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Welcome to The Inkwell, the blog site of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) of Colorado.

Each week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, you can find a wide variety of topics and insight
from inspiration to instruction to humor and more!

For detailed information on ACFW, click here to visit their main website.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

What is Humor?


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
www.dragonandturtle.com

Friday, August 20, 2010

That's Not Funny

I love to laugh, but I’m not exactly skilled in the art of making other people laugh. Just ask my four-year-old. I’ll tell a story that I find hilarious, and he’ll look at me with his big, blue eyes ten years more mature, and say, “That’s not funny, Mom.” Usually he’s right. I’m lucky to have him to keep me humble.

Not long after I started writing, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and try to write something in a genre that was actually selling. At that time, Chick Lit happened to be popular, and I thought it would be a great fit for me. I wrote what I thought was a very funny novel about the wittiest character ever created. My book ended up being a finalist in the Genesis contest (I think there were a total of ten entries), but one of the agent judges came back with a verdict that sounded much like what my four-year-old continually tells me: NOT FUNNY. She was right. The comedy in the book was forced, the voice was somewhat clich├ęd and the character was not all that likeable. (Some may say I have a sarcastic sense of humor.)

Since then, I have faced the fact that I am not a humorist, but I have also realized that a book does not have to be a comedy in order to be funny. In fact, my favorite books are the ones that make me laugh and cry. The ones that reach deep into the soul and thread in a universal theme, but that also include irony and moments of comedy. Take The Help, for instance. So much of that book made me sad. I couldn’t believe how those women were treated. Because of the injustice against them, parts of it were hard for me to read. But the author used humor as a device to break up the tension and make the difficult parts of the story more palatable. It worked brilliantly, and yet it was so simple. She brought in a couple of quirky characters and an outrageous action taken by one of the characters (having something to do with pie), and I found myself laughing out loud. Can you imagine what that novel would be like without Minny Jackson? Instead of reading it in a few days like I did, it might have taken me weeks. Rather than being too heavy or trying too hard to send a message, it was one of the most perfectly balanced books I have ever read.

I’m not funny, but even I can come up with a few good lines here and there. I can invent quirky characters who get themselves into deep … trouble. Every novel should have some element of humor. Even the saddest, most dramatic storyline needs comic relief.


A lifelong storyteller, Sara Richardson is passionate about communicating reasons for hope. Previously she has been an advertising copywriter, an Internet communications manager, and a whitewater rafting guide. In addition to writing fiction, Sara has published nonfiction articles in parenting and family magazines. As a member of MOPS International, Sara enjoys speaking to moms’ groups. She earned a master’s degree in journalism from Regent University. Visit her at www.hopetolife.com

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Funny or Not Funny?

I recently had what I thought was a funny experience with an editor, and I shared it at a critique group meeting. The first two people I told thought it was funny. The next person just looked at me and shook her head. She didn’t think it was funny at all, even though I was laughing at the situation. She thought it was unprofessional.

Who was right? We both were. I was laughing at a situation in my life that if I didn’t laugh, I would probably cry. My friend didn’t laugh because she put herself in my position and reacted the way she would have if it had happened to her.

Humor is a funny thing -- no pun intended -- and yet that rolled off my fingers as glib as if I'd meant it.

Each person, (insert each reader), has their own sense of humor, meaning that what you find hilarious, another person will tilt their head in a good imitation of the RCA Victor dog.

We've seen a lot of good tips for writing humor this month, and they are all valid. One consideration when writing humor is to consider your reader so that you pen words of hilarity that they will understand.

Do you write for kids? Then many of your humorous lines will include mention of body odors, weird mouth noises, and references to current movies.

Do you write for the older population? Then you can make reference, as I did, to the RCA Victor dog, and they'll get the point.

No matter who you write for, you will want to put yourself in their shoes, if you aren't in that demographic, and use references they will understand.

I once had a friend who claimed she had no sense of humor. People would tell her jokes and she never got them. If she tried to repeat a joke she’d heard, she’d mess it up in the telling. She never laughed because she thought something was funny. And yet she made people laugh. We laughed at her complete lack of humor.

Humor can lighten a harsh word. It can teach the reader a lesson they wouldn’t want to hear otherwise. Humor can ease the tension in a scene, and it can draw the reader into the story by allowing them to lose themselves in the fictional world you create.

And, isn’t that really the purpose of our stories?

