Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Laughing At The Funeral

by Hannah Roveto

Inappropriate in real life, sure, but in writing it can make sense. Yes? Or maybe not.

Humor is frustrating. Being funny is a matter of what? Timing, situation, conflict, character, all of that, sure. Gulp. Still, putting what I thought I knew of humor into practice has been quite the learning experience.

In my revision, no matter how confident I was as it flowed from my fingers, building on a neat stack of pages outlining each chapter, there was some hurdle I needed to leap that I couldn't quite put my finger on. It all came clear when I had to deal with the funeral.

In previous drafts, I avoided a funeral by making the timeline such that my protagonist went off to claim an inheritance post-death. The Group, however, noted this particular young man would not have missed the funeral of this particular beloved, aged relative. Can't do that. No how, no way.

Sigh. I had writerly reasons for avoiding the funeral and the reception afterward. Too many family members, more Scenes Where Everyone Eats, too many threads to weave just so without getting caught up in a knot. Oh, right, and I wanted to make people laugh, without being predictable. The biggest writerly reason? Deep down, I probably thought I couldn't do it.

In retrospect, the funeral scared me the most because it scared my character the most. He was easy to make amusing when he was full of bravado. How could I keep it rolling and still make him genuinely sympathetic and still funny in the depths of grief? I wanted to do it right, keep him real and not a caricature; I wanted suprise. It was a bit overwhelming.

Having narrowed my threads in this revision, focusing and strengthening each across the story, I was feeling fairly confident. Still, even with a clear story outline and details in mind as I sat down to write that particular scene, the results were not as I imagined.

I assumed the character might laugh during the funeral, yet when the moment came, he didn't do that at all. He was angry, sad, indignant at how the funeral was unfolding, and in the gap between the poor guy and what is going on around him, I found where the humor lay. Suddenly, in turn, the reception also became manageable. The rest of the world disappears as my character learns something that makes him fully understand what he is up against in his quest. The hordes vanish, the food disappears, the plot moves forward. Best of all, I "got" it, not just on a philosophical level, but in the mechanics of it.

The lessons I've learned? A trio of useful bits: First, the challenge you avoid is the one you most need to tackle. Two, credit to the Group, throw everything at your character. Easier to pull back in a future revision than to find out you needed to throw more at him or her in the first place. (And refer to lesson one when you do this!) Three, on a side note, you can write scenes with food without stuffing your readers. I promise.


Trish Ryan said...

I love your first tidbit the most. It reminds me of that motivational book, EAT THAT FROG, which says that if you have to eat frogs, the best way to do it is to eat the biggest, scariest one first. Kind of gross imagery, but it helps me remember when I'm facing scenes I'd rather write around!

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

I should have said the challenge you most avoid yields the greatest rewards, perhaps? How many people dally in the everyday, wishing, and don't end up making the big things happen in our lives, never mind our writing? Making it through my character's funeral was nothing compared to taking on the challenge you did, Trish; cannot wait to read He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not!


Larramie said...

Not only did you successfully conquer your avoidance fear, Hannah, you also gave us food for thought.

Sustenance Scout said...

"The challenge you avoid is the one you most need to tackle." What I need to hear today! Thanks! K.

Lisa said...

This is a very helpful post and wise advice. Thanks so much for sharing this experience.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

As you fellow bloggers know, sometimes you put things out there and wonder whether it met the mark. Sounds like a lot of us have had this experience of late? What clinched it for you, as it's helpful to hear your moments, as well!


Lisa Marnell said...

Hannah, I simply CANNOT wait to read your pages. Your novel grows so so strong - talk about unique...

I am truly a fan!