Monday, August 23, 2010
This question reminds me of a deep, almost transcendent, questioning of the universe that I witnessed in junior high. We were all sitting around eating lunch, when my brother’s friend, Shawn, paused with his spoon hovering over his pudding cup. With brows scrunched over bewildered eyes, he looked from his dessert to his lunch companions and uttered this thought-provoking inquiry:
“What is pudding?”
Now I’m positive that Shawn knew the ingredients that constitute pudding. He’d surely seen it made a time or two, perhaps even made it himself. And, at the age of thirteen or fourteen, Shawn was more than capable of reading the nutritional information on his Snack Pack. But despite all that concrete information, Shawn retained a capacity for wonder at the odd, not-quite-liquid, not-quite-solid, creamy, thick, wobbly, tasty substance dubbed “Pudding”.
Like pudding, humor can be dissolved into components. We can talk about set-ups and punch lines, witty banter, and comedic approaches such as ‘it’s funny because it’s true,’ but the fact remains that there is something unquantifiable about humor. After all, who hasn’t been caught up in a moment of pure hysterical laughter that to the outside observer looks an awful lot like insanity? If said concerned observer asked for an explanation, the humor would be lost in translation.
This happened to me the other day when I tried to explain how and why my husband and I had a discussion about a fictitious woman married to a taxidermist who made her purses out of whole preserved ducks and Easter dresses out of bunny pelts.
See. Not funny. But in the proper state of lunacy, well, it was hilarious.
So how does this all apply to writing? My point is that we can and should study the techniques of comedic writing. We should know the ingredients. For instance, we should be able to craft a witty comment to lighten some heavy dialogue or bring a character into a scene for a bit of well-timed slap stick. We should be armed with sufficient vocabulary to nail a reader’s funny bone with just the right word.
But there will always be a certain element of magic when it comes to humor. It can take you by surprise, wiggling into the back of your mind and congealing there like warm milk, cornstarch, and sugar. As you edit or read through your previous chapter in preparation to write a new one, check to see if humor might be oozing onto the page. Go ahead and let if flow. And, like Shawn, you will be filled with wonder as you contemplate something not quite explainable.
Evangeline Denmark has storytelling on her heart and in her blood. The daughter of novelist, Donita K. Paul, Evangeline grew up living and breathing good stories. She has co-authored two children’s books, The Dragon and the Turtle (available now) and The Dragon and the Turtle Go on Safari (available 1-11-11) and also writes adult fiction. Evangeline is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers, serving as chapter secretary. You can find Evangeline online at her blogspot Breath In Breathe Out and at