I like mysteries. I like to read mysteries. In fact, I give mysteries credit for starting me down the writing road since I picked up pen to write my own mystery at age ten after reading some Hardy Boy mystery books. So, it’s a little surprising that I published twenty-eight books before any of those books were labeled mysteries.
But I did keep my love of mysteries. The truth is, I often sneaked a mystery thread into my stories through the years. I even included a suspicious death and a murder in my recent Shaker book, The Innocent. It’s good to make readers wonder a bit. But I had never written a full-fledged, murder-in-the-title, and mystery-on-the-cover book until Murder at the Courthouse, my first Hidden Springs mystery published last year. Now Murder Comes by Mail follows it up with more murder and mayhem in my little town of Hidden Springs.
Murder in the title is a sure indication the book is a mystery. Then readers can spot another clue on the cover to let them know what kind of mystery. Those lovely cats. The same as other fiction books, mysteries come in different flavors. You have police procedurals, detective stories, and suspense filled dramas, but when you see a cat or dog on the cover you can be pretty sure you are looking at a cozy mystery.
What makes a cozy mystery? Cozies are usually gentle mysteries. Oh, people die and not from natural causes, but the violent deaths rarely take place on stage. Bodies are discovered. Clues are uncovered. Murderers caught. Usually the amateur sleuth main character is an intuitive, intelligent woman who just happens to stumble across those dead bodies. Consider Murder, She Wrote. Think of how many murder victims just happened to show up in Jessica Fletcher’s little town.
So we come to another thing that makes a cozy a cozy. Nearly all cozy mysteries are set in small towns, the more picturesque the better. The main character nearly always has some sort of business. A book store, a tea shop or perhaps an antique store or a knitting and yarn shop. The main character may have some sort of relationship with someone in the law enforcement business that enables her to get inside information regarding the crime. And don’t forget those cats and dogs. Those furry friends can play major roles in the story.
The victims in cozy mysteries rarely get much sympathy since they are often unlikeable characters nobody is going to miss and to whom the reader has not formed any emotional attachment. Readers of cozy mysteries want an easy, entertaining read and not something that will make them sad or nervous about being alone on a dark and stormy night. They read to relax and have fun trying to come up with the whodunit answer before the amateur sleuth unmasks the perpetrator at the end of the story.
At the same time, they can be disappointed if they figure out the answers too easily or too soon. Whether they guess the bad guy or not, they expect the clues to be there to point to the killer. They want to be able to look back and say, “Yes, I should have seen that.” Of course, the author throws in a few red herrings to try to lead the reader astray while the amateur sleuth character manages to sort through and figure out the real clues.
Cozy mysteries are often series books with the same main characters. Think of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. She introduced Kinsey Millhone to readers in A is for Alibi and now is near the end of the alphabet with a new book titled X. Grafton’s mysteries are detective fiction and not cozies, but you can find plenty of cozy series too. Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who… series are definitely cozies with that cat in the midst of every mystery. Most mystery series have continuing characters but can also be read as stand-alone books.
With all that said, I confess I must not have read the rules before I began writing my own cozy mysteries because my books break many of the rules I’ve just noted. I do have the cats. That may have been my saving grace. But my main character is a man, and if that isn’t bad enough, he’s a policeman. Admittedly, he’s a deputy sheriff in a small town that while not particularly picturesque, does have that friendly everybody knows everybody feel. Throw in some quirky, hometown characters readers can picture walking down Main Street and at least the setting works for a cozy mystery. My victims aren’t all unsympathetic characters either, but they are characters the reader doesn’t really know well. My main characters do run into danger and sometimes end up in dramatic will-there-be-a-way-out-of-this situations.
Recently I sent out a newsletter with a giveaway contest, and for fun, I asked readers if they thought they would like to live in a small town like Hidden Springs. Far and away, the majority loved the idea of living in a small town. Many did either live in that similar small town now or had grown up in one. But one reader was right on the money when she sent this comment. “As far as living in the fictional town of Hidden Springs, well to be honest, the crime rate is sky high in comparison to the population. So, I don’t think I’d feel safe living there.”
