The Tricky Question of Funny – 2013 365 Challenge #9

From Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - Claire is P.O.S.H. (that won't mean anything if you haven't seen the movie!)

From Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – Claire is P.O.S.H. (that won’t mean anything if you haven’t seen the movie!)

I’m struggling with writing Funny. I want Claire to be one of those characters you come across in the best funny novels, by the likes of Wendy Holden, who make you laugh out loud (either with them or at them).

Right now Claire feels a bit morbid. Her life is shallow and she has no real friends. This is important for her character development. But I can’t see how to inject humour without humiliating her and I don’t want her to be clumsy or stupid otherwise it will be harder for her character to develop. She’s more wrapped up in work and taking it too seriously than genuinely vapid (I love that word – it’s one of my husband’s favourite insults.)

My research is clearly going to need to develop beyond hostels, bars and motorway routes, to include How to Write Funny (suggestions always gratefully received). A quick Google search turned up this interesting article so I’m sure some proper time spent on it will help me no end.

Anyway, here is installment #9. Hopefully I’ll be able to spend a bit more time on the next one, once the children are back at nursery (they’re currently asleep on the sofa, having drifted off watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I’ve turned over to Antiques Roadtrip, as I’ve seen the Chitty movie about thirty times since Father Christmas gave it to my son…)

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Claire drew a flat-pack box from the pile and pushed it into shape, splaying her fingers so the corrugated cardboard wouldn’t scratch her nail varnish. The storage people were due in the morning and so far she’d only just made a start packing up the lounge. Looking around Claire realised it wasn’t going to take long. She rarely spent time by herself and therefore had no need for DVDs or novels. The few books she owned were mostly business ones given to her by Carl. Who Moved My Cheese sat alongside The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. She had often wondered what Carl’s motivation was in leaving the books on her desk.

Was he being a good boss helping me climb the ladder to the Board, or hoping I would take the hint that I’m not Director material?

Two weeks ago she would have asserted it was the former; now she wasn’t so sure. The look of glee on Carl’s face when Mike from Accounts had lunged in for a snog was etched deep in Claire’s memory. It had been like watching a pet cat morph into a tiger.

Claire filled the box with unread books and unopened CDs – Christmas gifts from her siblings – and closed the lid. She wrote “Charity Shop” on the side in marker pen, then straightened up and went to get a glass of wine from the fridge.

The kitchen isn’t going to take long to pack up either, I barely come in here. The fridge contained a tub of humus, some wilted celery, and a bottle of champagne that Michael had left behind. Claire knew without looking that there wasn’t much else in the cupboards. She generally ate at the office or picked up takeaway noodles on the way home. Cooking for one wasn’t worth the washing up.

The champagne cork popped loudly in the empty apartment and Claire angled the frothing liquid towards a waiting flute. She felt something ping inside her chest as she opened the Veuve Clicquot: the emotional equivalent of her bra-strap snapping, freeing a tension she hadn’t noticed was there.

Damn you Michael, she thought as the cool fizzy liquid trickled down her throat. If nothing else, you had great taste in Champagne.

Claire carried her glass through to the bedroom and slid open the mirrored door of the built-in wardrobe. A complex pattern of hangers, drawers and shelves confronted her. Three perfect rows of stiletto heels took pride of place in the centre, surrounded by neatly folded cashmere sweaters and impeccably pressed shirts and skirts. Claire knew every item intimately, as if surveying a room of close friends.

She ran through the contents of the closet in her mind, trying to imagine which items might suit slumming-it in hostels. Steve had joked that she’d be better off binning the lot and buying some jeans and tops from Tesco. Claire thought she’d rather skin herself alive.

Selecting her cheapest things – her black GAP jeans, a few M&S jumpers and a pile of pressed Ralph Lauren tops and shirts – Claire began folding the remaining items before packing them into her Louis Vuitton luggage. When the wardrobe was empty Claire carefully placed the bags into boxes and labelled them “Storage”.

