Yesterday I finished the (very, very veryveryvery) rough draft of a chapter of my novel. I shrugged off three gaping scene holes I’ve just decided to come back to later when I feel a little bit more mature with my subject. I’m keeping a List of Gaping Holes because at least if there’s a list it’s like I’m controlling them.
It took me about 5 hours’ worth of work yesterday to plow through the end of that chapter. I did it! Woohoo. Except instead of feeling a great sense of accomplishment I felt melancholy, and it didn’t take me long to realize it was because I was still thinking about/stuck in the things that happened in the chapter that were melancholy, which is all of them.
I have written a total of 93,000 words of this novel already. They are very drafty (as mentioned) and many (as many as half?) of them will likely be eliminated to make room for the other stuff I haven’t written yet, so I’m trying not to worry too much about this yet. But in those 90+k words I feel there is one successful humorous moment/scene. Otherwise the content is mainly pinned around the hardships of the plot.
I’m not sure if this is going to be a problem in the long run. I personally like to read serious books, and can think of lots of favorite books that do not have comedic through-lines of any kind. I think things like linguistic inventiveness and whimsy can instill a sense of wonder in the reader that will make up for laugh-out-loud funny moments. I also think situational irony*, although often not ha-ha-ha funny, scratches the same itch for a reader by presenting the unexpected and causing a head-shaking tongue-clucking “I’ll never forget this” kind of feeling–similar emotional pulses that I, at least, get from humor.
I’m not trying to say the techniques I mentioned in the above paragraph are any easier than injecting humor into a novel. But in some ways they feel more approachable to me.
It is a little strange that I am struggling with this in writing, because in real life I love telling funny stories to groups of people. I’m sometimes (often) accused of embroidering stories to make them funnier. Why should that predisposition be any different than when I’m trying to write a damn book?
I think this is especially a concern right now because I happen to be editing a book that is quite serious but full of a lot of comedic one-liners; I also happen to be reading AMERICANAH, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which is quite serious literature and covers a range of serious topics but is pretty inexhaustibly tongue-in-cheek on a line-by-line level that makes it extremely delightful to read. I guess I am worried that I am not working on developing the right skills for delighting people, and am wondering if there is another way I should be thinking about this.
Questions for you, reader, if you feel like dialoguing with a blog on this topic:
–Do you consider yourself a humorous writer? does humor come naturally to you?
–Vis a vis previous question: are you humorous as a person off the paper? Or do you also experience a disconnect between your writing persona and your, uh, in person persona?
–Do you have favorite books that are utterly unhumorous but which never bothered you as such and were still pure entertainment to read?
*(Why is there not a more correct phrase for what I mean here? I mean when things happen in a way that is so unexpected and so contrary to what was hoped for that they invert or pervert the attempted outcome.)