That’s another thing about the cute little towns where cozy mystery series are set. They have an amazingly high crime rate, but since it’s all in fun and only fictional people are victims of the crimes, cozy mystery lovers are okay with this. They are also happy the stories have no profanity or explicit sex (especially true with the inspirational cozy mysteries). Often there is no mention of romance at all, but I do have a thread of romance running through my Hidden Springs mysteries.
So if you stroll down Main Street and stop in at the Grill for a cup of coffee and hear that somebody just met an untimely end, then you could be in Hidden Springs or some other small town cozy story. You might as well settle down to stay a while, pet the cat or dog, and try to figure out who did the dastardly deed.
How important is setting in a story? Have you ever decided to read or write a story solely because of the setting? Do you think setting sometimes dictates what sort of characters can come to life in a story?
Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling author of many novels, including Angel Sister, Small Town Girl, and Love Comes Home, the 2015 Selah Book of Year winner. She’s also known for her Shaker novels and Heart of Hollyhill books. Now, as A.H. Gabhart, she is writing the Hidden Springs Mysteries set in a small town much like the Kentucky town where she grew up. Ann and her husband have three children and nine grandchildren and still enjoy country life on a farm near that small town. To find out more about Ann’s books or to follow her blog, visit www.annhgabhart.com. You can also join the conversation on her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/anngabhart.
Deputy Sheriff Michael Keane doesn't particularly enjoy being touted as the hero of Hidden Springs after pulling a suicidal man back from the edge of the Eagle River bridge in front of dozens of witnesses--a few of whom caught the breathtaking moments with their cameras. But the media hype doesn't last long as a new story pushes its way into the public consciousness of Hidden Springs' concerned citizens.
Photos of a dead girl arrive in the mail, and Michael becomes convinced she was murdered by the man he saved. With a killer one step ahead, things in Hidden Springs begin to unravel. Now Michael must protect the people he loves--because the killer could be targeting one of them next.
Ann is generously offering a copy of Murder Comes by Mail to one commenter. Leave a comment to get your name in the cat dish. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
Pam here. Let's jump right in. I'm going to share what my life looks like this coming week. This is typical. I share this because ... Well, to tell you the truth, I'm pretty swamped, and I could have thrown up my hands and said ...
"I can't blog today...."
"I can't write that book...."
"I can't go to that book signing...."
"I can't ___________..." (fill in the blank)
But I'm here to tell you that I can. I will.
And You can.
We can. We must. Our integrity demands that we step up and DO. Regardless of how many curve balls life throws at us, we just keep doing, organizing, putting out fires no matter what. It's what a professional does. If you're a writer (or want to be one), then you are a professional. You honor your obligations. But the beauty of being a writer is that we aren't limited to a measly old eight hours from 9-5 M-F. Oh, no!!!
We, as self-employed writers have an AMAZING edge over the 9-5 worker. We have 168 hours a week to choose from. Whoo-eee!!! I'm excited just thinking about it! Yes!!
But, what? You already have a "9-5" job, you say? I will admit that I no longer have a 9-5 job. I did for 28 years and it was exhausting, mind-numbing work that wore me completely out. But I do have many, many jobs and responsibilities now that add up to way more than 40 hours a week. I put in 16 hours on Mondays alone.
So, let's look at this week, and then see if I'm ready to throw in the towel and say "I can't".
Monday, May 23rd
My alarm will go off at 6:20 am (And I'm still up at midnight, preparing a blog because I love you guys THAT much!) I'll get up, manage a quick toilet that includes brushing hair and teeth, put on my housecoat and drive to my oldest son's house 1/2 mile away. I'll arrive at 6:30 and pick up THIS sweet doll. I'm usually back home by 6:40.
|The Sweetest Baby in the World|
My day will include fixing bottles, doing a lot of rocking, hugging and kissing, and diaper changes. In between all that, I'll check email, do promotion on social media, and prepare a healthy breakfast and lunch for myself, My Cowboy, and our youngest son who just graduated from college and is moving back home temporarily for the summer. I'll also make dinner for all of us and my son and daughter-in-law since Mondays are long, LONG days for the entire family. They don't get home until 7:30-8:00 pm on Mondays, and they have to come pick up the baby, so it makes sense for me to cook dinner for all of us. Crockpot dinners, baked chicken, hamburgers, chili, and soups are my go-to meals for Mondays.
