December 29th, 2009

Giggles

You Crack Me Up!

I love to laugh.  I laugh in my sleep (Really I do, it’s kinda funny to hear).   I laugh when I fall up the stairs (I do this way too often).  On a basic level, I love to laugh because it feels good, it lifts my spirits, it allows me to connect with others and helps me not take things too seriously, which I’m prone to do thanks to the modeling of two stoic parents.  Thankfully I got a humor gene in the mix, because research shows laughter is powerful.  It releases endorphins, which are little chemical gods that provide your body with energy, relief from pain, and a sense of well-being.  Some call endorphins the body’s opiate.  I thought that’d get your attention.  And if that weren’t enough, Freud says humor is a high order defense mechanism.  Yes, it is a defense mechanism.  One of the few Freud discusses at length that has nothing to do with sex or aggression.  Of course it can if you’re laughing during sex or using humor in a passive aggressive stance.  But I digress.

So where is this jibber-jabbering heading?  I love laughable moments in books.  I think they’re vital.  Even the darkest books need a bit of humor.  Why?  Because humor plays a significant role in human interactions (intrapersonal and interpersonal).  Let’s look at The Book Thief, a book set in Germany during WWII.  It has a two Kleenex ending (okay, three . . . .but I really had something in my eye).  How much more depressing can you get than a child losing her brother and mother, not having enough to eat, watching and hearing people and towns disappear because of a delusional man?  Oh, did I mention death is the narrator? And amongst that pain and agony, guess who showed his face. You guessed it, humor.  Obviously humor needs to be used appropriately.  This requires me to know my characters well, so the humor fits like a tailored suit. I want the comment, look, description to enter a reader's mind with ease and caress (or kick) the funny bone. 

Humor can come in various forms.  You can describe a person’s clothes: The server stopped at the table and my eyes took in the scrawl on her shirt, You’re not worth my daytime minutes.  Maybe your character has a quirky habit like using the last words said in a conversation to springboard a song or a quote from a movie.  I’m a big fan of sarcasm or a clever zing.  One of my characters zings her best-friend, who feigns ignorance with, “Dumb doesn’t fit you, hang it up and put it back on the rack.”

Now, I’m not saying I need to make someone fall to the floor and wet their pants.  What I am saying is this: if you’ve got people in your story, at some point in the X number of pages, someone should say, do or observe something that makes you smile and ideally laugh.  Laughter suggests hope.  And all stories have someone clinging to hope. 

So laugh.  Don’t be shy. Did I hear a snort?  Way to go!!!  Now don’t you feel better?