By the time the champagne bottle was empty, Claire’s life had been piled into half a dozen brown boxes. Her new rucksack was loaded with all the things she deemed necessary for a year on the road. She frowned at the red and grey bag as it lolled by the front door next to her one pair of flat shoes.

Don’t get comfortable. You and I are not friends. In a month my LV bags and I will be on a plane to the Maldives and you will be in a wheelie bin.

Then she collapsed onto the bed without undressing and closed her eyes.

***

Related Articles:

The Secret of Writing Funny  (writetodone.com)

Humor Writing (writingnovelsthatsell.com)

Writer’s Block

Chick Lit

It’s amazing how the act of trying to think up a brilliant idea can bring on Writer’s Block. Normally I don’t suffer from anything like writer’s blankness, only writer’s fatigue. You know, when even you are a bit sick of your characters and the woes that continually befall them.

I’ve never opened my laptop on a writing day and failed to write five hundred words, even if the quality of said words means they’ll be on the cutting room floor at some point in the future. (Or not, as is too often the case. I’m a terrible editor.) Today, though, after finally locating dry wellies for the children and packing them off to nursery, grateful to finally be writing after missing Monday due to the bank holiday, I came up against the wall of the blank word document.

I was sat in a car park, waiting for someone I was due to have a meeting with, and I tried to at least freewrite about my surroundings. Describe the wind through the trees or the wall surrounding the car park. I managed a painful two hundred words before giving up in disgust.

The thing is, I know the cause. It comes from my desire to enter the Bridport prize.

Suddenly I’m back to the person I was four years ago, before I discovered freewriting with the OU, before I was introduced to Nanowrimo, before I was given permission to just write, without peering over my own shoulder critiquing every word that appears on the page. Because, of course, just writing isn’t going to be enough for a Bridport entry. It needs to be a moving or clever story with compelling characters and amazing momentum. The kind of story that lingers long after you’ve finished it, that hovers round your mind and raises new thoughts, new questions.

I don’t even know where to start.

Chick Lit, now, that’s easy. It’s genre writing; there’s always somewhere to start. But coming up with something original, something unique enough to get through round after round of vetting? I’ve as much chance learning how to fly. I’m not even sure I can write good chick lit because I’ve only sent my novel to one agent so far, and I know that my synopsis doesn’t do the novel justice.

I think it is time to focus, stop faffing, concentrate on what I can do, and put dreams of £5000 prize funds and fame and glory away for another year.

Besides I have a synopsis to write.

Life vs. Writing Update: A New Beginning

Picture of a dragon

Okay, so sometimes sleep deprivation can have its advantages. After a week of broken nights I woke up yesterday, out of a deep three-hour sleep (a miracle in itself), with a complete novel in my head.

Unfortunately, since the new carpets were fitted, I haven’t got around to putting my notebook and pen back under the bed. Plus I had smallest child asleep on me, and eldest child wriggled into our room in her sleeping bag shortly after. Needless to say, by the time I’d got my mobile fired up and tapped out some of what was in my mind, I had lost most of it.

I remember the gist though, because it couldn’t have been further from my last four novels.

This one is going to be a young adult book. In the first person. A mystery, mostly in real-time.

Oh and it has dragons in it.

Not really chick lit or romance. Though it might have some romance. I haven’t worked that bit out yet.

I’m quite daunted about the whole thing. I’ve never written in the first person; I haven’t been a teenager for almost two decades (my kids are nearer being teenagers than me, how horrific is that? They’re only 1 and 3); I don’t have any writing skills or techniques for real-time, suspense or mystery, and I know next to nothing about writing fantasy.

Still, it certainly comes under the Option 2, try something new. (See previous post).

Anyway, with it being Easter and all, my next writing day isn’t until next Thursday. In the mean time, I’m trying not to think about the ideas too much, as I know from experience I need to start writing without thinking, or I’ll kill it before it’s born (I’m a master at self-censure).

I do know the first line (for now), I wrote it down in my phone before the vision faded.

“My name is Leah, and I know the time and place of my death.”

Well, that may well change, but my first lines rarely do, as they are usually the freewrite prompt for the whole novel concept. We shall see.

Exciting though.