Writing: Mondays are always iffy, but I can always squeeze in a few minutes of editing or writing in the lulls. Our baby is such a sweet girl and working on writing is not only doable, it's necessary to meet my deadlines.
ACFW: I'm continually checking email and handling accounting related tasks for ACFW. The good news about this job and my writing job, is that I can do this day or night, and yes, sometimes it gets done at night. Remember, 168 hours. :)
And this Monday, I'll be dropping by talking to YOU guys as well.
Tuesday, May 24th
No baby today. She goes to her aunt's daycare on Tuesday. Tuesday is earmarked for a writing marathon. I plan to guard my time on Tuesday to work on Terms of Indenturement (Working title. Tentative release date Summer 2017) which is due in a few months. I love digging into Connor and Isabella's lives, but it's easy to let life intervene. Look at Monday. TUESDAY belongs to my characters and my publisher.
Tuesday evening is when I visit my friend Karen in the nursing home and have for over 10 years. The only time I don't go is is I'm sick or have a conflicting event or am out of town. So, five hours at the nursing home sharing a meal with Karen, laughing and talking, watching TV, and a lot of times writing or editing. I've plotted many a book there. As an aside, one night while putting together a proposal for a collection, Karen and I were watching The Voice and I needed a name for the hero and heroine. The hero became Blake (after Blake Shelton) and the heroine became Cassidy after that season's winner Cassadee Pope. That proposal became Shanghaied by the Bride (The Oregon Trail Romance Collection), Barbour Publishing, April 2015.
Wednesday, May 25th
We have a wedding to plan, and I'm going with my future daughter-in-law, her mother, and one of her bridesmaids to look at wedding dresses. I'm honored to get to go along. What fun! The day is earmarked for fun, food, and fellowship. Can't wait!
|Sweet "T" and the Big "D"|
Wednesday night is prayer meeting. There will be food for dinner sandwiched between the shopping trip and church. Somehow. After church, I'll check email again, putting out any fires that have occurred during the day on the writing and/or ACFW front. I also have my email coming to my phone, so any time I'm away from home I can at least keep an eye on things.
An aside: My husband's grandmother was recently in the hospital for about two months. All of us rallied and stayed with her 24/7 until she was rehabilitated enough to go to a temporary nursing facility in hopes of returning back home. I was able to do a lot of my work from her hospital room with my laptop, my phone and the hospital's free wi-fi. I was reading galleys for Love Is a Puzzle (The Gold Rush Romance Collection, Barbour, August 2016) at the time, so that was an easier task than say ... writing the first, or even, second draft. But still, that was draining for all of us, but we did it. We all worked, we took care of the babies, we rotated hospital stays, and we worked when and where we could.
Thursday, May 26th
My sweet baby returns to stay with me again on Thursday. The day is a repeat of Monday, but isn't as long. Again, I can get a lot of work done with the baby here. As long as I plan ahead for meals, I'm good. Naps are good for writing, editing and catching up on email. As far as I know, I'm FREE Thursday evening. Whew. :) And, contrary to what some would advise, sometimes it's better to take a short afternoon nap when the baby naps. That way, I'm fresh enough to tackle lots of tasks later in the evening. Being too exhausted to think straight doesn't bode well for a good writing session.
Friday, May 27th
Clear the decks again for another writing marathon. Connor and Isabella have been waiting patiently. I plan to dive back in and work all day on their story. I think I'm free Friday evening as well. Fingers crossed.
|Part of the Sunken Trace, aka The Natchez Trace, aka The Devil's Backbone
North of Natchez, MS. My characters travel this road in the 1790s. I walked this path in 2010.