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Guys' BBQ

I thought for my post on humor I'd tell a you a little real life story. I hope it brings a smile to your face as it did mine when my son recounted the events of his car meet.


What do you get when you gather two dozen young men who are car enthusiasts together for a barbecue and to show off their treasured automobiles? An adventure in cooking.


There are potato chips, burgers, buns, condiments, lettuce, tomatoes, sodas, paper plates, plastic flatware, a grill, fire. They had it all…or so they thought.


The fire is lit. The grill is hot. Stomachs are growling. They are ready to cook, so they throw the burgers on. Tssss!


Cookin’. Cookin’. Cookin’. Can you smell them? Let’s flip those burgers. Oops! “Anyone got a spatula?”


So being the creative and ingenious young men they are, someone comes up with the bright idea to use one of the plastic forks. They’ve got plenty.


Oops!


Melted!


Can you picture the curling white tinges of the fork?


Strange, who would have thought that fire would melt plastic?


In a frenzy to save the burgers some other bright bulb furiously tears up one of the boxes the soda cans are in. Cardboard won’t melt. Maybe not but it wasn’t really stiff enough to cram under a burger stuck to a hot grill...and kind of caught fire. Who would have thought?


They say necessity is the mother of invention. And two dozen hungry young men have needs. So they rooted around in their cars and one out-of-the-box thinker came up with the winning tool………….


A clipboard!!!


It worked beautifully and saved the burgers.


Now you mothers out there might be wondering if they cleaned the clipboard, because we can assume it hadn’t been shrink-wrapped and was probably lying on the floor in the backseat or trunk of one of these treasured cars. This is a question you don’t ask after the fact.


So the next time you go to a barbecue don’t forget a clipboard because plastic melts and cardboard burns.


Final note: Since the fork melting/cardboard burning/clipboard incident, my son has always brought a spatula to these events. The clipboard spatula has been retired if not thrown away.


And I will be using this in a story one day. Children create some of the best humor. I don't know that I could have made up a story like this.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Good Humor Woman

Years (to be honest, years and years) ago I worked for a well-known Christian recording artist, Dallas Holm and Praise. For those of you who don’t want to date yourselves by admitting that you know who I’m talking about, let’s just say that back in the day they were the equivalent of Third Day or Mercy Me. I had the privilege of working with Dallas’ personal secretary... who happened to be his mother.

That woman with the Minnesota accent taught me a valuable lesson about life. That lesson was to laugh. To laugh at myself and at whatever life threw my way.

Tula’s sense of humor was contagious. She could have me laughing so hard that I could not answer the phone (which was my job, by the way). The good news was that we were able to laugh our way through a somewhat boring work week when the group was on the road. The bad news was...the recording studio we used as an office had no bathroom! We had to go up a hill and use the “facilities” in the offices of David Wilkerson (who started Teen Challenge). Picture having to briskly stride up the hill and open the office door to see several industrious people bent over their typewriters (I am really dating myself when you realize this was before there was such a thing as a personal computer). They look up and know that the only reason you are there is to use their restroom. How humiliating! Although I guess it would have been even more humiliating if your trip up the hill wasn’t quick enough.

What I learned from this wonderful woman was that you could always find humor in any situation. This woman had been through many trying times herself, but she always had a smile and a laugh.

Before I even really thought about writing or joining ACFW, I had toyed with the idea of writing a book for pregnant women called “Thoughts While Pondering the Inside of the Toilet Bowl”. That one came to me somewhere in the first four months of my first two pregnancies. I had always wanted to lose weight, just not like that. Tula’s gift of finding humor in any life situation was revealing itself.

We all have stories of our children’s, (friends, neighbors, etc.) exploits that can bring tears to our eyes and a smile to our face. I can tell I need a good cry when I find myself laughing so hard that I get hysterical and start crying uncontrollably. It brings a release to my emotions that I don’t always know I need.

So, next time you find yourself in a slump, find that movie that gets you in stitches or look at those forwarded email pictures of silly babies or animals and let yourself cast your cares on the One who cares for you. You can be a “good humor woman” too.

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Elaine Clampitt is the secretary/treasurer for Mile High Scribes. She is currently trying to find the humor in having to take her only daughter to college this week. She has already found the relief, I mean humor, in her sons going back to college later this month. Hockey season is around the corner which brings another smile to her face.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

With A Giggle

A priest, a rabbi, and a Leprechaun enter a bar. . .

