Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bringing the Funny by author Rachel Hawkins

Wow. Can you believe we have the amazing Rachel Hawkins here? She's the author of HEX HALL, one of the best YA novels I've read this year. Yes, I might be a little biased. Whatever. She's frawesome! She's here to tell us how to bring the funny to our writing.

Bringing the Funny

I never set out to write funny books. When I first sat down and started on the book that became HEX HALL, I was convinced I was writing a dark mystery full of DEATH and BLOOD SACRIFICE and all sorts of other things that were IN NO WAY COMICAL.  Yes, my book would be like if Anne Rice and Flannery O’Conner had a baby (You know. Though science.) I would pose for moody author photos, wearing lots of eyeliner, and maybe some black velvet. Okay, so I hadn’t owned anything black velvet since an unfortunate flirtation with the Goth look in 9th grade, but whatever. The point is, I would write spoooooky books full of Angst and Danger.

Then I sat down to write. In my opening scene, I had a girl, Sophie Mercer, arriving at a creepy boarding school with her mom. It’s August, and the school is located on an island off the coast of Georgia, so the humidity is pretty intense. As they get out of the car, Sophie’s mom asks her what she thinks about the place. Sophie’s reply? “Awesome. I always wondered what it would be like to live in someone’s mouth.”

I stared at that line.

I deleted it.

I wrote it again.

I looked at it some more.

“Okay,” I thought . “So my Super Dark Book O’Death starts with a joke. Big deal. It’s kind of a smart-ass joke, so that’s acceptable. It’s not like The Funny is taking over or anything.”

So I kept writing, finally getting to the end of Chapter 1, where a werewolf attacks Sophie. “Yes!” I thought, fingers flying over the keys. “Werewolf attack! Nothing funny about that!” But as the werewolf charged Sophie, preparing to rip her throat out, did my intrepid heroine scream a four-letter word, or an awesome disemboweling spell? Nope. Sophie opened her mouth, and out came: “BAD DOG!”

This time, I didn’t even bother with the delete button. I closed the whole document and walked away from the computer. For the next few months, I tinkered with HEX HALL, the voice in my head going, “No one wants funny in their paranormal. It’s like the opposite of peanut butter and chocolate. How many funny books featuring the BRUTAL MURDERS OF TEENAGERS have you read, moron?”

But here’s the thing: When I was writing a dark, serious, angsty paranormal, I wasn’t having that much fun. When I was writing about Sophie doing pratfalls, or making an inadvertent dirty joke to her crush, I was grinning at the keyboard. So I gave in. I wrote a Funny Book (that yes, just happened to feature the brutal murders of teenagers.)

Luckily for me, it turned out that people did want funny in their paranormal, and I learned a very important lesson about why it’s so important to be true to your own voice. Of course, it meant I had to return that black velvet ball gown to the store, but that’s neither here nor there.

So if you’re thinking about Bringing The Funny, the best advice I have is: DO IT. I wasted too much time being scared of The Funny!

As for more specific advice:

1)      If ALL your test readers think a joke isn’t funny, it probably isn’t. If it’s just one or two, though, keep it in. The Funny is HIGHLY subjective, after all!

2)      Make sure The Funny is in keeping with the rest of the book. For example, HEX HALL originally had jokey, faux-fairy tale chapter titles, like, “Wherein Our Heroine Cries Like a Dork, Uncovers a Mystery, and Makes Lifelong Enemies.” Now, I thought this was HILARIOUS, but it didn’t take me long to realize that those chapter titles really, really clashed with the tone of the book.

3)      Have fun with all kinds of humor. I love a good witticism as much as the next gal, but then, a well-timed physical gag makes me crack up, too. Remember there are lots of types of funny, both big and small. Use all of ‘em!

Rachel Hawkins is a 30-year-old former teacher who left teaching to take a chance and get serious about finishing that book she’d always wanted to write. Her first book, HEX HALL, was the result of that leap of faith. She’s a graduate of Auburn University in Alabama and lives with her husband and four-year-old son. The second book in the HEX HALL series, DEMONGLASS, comes out March 1, 2011. Rachel is currently hard at work on the final book in the HEX HALL trilogy.


Tere Kirkland said...

Thanks, Rachel! Sounds like Sophie had a mind of her own. And more importantly, a voice. ;)

Thanks for the guest post, LiLa!

The Newbie Novelist said...

Rachel, thank you for posting this and participating in WriteOnCon! Seriously, you are living my dream. You are the fourth awesome gal in her thirties I have come across who has, "left teaching to finish that book she'd always been wanting to write." AND- you brought the funny. I am going out and buying your book this afternoon because of this post.

This could very well be *gulp* my last year teaching!


Kelly Polark said...

I love funny!

Ann Marie Wraight said...

A really witty post - THANKS for being so honest and for the permanent smile I had whilst reading it!

I always start out writing serious BUT end up going to funny/silly/extreme so this is a bit problematic for me! I need more serious...maybe I should go on that monastic retreat I've been thinking about for the last decade...

THANKS for sharing this with us - I ADORED HEX HALL, too!

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