Saturday, May 28th
Saturday is just another work day for me. I'll get in some writing/editing time, and I'll need to go shopping at some point (either Friday or Saturday) for fresh fruit, milk, salad fixings, etc. I can probably go another week before I need to go for the 5-6 hour shopping marathon that includes meat. I just stocked up last week, so I'm good to go for a few days.
Saturday night is earmarked for youth service and/or prayer meeting at church. Saturday night after I get home might include more writing, editing, checking email, or working on blog posts. Pretty much whatever rises to the top and needs doing gets done.
Sunday, May 30th
Check email. Yes, even on Sunday morning while drinking m coffee before getting ready for church, I check email. I can't afford to let it mushroom out of control. Speaking of the business side of things. I use a MacBook Pro. I use Mac Mail for my personal business email. Emails that I don't want to miss: from my editors, my agent, the Seekers, bills that are due, etc.
|Our church at dusk with the Crepe Myrtles in full bloom|
I use Safari for my personal browsing, Facebook, Twitter, gmail (this email does NOT come to my laptop, but I check it online.)
I use the Firefox browser for ACFW mail and all things ACFW related. I check all of these accounts continuously, and even have both of them synced to my phone. Like I said, this is business. I can't afford not to be on top of these emails all the time.
After church, there's Sunday dinner (which might include going out, but sometimes is soup and salad at home), rest, and Sunday night church.
I feel like I skipped a lot. I know I did. There's so much more to my week. My car needs to go to the shop. I need to pick up some items to ship out to readers. I really need to find out where the tax preparer is on our extension. Oh, and then there's housework and laundry, right? Rats! Names and addresses to give to Sweet T for the wedding invitations, plus planning and .... hmmm.... there's a Google Doc somewhere. My future DIL is like a Mini-Me when it comes to spreadsheets. She's an accountant well on her way to becoming a CPA. My son doesn't have a chance!
Oh, speaking of the wedding. It's in August, TWO DAYS before I fly out for the ACFW Conference, TEN DAYS before Terms of Indenturement is due. I'm sure there's at least 10 other important things happening in August.
But life is sweet. Life is crazy. Life is so busy I hardly know which end is up, but it's also amazing. I don't know the meaning, "I can't." or "I give up."
I am Yoda. Hear me Roar.
*Oh, btw, every day starts with a cup of Vanilla Caramel coffee from the Keurig, sweetened with a donk of English Toffee stevia, creamer, coconut oil, a dash of salt, stirred with a handheld frothier (Thanks for the heads up, Tina!) and a dollop of heavy cream.)
So, how do YOU do it all? Tell us in the comments for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card or your choice of any Seeker book, print or ebook.
CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of. www.pamhillman.com
This weekend the prize vault is open with a few reading treats. Let us know if you haven't read them. We have two of each book to give away in print. Winners announced in the next Weekend Edition.
We Have Winners
Giveaway rules can be found here. Drop us a line to claim your giveaway at email@example.com. Please allow us the 6-8 weeks per our legal page to get your prizes sent out.
All prizes not claimed in 8 weeks go back into the prize vault. We wish we could contact all our winners individually, but we'd rather write books!
From the last Weekend Edition the winner of a $15 Amazon gift card from Mary Connealy is CentralEast2.
Monday Seekerville was delighted to welcome Love Inspired Suspense author Liz Johnson and her aka, Revell author Liz Johnson with her post, "One Author. Two Genres." Jackie Smith is the winner of Door Inn.
Dr. Richard L. Mabry was our very special guest Tuesday with his post, "On the Shoulders of Giants." Does Christian fiction make a difference? Kathryn Barker is the winner of Medical Judgement which releases today!!
Wednesday: Publishers Weekly best-selling author, Debby Giusti was our hostess. The ACFW Conference is only a few months away, and Donald Maass is presenting the Early Bird Workshop. Debby shared some of what she's learned from Maass and how she uses his techniques in her writing and in the writing group she hosts. Two giveaways. The winners are Cynthia Herron and Terri! Both ladies will receive a copy of Debby's latest LIS, PLAIN DANGER, along with a surprise gift!
