This post was originally published on 'The Novel Approach' Blog
Isobel, there’s an old adage (I’m not sure where it originated, though I’ve seen it credited to Vivien Leigh quite often), that says, “It’s much easier to make people cry than laugh.” As Illuminate the Shadows is tagged as a Comedy Thriller, in what ways do you agree or disagree with that statement? Do you find comedy to be more difficult to write than drama, and if so, in what ways? And how would you describe your sense of humor?
What a fascinating set of questions. How long have you got?
I’m not sure where that quote originated either, as it’s been attributed to Bill Murray too. Maybe it was an Einstein quote, he knew everything!
Laughter and tears are intimately entwined, and an essential part of being human. Personally, I think it is easier to make people cry than laugh. Stepping on their toes will usually do the job. But seriously, when it comes to writing; tragedy and comedy have been used in story arcs for millennia. Religious texts use tragedy in morality tales as a way to make us mere mortals grateful for being alive, and it doesn’t take much to make people cry in the internet age. There is so much hatred and intolerance in the world, and we have greater access to it through social media and rolling news reports. So there is a lot to cry about.
In my opinion it is better to make people laugh than cry. There is value in both laughter and tears. Laughter can be cathartic and lead to tears, and I do believe everyone needs a good cry once in a while. I suffer from depression and so laughter is vital to my mental health. This is why I opted to write comedy – so I could add a little light to the darkness.
The sense of humour, like attraction and sexual orientation, is deeply personal. Things that make one person laugh may leave another person stony faced. My main influences are from being raised on British Alternative Comedy. I was in my teens in the 80’s, I spent most of my early life in Germany, with our television viewing limited to whatever BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) decided to show. Back then, there was one TV and we had to sit and watch as a family, and together we laughed our way through the series and movies by Monty Python – “The Life of Brian” was my favourite of their movies, as it was full of naughty character names, like “Biggus Dickus”, and delivered a full frontal nude male to my innocent eyes. . It wasn’t until we moved back to the UK in the mid 80’s that I really got hooked on comedy.
Personally, I don’t find comedy difficult to write. I can’t force or plot it. All I need is to have developed the character and understand their circumstances. A lot of comedy comes from location and circumstance. Sam and Declan, my MC’s in the “Shatterproof Bond” series, first ‘physical’ introduction was from Declan accidently tripping Sam with his wheeled suitcase while rushing for a flight. Slips, trips and spills can be wonderful ways to get two characters talking, and once they have started talking, I just let them lead the way.
I think my ease with writing comedy comes primarily from my comedy influences. I love the crisply written one-liners delivered by Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder and his sidekick Baldrick. I fawn over the sophisticated, multi-layered humour of Stephen Fry and Hugh Lawrie. I adore the well observed mimicry of French and Saunders, the slapstick of Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson, and the political satire of Steve Punt and Hugh Denis. As with my taste in music, I have always been drawn to creative people who are rebels, dreamers and fools.
The best stories I’ve read have made me laugh and cry, and that is what I have aimed for in my “Shatterproof Bond” Series. For “As You Wish”, the novella that began the series, I decided to opt for comedy as soon as I saw the story prompt on the Goodreads M/M Romance group DRITC page. It was a perfect set up. Two best men, meet at a wedding, one is funny, the other, confused as to his orientation. That description alone gives huge scope for mishaps, slapstick and laughter. I wanted these two men, who on first glance, appear to be total opposites and destined not to get on, be joined by laughter. For this, I chose one of my favourite movies, “The Princess Bride” as the vehicle to get these two men together.
In this excerpt my grumpy, maudlin Scotsman, Declan Ramsay, has been instructed to go and fetch his fellow best man Sam, who has chosen to spend the night before the wedding with his sister and her girls, watching chick flicks, rather than beer, pizza and poker with the men.
“Declan stepped into the living-room to see the floor covered with pillows, duvets, and young women in pyjamas. It was every straight man’s sexual fantasy. But before Declan could say a word, he noticed what the women were watching. “Oh my God, that’s one o’ mah favourite movies,” Declan exclaimed without thinking, and then his hand shot up to cover his mouth.
Sam was curled up on the sofa hugging a pillow. His head turned from the screen, and his eyes met Declan’s. The look was full of awe and curiosity. Sam sat up, stared at Declan, and in a Spanish-accented voice, quoted from the movie. “‘You seem a decent fellow. I hate to kill you.’”
Declan responded immediately, taking the stance of the sword fighting, swashbuckling pirate hero. “‘You seem a decent fellow. I hate to die,’” he replied. The girls all fell about, laughing.
“I know every quote from this movie by heart,” Declan admitted unashamedly, his eyes watering with laughter, the wide smile making his whole face light up. Sam’s heart soared.”
Except from Chapter 2 “As You Wish” by Isobel Starling
In the sequel “Illuminate the Shadows” I have continued developing the comedy aspect of the story. Real life is sometimes ridiculous, and it is through laughing at the ridiculous that can get us through difficult situations. Sam and Declan begin “Illuminate the Shadows” as a committed couple. However, through the fog of lust and laughter, reality starts to seep in, and with that comes the influence of Sam’s father, and Declan’s boss, Sir James Aiken. James is repulsed by his son’s homosexuality, and as the story develops, the reader will find a rollercoaster of laughter, and maybe some tears, but, don’t worry; ultimately what we have here is a happy ending.
©Isobel Starling 2016