocked they still missed them. What did I do? Having learned the culture, I used absurdist humor to gently poke fun at it, but always kept myself as the focus. Not bad for someone who suffers from social anxiety.
In truth, the degree which I’m funny or not is irrelevant.
Humor surfaces in many forms and serves multiple functions. At its best, it’s more than jokes and side-splitting laughter. In fact, even in the funniest scenes I’ve ever written, there’s far more than humor going on. The biggest reasons why the Talma Loyal/Chief Fidd scenes are funny is because their communication styles are diametrically opposed. Go deeper, though, and there’s Talma’s frustrations, fears of exposure, and difficulties fitting into her new life.
This is somewhat off the top of my head, but I enjoy humor most when it’s part of the mix, when it contrasts, hides, reveals, transforms, and even bestows nuance.
Were you to ask Riparia if she’s funny, she wouldn’t hesitate to say, “no,” and she’d be adamant in her denial. In truth, she isn’t. In truth, she’s a socially awkward character with a spontaneously exploding temper. As other characters observe, though, and she resents, she can be inadvertently funny. A lot of that flows from her having a man problem. She’s an unfunny (for the most part) woman who finds herself too often surrounded by humorous men.
Trust in the Forgotten, which is the first book of five, has to carry a heavy load for that reason. Not only does the opening introduce her, but it shows her carefully crafted existence unraveling. The first seven chapters are dominated by some tragic events, but they aren’t devoid of humor.
Even Chapter One has numerous examples of her nervous internal quips. Doppla snorted [her horse]. Odd how it summed up the situation. Hysterical? Absolutely not, but in contrast to what’s happening at the time it almost qualifies. Coming early in that chapter it hints she has a lighter side and lets the reader know more will follow.
I’ve counted half-a-dozen such internal quips in a first chapter dominated by action and misfortune. Late in the chapter, on the run, her anxiety out of control, she has to stop. Rounding the corner on a different street, she stopped and leaned her brow against Doppla’s shoulder. “Dear Genessa…” Chest heaving, it was surprising Doppla didn’t stumble aside.
These kinds of internals don’t escape her lips until Chapter Three when, in a meeting with (a man of course) he tells her she’s witty. She isn’t pleased. There’s more going on, though. The harder she tries to not be witty, the funnier she is. Secondly, she’s under the pressure of being a woman trying to navigate men and knows she isn’t being taken seriously. That’s relatable. Lastly, her situation is further relatable because she’s trying to cover-up her inherent awkwardness and the emotional baggage she’s been saddled with.
Her awkward quips reveal a lot about her, including hints of what she’s attempting to hide (humor is also a good place to hide facts and cast foreshadowing). The following chapter, one of the most gothic in the entire novel, creates contrast. All of these chapters help to transform Riparia from a reclusive courier to a multi-faceted character. Most of it is subtle. The humor, too, casts nuances on the other elements of writing. It, like every tool a writer possesses, helps create the weave that is story, its workings invisible to the reader, yet experienced just the same.