Thursday we joined Love Inspired Historical author Sherri Shackelford for "The Ten Commandments of Adding Humor to Your Writing": In fiction writing, the author is tasked with invoking emotion. Joy is an emotion. Laughter brings your characters together and gives them a common bond. For non-fiction writers, studies have shown that humor enhances how well people enjoy what they’re reading and help them recall what they’ve read. Patti Jo, Connie Queen and Cindy W are the winners of Special Delivery Baby! And in honor of her NRCA final she's giving away a copy of The Rancher's Christmas Proposal. Congrats to Sherri. The winner is Barbara Scott.
Next Week in Seekerville
Monday: Pam Hillman is your hostess today. Stop by to visit with Pam.
Tuesday: Seekerville is delighted to welcome back Revell author Ann H. Gabhart. She's going to talk about "What Makes a Cozy Mystery." Chat with Ann and you could win a copy of Murder Comes by Mail, the second book in The Hidden Springs Mystery series.
Wednesday: Tina Radcliffe is your hostess today with a discussion of "Classic Romance Tropes." What's a trope? Stop by to find out. She's got some classic writing giveaways as well.
Thursday: Welcome guest Connie Mann! Connie will share about "Winning the Creative War," and will be giving away a copy of her soon-to-be released romantic suspense from Waterfall Press, Tangled Lies.
Friday: Best of the Archives: Today we feature a post by Julie Lessman. Comments are closed each Friday so we can achieve our reading and writing goals.
Congratulations to the Seekerville 2016 Holt Medallion Finalists!
Heart & Soul, is now available for preorder here. This is a great novel bundle of five "deeply spiritual and utterly romantic" best-selling novels from five award-winning authors for only $3.99. This is a limited-time collection, will be on sale from May 23 - July 9 only, so do check it out!
Random News & Information.
Thanks to everyone who sent links.
JUST ADDED. Female looking for roomie for ACFW Conference. Contact Seekerville to connect. Seekers@Seekerville.net
The Tara Contest celebrates it's 25th year Silver Anniversary, and is offering the final winner in each category a $25 prize along with the silver flamingo pendant they usually receive. The contest ends Wednesday, May 25th and is low on inspirational entries. Published authors can enter. Inspirational Final Judge is Raela Schoeherr /Bethany House!! HELLO!! If you were waiting for a sign, this is it! Details in the May Contest Update here or go straight to the site here.
Make Your Own Shelfie Contest from Harper Collins. Video here. Contest details here. ** (Remember Harper Collins owns Thomas Nelson and Love Inspired)
Thriller reader or writer? Sign up for The Big Thrill-the free online magazine of The International Thriller Writers. Sign up here.
FYI: Save the Date! Faith, Hope and Love, the Inspirational Romance Chapter of Romance Writers of America®- Annual General Meeting (open to the public, free, even to non-conference attendees) will take place during the RWA conference on Wednesday July 13th from 1-4 p.m. There will be refreshments, praise & worship, 2nd annual inspirational editor and agent panel, and final results of FHL’s Touched By Love Award and Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award. While the exact room is TBD, the AGM meeting will be in a conference room on the San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina property. Announcement of the room assignment will be closer to July 13.
Happy National Strawberries and Cream Day. See if you can put that in a novel.
Show Me the Money [Traditional Publisher Survey] (Brenda Hiatt)**
Don't Hate the Query Letter: Master It (Writer Unboxed) **
Become a Resilient Writer by Remembering These 15 Things (The Write Conversation)
Are Amazon Ebook Giveaways a SCAM? (Query Shark Bait)
How to Sell Books and Build Your Email List Through Facebook Ads [podcast] (Boot Marketing Tools)
Plot Obstacles & Character Agency (Jami Gold)**
A Step-by-Step Guide to Making an Audio Book Using ACX (Bookbaby Blog)
The Magic of TK (Steven Pressfield Online) **
It seems like I’ve been kind of Yell-y lately and that is just wrong of me.
