The Light Side: Adding Humor to a Dark Story
Tips from Three Famous Writers
by Pamela Jane
A relentlessly dark story, especially a memoir, can be difficult to read. But what if your memoir is genuinely dark? Some things just aren’t funny (although comics, a notoriously angry bunch, might disagree). But even if you don’t add hilarity, you can “fluff up” your narrative by adding color, contrast, or contradictions.
Following are three are three tips to lighten a dark story:
1. Jane Austen: Show Contrast
“…the work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade; it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long chapter of sense, if it could be had; if not, of solemn specious nonsense . . .” – Jane Austen on Pride and Prejudice
Whether adding shade or sunlight to your narrative, the point is to show contrast. (Although Pride and Prejudice is dazzling in its brilliance, it is not all bright. There are moments of sober reflection, regret, and disappointment.)
One way to add contrast is to try telling your story informally to different people. Relating the story verbally to an receptive listener is relaxing, and you might find yourself making a joke or a wry comment that allows you to glimpse a new dimension to your work.
Poet and novelist Andrei Codrescu wrote, “I think you can teach people how to relax. I don’t think you can teach them how to be really funny, but if you teach them how to take it easy and see that something that really entertains them is in fact quite hilarious, then you’re half there.”
2 Giacomo Casanova: Laugh at yourself
“I am writing My Life to laugh at myself, and I am succeeding,” – Giacomo Casanova.
Making fun of your own foibles is probably good for your health as well as your writing, and shows good literary sportsmanship. Are you ever inconsistent or contradictory? Does life ever backfire or behave in a way that is darkly funny, or that makes you mad? Renown screenwriting teacher, Bob McKee, notes that comedy is fueled by anger.
3. Woody Allen: Develop a Comic Perspective
“I think if you have a comic perspective, almost anything that happens you tend to put through a comic filter. It’s a way of coping in the short term, but has no long term effect and requires constant, endless renewal. Hence people talk of comics who are “always on.” It’s like constantly drugging your sensibility so you can get by with less pain.”
I like to amuse myself by making up funny stories about things that were distinctly unfunny when they happened. One way to do this is to step out of the scene for a moment. Have you ever noticed a weird, unrelated aspect to whatever is unfolding? For example, your cat licking herself while you’re waiting for the results of a scary medical test (so uncaring and narcissistic of her!)
Pay attention to something out of the scene that contrasts or contradicts it; by being objective or merely observant, you can begin to develop a comedic perspective that contrasts with your somber tale and keeps readers turning the pages.
Thank you Pamela Jane for these wonderful tips on using humor. Also, thank you to Crystal Otto at WOW - Women On Writing for providing this stop on Pamela Jane's Blog Tour. For more info and future tour stops, please click here.
About the Author:
Pamela Jane has published over twenty-five children’s books with Houghton Mifflin, Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, Penguin-Putnam, and Harper. Her books include Noelle of the Nutcracker illustrated by Jan Brett, Little Goblins Ten illustrated by NY Times best-selling illustrator, Jane Manning, and Little Elfie One (Harper 2015). Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp Through Jane Austen’s Classic (Skyhorse) was featured in The Wall Street Journal, BBC America, The Huffington Post, The New York Times Sunday Book Review and The Daily Dot, and has just come out in paper. Pamela Jane has published short stories and essays with The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Antigonish Review, Literary Mama. Pamela Jane is a writer and editor for womensmemoirs.com
Below are three clips of her work:
creativenonfiction/archives/ 2015/10/the-ambivalent- agnostic-an-adoption-story. html
Find Pamela Jane Online:
prideandprejudiceandkitties. com (humorous book)
Twitter: @memoircoaching, @austencats
See below or click on the link for the Book Trailer for “An Incredible Talent for Existing”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?
“An Incredible Talent For Existing: A Writer’s Story” summary: It is 1965, the era of love, light and revolution. While the romantic narrator imagines a bucolic future in an old country house with children running through the dappled sunlight, her husband plots to organize a revolution and fight a guerrilla war in the Catskills.
Their fantasies are on a collision course.
The clash of visions turns into an inner war of identities when the author embraces radical feminism; she and her husband are comrades in revolution but combatants in marriage; she is a woman warrior who spends her days sewing long silk dresses reminiscent of a Henry James novel. One half of her isn't speaking to the other half.
And then, just when it seems that things cannot possibly get more explosive, her wilderness cabin burns down and Pamela finds herself left with only the clothes on her back.
From her vividly evoked existential childhood ("the only way I would know for sure that I existed was if others lots of others acknowledged it") to writing her first children's book on a sugar high during a glucose tolerance test, Pamela Jane takes the reader along on a highly entertaining personal, political, and psychological adventure.
Check out the book trailer:
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