If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our September Author Interviews--9/6 Kathleen Valenti, 9/13 David Burnsworth, 9/20 Jeri Westerson, 9/27 Frances Brody. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

September Saturday Guest Bloggers: 9/2--Anne Bannon, 9/9 WWK Bloggers, 9/16 Margaret S. Hamilton, 9/23 Kait Carson, and on 9/30 Trixie Stiletto.


“May 16, 2017 – The Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) today announced the finalists of the second annual Star Award, given to authors of published women’s fiction. Six finalists were chosen in two categories, General and Outstanding Debut. The winners of the Star Award will be announced at the WFWA Retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico on September 23, 2017.” In the general category, WWK’s Carla Damron was one of three finalist for her novel, The Stone Necklace. Go to Carladamron.com for more information. Congratulations, Carla!

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.
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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Violence Plus Humor Equals Mayhem


On Salad Bowl Saturday Sunday we welcome Jacquie Rogers who I first met teaching an online class I found very useful. I invited her to share some thoughts with our readers, and I'm glad she accepted.

~ Jim

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We’ve been laughing at pratfalls for years. Shakespeare used slapstick effectively, although of course we call it “classic” now. Still, it’s slapstick. I don’t know why slapstick gets a bad rap. Of course, not all humor based on violence is slapstick. In the Romance genre, we try to stay away from it. Not sure why, but so it goes.

Ever watch a Road Runner cartoon? Wile E Coyote does all sorts of awful things to Road Runner, but always takes the fall himself and we never see blood and guts. He gets smashed by the boulder and we laugh. He bounces back and cooks up another scheme to trap Road Runner. And we all know Wile E isn’t really mean, he just wants to eat Roadrunner for dinner. That’s another important point to remember—no one actually gets hurt and the villain isn’t particularly mean. The protagonists might get an injury or two, but they’ll be all right in the end. Blood is off-screen (or off-page). Think about the Jackie Chan movie, Shanghai Noon. You see one fight scene after another but you don’t process it as pain.

On the other hand, if you watched Saving Private Ryan, there’s blood, guts, and the gritty meanness of war. We feel the emotional and physical pain of close combat. It’s not funny at all.

The overall tone of the story determines the readers’ expectations going into a scene. If the story has been full of angst, then a humorous fight scene won’t cut it, and the reverse is true as well. A story is a contract between the author and the reader—the author has to play fair if he wants the reader to trust him enough to buy another book.

Today, I’m going to analyze a fight scene in one of my lighthearted western historical romance novels. Is it funny? There’s the rub. What one person laughs at, another might think is juvenile or silly. So maybe a scene will tickle your funny bone and maybe not.

A bar fight at the Comfort Palace

This portion of a scene is from Much Ado About Madams (Hearts of Owyhee #2). The story is about Lucinda Sharp, a young suffragist from Miss Hattie’s School for the Refinement of Young Ladies, who takes her first teaching job, only to find out she’s been hired by a madam to teach the ladies of the Comfort Palace to read and write. (Their goal is to quit the business and become respectable.) Needless to say, Lucinda is dismayed, but since she doesn’t have enough money to travel back home, she accepts the position on a temporary basis. Besides, emancipating the prostitutes appeals to her suffragist ideals.

Add in a handsome brothel owner—a man who inherited the brothel but whose goal is to build his cattle ranch. He’s such a nice man that the ladies don’t want to disappoint him by quitting so they want to keep their education a secret. But he doesn’t want to turn them out because he knows they’d end up in a worse situation, so he’s also planning for their futures without telling them. They’re all at cross-purposes.

This portion of a scene is about a bar fight on the first floor of the Comfort Palace. All scenes should have at least a couple of reasons to exist. The two main purposes for this scene are to introduce the villain (he’s doesn’t have anything to do with the topic of this article, so I cut him out), and to throw a wrench in the sexual tension and amplify the romance arc, which is what the Romance genre is all about. Characters in this scene are the bouncers, two big Swede twins named Midas and Titus; a barmaid named Holly; Felicia, a soiled dove; Fannie, the Comfort Palace’s madam; and the hero, Reese, Comfort Palace owner.

Lucinda is living in a room on the second floor of the brothel, and she stays in her room when the brothel is open for business. Except this night, she hears clattering and banging that’s out of the ordinary, and she knows there’s trouble. So here’s the last half of the scene:

Dickshooter, Idaho Territory--1885
   Before Lucinda could think better of it, she ran out the door, peering over the stairway railing at the melee below. Men punched each other—others sailed over tables, only to pull themselves up and jump into the fight again. They brawled with no thought to messing up the place. 
   She flinched as one of the twins pulled a man off Holly and punched him in the midsection, then whapped him right in the jaw. He lifted Holly off the floor and gave her a hug as he pushed her into the storeroom. How sweet. 
   The big Swede waded back into the fray, and grabbed a lanky cowboy who was about to bash his brother on the back of his head with a beer mug. Much to her dismay, Lucinda realized she’d gone halfway down the stairs. Just as she turned to run back up, someone caught her from behind, dragging her down right in the middle of the fight.
   She tripped on her skirts and fell to her hands and knees, heart racing. Something clunked her on the back of the head and fell to the floor beside her. She shook the stars out of her brain and grabbed the offending object—a broken chair leg. She had to get out of there! She came up swinging, trying to make her way to the storeroom to join Holly in relative safety.
   Men fell like flies, some knocking her this way and that, some apologizing, all jumping into the fray again. Midas and Titus fought like animals, each taking on two men at a time. Fannie sat on the bar flailing a table leg at any noggin within reach. Felicia crouched at the end of the bar, kicking the feet from under all men who came near.
   Lucinda had just made it to the storeroom when Reese burst through the front door, hollering for everyone to calm down, then jumping into the fracas himself. He picked out the biggest, meanest looking man in the room and punched him right in the nose. The bald, muscle-bound brute shook his head, then charged Reese. 
   He’ll kill Reese! Lucinda grabbed the rope coiled on the whiskey barrels. She’d seen cowhands rope steers, and the man Reese was fighting was a whole lot bigger.
   She wound the end of the rope around her wrist a few times, then twirled the loop in circles over her head just like the cattlemen did. But the bar was in the way. 
   Reese grunted as he took a hard jab to his stomach and another to the chin. She had to do something! She hitched up her skirt, jumped onto a box, then onto the bar. 
   “What the hell are you doing here?” shouted Fannie. 
   “I’m going to rope that awful man!”
   “Get to it, then, girl!” Fannie cracked another brawler who made the unfortunate mistake of falling within the reach of her flailing table leg.
   Lucinda twirled the lasso over her head again, and again, waiting to get a clear shot.
   Reese connected with another punch and dodged the hulk’s roundhouse right.
   “Christ, woman, throw the damned rope!” Fannie demanded. “He ain’t gonna last long against that bull!”
   She threw the rope for all she was worth. But it went up instead of out—falling onto the floor. With as much haste as she could muster, she re-coiled the rope and searched for a better vantage point. The stairs!
   She jumped off the bar, ran up the stairs, and threw the loop.
   Just then, Reese punched the burly monster in his jaw and both men fell to the floor. 
   The rope sailed through the air, hooked over the chandelier and fell to the floor again. Reese stepped into the loop and tripped. 
   “On, no!” She ran down the stairs to untangle him, but the rope tightened around her wrist and jerked her up in midair. The other end of the loop that had captured Reese’s foot jerked him upside-down, swinging next to her.

And that’s the end of the scene. When you write humor, the reader is waiting for the unexpected. The fight is a fairly normal bar fight, but the heroine’s actions and the ending are not.

First, we see the twins taking care of business, each fighting two men at a time. We have the bar maid, the madam, and one of the prostitutes all pitching in however they can. The hero wades in to stop the destruction of the place, and to his mind is doing a credible job of it. Then we have the heroine who takes matters into her own hands, when maybe she shouldn’t have.

In a Romance novel, the hero has to have a strong dose of macho. I show Reese taking on the biggest, baddest, meanest dude there and holding his own. The reader expects he’ll take care of business and win, but Lucinda isn’t so sure about that so she tries to help. Neither he nor the reader expects Reese would end up dangling upside down from the chandelier. Hanging next to him is Lucinda. Now he has to save face somehow. It’s safe to assume he wouldn’t be happy with her.

Humor is all about expecting the unexpected, and that’s what makes writing it so difficult. Throw out your first ten or twenty ideas—those are what’s expected. Dig deeper. Get silly or absurd. Use that, and you might be more surprised than anyone.
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Jacquie Rogers is a former software designer, campaign manager, deli clerk, and cow milker, but always a bookworm. She’s a country girl by birth, but currently lives in suburbia with her IT guy. But you can’t take the country out of a girl’s heart and her stories often take place in Idaho where she grew up. (Hearts of Owyhee series and some of her short stories, too.) She’s a member of Romance Writers of America and Western Fictioneers, and is a frequent workshop presenter and online class instructor.
 
Links:   Amazon purchase link




4 comments:

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Humor is such an interesting topic in part because what one person considers funny another may deem boring or in poor taste.

I've never been a fan of slapstick (a la the three Stooges), but I can watch Roadrunner and Wile E Coyote all day.

I have stayed away from attempting directly to be funny in my writing, but I use humor all the time to illustrate character. One character is illuminated by the humor she does or does not use and a second character is painted by how they react to the first character's humor.

Thanks again for the class you taught. It's helping me getting in front of people with the recently released BAD POLICY - and going back to my notes bolsters my courage.

~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

Good blog. I enjoyed it. Humor is not always easy to write. I like humor in a book - that's why I love P.G. Wodehouse, but too many writers attempts at it seem forced. I like Jim's subtle humor, and it's the way I write, too. It's not so much the scene as defining the character.

KM said...

What a delightful situation you describe for this book! It has elements of a standard comedy of manners, but is a lot more inventive and has greater depth.

Great blog--humor is such an elusive element in writing, it's hard to define and what's funny to one person seems stupid to another.

Don Westlake used to manage to infuse so much of his work with humor. He's one of my favorites.

Warren Bull said...

Humor is a great element in writing even in mysteries with dark themes. Sue Grafton and Nancy Pickard like to slip it unannounced, which adds to the pleasure of reading their books.