It took me ten years to get my first book published so what do I know, huh?
I suppose I may STILL not know anything, but clearly that possibility isn't enough to shut me up.
What I want to talk to you about today is something I remember doing every time I’d start a new book.
Before I go into that...I don’t think I’m exactly normal in that every time I’d finish a book, I’d just start right in on a new one. Yes, I’d revise and yes I’d submit the finished manuscript to editors, agents and contests. But I didn’t DWELL on it. (much) I’d just cast it out into cyberspace (although when I started we didn’t call it cyberspace, we call it the mail box, but the example holds.)
So, I’d always be daydreaming what’s next. And looking forward to starting a new book. I’d see newspaper articles and just….whatever….things that would spark an idea and I’d put it in a folder for the future. So I always had a ‘what’s next’ in mind.
Here's what it boils down to: WRITE. FINISH SOMETHING. BE HOPELESS.
(I’m trying to make that into an acronym that isn't reminiscent of something profane but I’ll move on now.)
Write because whatever you learn you can never MASTER without putting it into practice.
Finish because NO PUBLISHER is going to buy an unfinished manuscript from an unpublished author, and also to prove to yourself you CAN finish a book.
Hopeless because I don’t want you to sit at your desk, hoping and praying and dying for an email that may or may not ever come. That’s a waste of time. Cast your bread upon the waters and start the next book until the waves wash soggy bread onto your ankles or you get a book contract.
HOWEVER (those capital letters aren’t meant in a yell-y way) Write and keep writing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also be studying, learning, polishing your skills. That’s what Seekerville is for, to give you ideas for skills you could improve. That’s why you enter contests, to get a neutral pair of eyes on your manuscript.
Here’s what I’m leading up to…I just wanted to share this with you.
When I'd start a new book, I’d open up my Word document, a bright white surface upon which I was planning to explode my story and I’d lay one hand flat on that computer screen and I’d pray. I’d ask God to give me the desires of my heart and I’d ask of myself --
REMEMBER EVERYTHING YOU KNOW. Put everything you know into this book.
To explode my story.
To use strong words.
To show don’t tell.
To make my characters charming and likeable and troubled and conflicted.
To tell a great story.
Oh there's just so much to remember!!!!! YOU HAVE TO REMEMBER ALL OF IT!!!!!
REMEMBER EVERYTHING YOU KNOW.
Put it all on the page.
Pray that God will give you the desire of your heart.
Pray that God will make your words more than you are capable of creating.
And then write a book so good, so captivating, so fun, so fast, so perfect that NO EDITOR ON THE PLANET CAN SAY NO. A book so good that Love Inspired will say, “Oh, yes, we will JUST this once publish a 100,000 word women’s fiction because we are that in love with your book.”
A book so good that if a publisher just can’t quite bring themselves to publish a 150,000 word fantasy with aliens and dinosaurs and ghosts, they’ll be so excited about it they’ll phone someone who can.
A book so good that J.K Rowling will invite you to her castle for high tea and ask you for pointers.
That’s your first job, for all we talk about marketing, your most important, fundamental job is to write the best book in the world.
REMEMBER EVERYTHING YOU KNOW.
WRITE THE BEST BOOK IN THE WORLD.
AND THEN, WHEN YOU ARE FINISHED, WRITE ANOTHER ONE.
Think about what you’re working on right now. Can you see that you’re letting yourself get away with doing less than your best? Are you clinging to scenes and moments you love even though they don't tighten and advance your story? What can you change? What do you NOT love about your book? What can you do to make your book the best book in the world?
This post first appeared in Seekerville August 2, 2012. Comments are closed today so we can read and write.
After the death of his wife, prosperous businessman Chance Boden heads west along the Santa Fe Trail with his son to escape the powerful, controlling hands of his in-laws. He has plans to establish his own ranch, but instead he finds work with Frank Chastain, owner of a vast amount of land.