Humor. My forte. How did I ever miss my turn at posting when this was one topic I was so looking forward to?

I blame it on Margie. She did exactly as I requested and sent the topics to the blog writers early so we could be prepared. It threw off my rhythm.

Back to the topic. Humor.

My tag line is “Spiritual Truth. . .With A Giggle.” What I attempt to do is dig deep into mClick to buy! y character’s souls, but present their story with light humor. For example, in God Gave the Song, Skye is dealing with deep abandonment issues, but I threw in an alpaca who clearly doesn’t like him. She’s normally a gentle sort who hums in contentment all the time, except when he’s around. His bewilderment creates a chuckle or two. 

In Crossroads Bay, Paul is trying to become independent in his catering business, but his Click to buy!little Spanish abuela (grandmother) is a constant deterrent. She’s so hard nosed, she becomes comical—to everyone except Paul.

And in Fine, Feathered Friend, due out this month, my comic relief is an African Gray Parrot  named Cyrano who tattletales Tim’s  affections to the lovely Glenys. This book is the closest to writing humorous that I’ve come so far.Click for more info!

(All three of the above books are in my Oregon series through Heartsong Presents.)

Mark Twain, the great American humorist says, “Humorists of the 'mere' sort cannot survive. Humor is only a fragrance, a decoration.”
- Mark Twain's Autobiography

This is what I strive for in my stories. I don’t want to be “uproariously funny,” I want to open hearts and minds to the truths that God has placed in my writing.

Mark Twain is also quoted as saying, “Humor is the good natured side of a truth.
- Mark Twain and I, Opie Read

This why I write with a giggle. Truth hurts, but humor is the sugar that makes the medicine go down. (Oh great, now I’ll be singing that song all day!)

Now. . .in direct contrast to what I’ve just told you:

A priest, a rabbi, and a Leprechaun enter a bar. The Leprechaun looks around and says, "Saints preserve us! I'm in the wrong joke!"

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Kathleen E. Kovach is a “peculiar person” in Christ and is often accused of following Kathleen Kovach low res jpgher own drummer—who, by the way, plays the bongos.  Visit her online: www.craftcinema.blogspot.com, www.kathleenekovach.blogspot.com, www.KathleenEKovach.com

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Humor

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
(Proverbs 17:22 NIV)


Once in a blue moon I am funny. Today my moon isn't blue. I weigh out with that whole dried up bones idea. Which is all the more reason I need humor, the topic for the Inkwell this month.

For many years I read a lot of women's fiction--deep, penetrating, take it somewhere stuff. And I believe someday I will again. But when the stress levels get high I grab books that have a light heart. There's something about chuckling through a story that helps me face the difficulties of life. (For my latest favorite light fare series visit this post at GraceReign about Erynn Mangum's books.) Humor is good cheer for the aching heart, and like the Scripture says, a cheerful heart is good medicine. For that reason alone I believe humor should be an important element in the stories of Christian novels. Obviously not every story lends itself to much humor, but even a serious read can incorporate a wry sort of humor.

There are a few things that make humor an important tool in the hand of a fiction writer. The most obvious is comic relief. During (or after) an intense scene the reader often needs emotional release. One way to provide this is through humor. Think about all the movies you've seen where just when the tension reaches what you think will be its climax, something funny happens. You chuckle with the rest of the audience, take a deep breath, and then are off and running with the hero again. Or after all the pain is over, the heroine quips a line that causes you believe all will be well as that wry smile tickles your lips.

Emotional relief is important, but one of best roles for humor in fiction is to help your reader let go of defenses. How many times have you heard a speaker who gets you laughing then (when your heart is wide open to him) says something that hits you between the eyes? You really hear that nugget of truth because the walls around your heart have been penetrated by humor, and you were ready grasp it.

One series that has done this for me is Sister Chicks by Robin Jones Gunn. I spent an evening reading Sister Chicks in Sombreros. I chuckled as I read, and when I closed the books I suddenly realized that within the light-hearted story the Lord (and Robin!) had placed the exact truth I needed that night. It didn't hit me between the eyes, it just saturated my heart as I chuckled my way through the sweet story.

This blog entry started with a Scripture that shows the importance of cheer, but some days cheer is had to come by. I close this post on humor with this promise for you and for me.

He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. (Job 8:21 NIV)
 
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