Chance doesn't want to work for anyone, but Frank's beautiful daughter gives him reason to delay buying his own holdings. With winter coming, no home in which to live, and Veronica's offer to care for young Cole while Chance learns the ways of successful ranching in the desert, Chance has little choice but to accept the Chastains' offer to stay on.
When Frank is attacked, his dying wish is that Chance marry his daughter, but after dealing with his in-laws, Chance isn't going to let anyone come between him and his son. Then Frank's precarious hold on the land he received as part of an old Spanish Land Grant forces Frank to make a desperate choice to save Veronica's inheritance--and also gives the men who attacked Frank reason to come after him.
As my good friend Cheryl St.John is fond of saying, “A story is feeling.” One of the most overlooked emotions is laughter (joy). Humor is as much of a trigger as anger, sadness and fear. Authors tend to go for the sad punch to invoke a response in the reader, but don’t forget that joy can have an impact as well. Laughter engages the reader, brings your characters together and gives them a common bond. For non-fiction writers, studies have shown that humor enhances how well people enjoy what they’re reading and assists them in recalling what they’ve read.
Humor adds depth and dimension to your characters. What would Star Wars be without Han Solo? Or the Avengers without Iron Man?
First, let’s dispel a few myths about adding humor to your writing:
Myth #1: I’m just not funny. Nonsense. If you can laugh at a joke, you can tell a joke.
Myth #2: Humor has no place in serious books. C’mon. Who saw Steel Magnolias?
Laughter through tears is a wonderful emotion.
Myth #3: Nobody ever gets my jokes. Stop trying so hard.
Myth #4: I don’t tell jokes. Of course you don’t – writers show, they don’t tell.
With that out of the way, let’s get to Ten Commandments of Writing:
When in doubt, the ‘rule of threes’ is an easy way to add humor in writing. Pair two common inferences with one uncommon reference. For example:
Thou Shalt Use the Rule of Threes
Losing weight is simple: Eat less, exercise more and pay NASA to let you live in an anti-gravity chamber. (Leigh Anne Jasheway)
I have everything I need to write this article: my computer, my notes and my water bottle filled with vodka.
No! There’s no vodka in my water bottle. It’s simply the juxtaposition of a very un-business like example next to business-like examples.
Sarcasm is a great way to show your reader the personality of your character. With heroes and heroines, use sarcasm with great caution. Sarcasm can render a character unlikeable—which makes sarcasm a great tool when fleshing out a villain. As Dawn Ford pointed out to me, different genres (such as YA) may have a higher level of tolerance for sarcasm.
Some characters are built around sarcasm (Stephanie Plum, for example). Generally, likeable, sarcastic characters are given a fair amount of self-deprecating humor for balance. Which makes self-inflicted sarcasm the exception. When in doubt, only use sarcasm strategically for effect.
Thou Shalt Use Sarcasm Strategically
Aside from your face, do you have any other jokes?
This rule goes back to self-inflicted sarcasm. Self-deprecating humor is a sure-fire way to add humor to your writing. Joan Rivers was the queen of the self-put-down:
Let Your Character “Be” the Joke
I hate housework. You make the beds, you do the dishes, and six months later; you have to start all over again.
This quote gives us the rhythm of the ‘rule of threes’, along with self-deprecating humor. No character is perfect. If you’re making perfect characters, your readers will hate them. Your readers must be able to relate to your characters, and self-deprecating humor is a wonderful way to make you characters more approachable and ‘real’.
Turn the simile and the metaphor on its ear for humor:
Thou Shalt Take Advantage of Similes and Metaphors
“Arthur Dent was grappling with his consciousness the way one grapples with a lost bar of soap in the bath.” Douglas Adams
He was as happy as a slinky on an escalator.
He was as happy as a mosquito in a nudist colony.
Thou Shalt Use Humor Sparingly
Unless you’re going for all-out, slapstick, Janet Evanovich storytelling, use humor sparingly. Humor is the garlic in your sauce. Too much, and that’s all anyone can taste.
I know, I know…we’re always telling writers to avoid clichés. With humor, the writer turns the cliché on its ear.
VIThou Shalt Embrace the Cliché
We’re always told to face our fears. But what if your greatest fear is whatever is behind you?
“Take life one day at a time,” sounds like the affirmation of a serial killer.
No one ever wakes up and says, “I think I under drank last night.”
Turning a cliché inside out is a great way to add humor to your writing, whether you’re working on a fiction or a non-fiction project.
Think “I Love Lucy.” That show was masterful at taking mundane situations, and making them hilarious. The more mundane the better. For the first “America’s Funniest Home Videos”, a guy made 10k from filming his wife with her head stuck in the dishwasher. She’d reached inside and caught her hair. I hope that guy took her on a great vacation with all that money before the divorce. Don’t think big, think small. The more regular and monotonous the task, (candy conveyor belt, anyone?) the bigger the laughs.
Thou Shalt Embrace the Mundane
The next time something funny happens to you, write down the incident. We laugh all the time. Take note. According to folklore, Mary Connealy based Petticoat Ranch on the stories told to her by her mother-in-law. Steal stories from your friends! If they don’t want to be in books, they should befriend accountants instead of writers.
Thou Shalt Steal From Thy Own Life
Humor is a great way to diffuse tension and distract from plot points that shouldn’t be revealed too soon. Who doesn’t remember MayLynne’s outburst from Steel Magnolias? (If you don’t, look here.)
Thou Shalt Use Humor as a Decoy
There was no way to get MayLynne out of her downward spiral. She was angry, and she had every right to be. The writer cleverly added humor to the situation, diffusing the tension.
There’s a great scene in “The Firm” where the main character is coming perilously close to realizing he’s gotten tangled with some very shady characters. It’s too soon in the plot for our hero to find out this particular reveal, so the writer added a joke. The tension is diffused, and the characters shrug their shoulders and move on.
If you need to distract your reader from a tense scene or a big reveal, use humor.
When in doubt, ask a trusted friend. If you’re worried a joke might be in the wrong place, or not funny, or doesn’t make sense – ask a beta reader you can trust.
Thou Shalt Get a Second Opinion
Last, but certainly not least, study from the greats. Read books and watch movies that make you laugh. Study the mechanisms, and learn from the masters.
How about you? Can you recall a scene from a book or a movie (not necessarily a comedy) that made you *actually* laugh out loud?
Sherri Shackelford is an award-winning author of inspirational, Christian romance novels for Harlequin/HarperCollins Publishers.
A wife and mother of three, Sherri’s hobbies include collecting mismatched socks, discovering new ways to avoid cleaning, and standing in the middle of the room while thinking, “Why did I just come in here?” A reformed pessimist and recent hopeful romantic, Sherri has a passion for writing. She doesn't live on the prairie, but she can see the plains from her house. Her books are fun and fast-paced, with plenty of heart and soul.
Special Delivery Baby, Book 2 in the Cowboy Creek series
An abandoned baby is the last thing town founder Will Canfield expects on his doorstep. He's not the father—and the mother's unknown. But the precious little girl needs a protector. And Will never backs down from a challenge, even if it means caring for a newborn…or dealing with spitfire cattle driver Tomasina Stone.
With her father gone, Tomasina's trail life has ended. Yet becoming a polished city lady feels far out of her reach. All she wants is a place where she'll be appreciated, respected…maybe loved. And the more time she spends helping Will care for the baby, the more she wonders if she's found it. She's never wanted to settle down…but Cowboy Creek—by Will's side—might finally give her heart a lasting home.
Cowboy Creek: Bringing mail-order brides, and new beginnings, to a Kansas boomtown.
Leave a comment today to get your name in the baby basket for a chance to win one of three copies of Special Delivery Baby. Thank you to Sherri, for this generous opportunity. Winners announced in the Weekend Edition.
Congrats to Sherri for her NRCA final with The Rancher's Christmas Proposal. She's giving away a copy to celebrate.
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