Monday, November 15, 2021

A dog goes into a bar saying I want to find the man that shot my paw.

I listened to a zoom meeting where Catriona McPherson discussed using humor in your mystery novel. It was unusual in that she did such an organized presentation. Writing discussions can ramble all over the place. 

I'm a retired teacher. I can ignore a lot in life. But I am a stickler for detail at times. Over the years I learned how to grade almost anything. They introduced teachers at one time to rubrics to evaluate student work. For most teachers, we had been using rubrics over the years. 

One year, the grade level I worked on agreed to use a rubric to evaluate science fair projects. I was young and dumb. I took the rubric serious. One dad called me upset with the C his child received. Exasperated, he said, "But I worked so hard." Later I learned the other teacher had given all her students A's. I would like to say I was smart enough to change all my grades and be popular too. After all, a science fair is a PR event for the school where all the projects are wonderful and all the students are great. But, I didn't.

Sometimes I find myself grading inane things. And one is any presentation I watch. One thing I do know is that you can learn something from almost everyone. There are so many writers and so much to read that I have become a bit more realistic in acknowledging I can't read everyone's novel. I also have a tendency to read what my blogging friends over years write. Sometimes, it is someone I met at the few conferences I have attended. I'm a huge memoir reader.

I was really hung up on Catriona McPherson's mother's quote that "there is more to life than being happy". I got a phone call and had to walk away during the question period. But I don't know if I would have had the nerve to ask exactly what context her mother said that for. And even though McPherson did an excellent job describing why use humor in a serious story such as a mystery or suspense novel; I can't remember much of her rationale. 

More than anything, she helped me build a character in a story I have been working on. He is the King of "dad" jokes.

These were the notes I took from the presentation. I thought they had a resonance. I highlighted the books she mentioned.

why be funny

there is more to life than being happy

humor is not comfort or whimsy

dark is not more real than light

James Robertson "The testament of Gideon Mack"

To write humor, you must be able to accept people may be offended. She likes what has a bit of bite.

Taking potshots makes you a bully or weak

"My sister the serial killer"   Oyinkan Braithwaite

"Squeeze me"    Carl Hiaasen   offensive?  set in country club of an ex President where the older women are being  bumped off. . lampooning a country club of ex President will hurt no one.

google bad sex awards

punch yourself makes a safe joke

If there was a funny laugh in say a rape, it would have to be from the victim not the rapist. Terrible idea.

There are people with no sense of humor

Germans have a form of humor that is much different than that found in other European languages. (Catriona is a Scot. She doesn't know we Americans don't comprehend anyone speaking anything but English.)

do not say your characters laugh. Do not ever share your characters laugh  no funny speech tag

Be funny throughout if you use humor

How to do humor

Surprise - laughter is response to a pleasurable surprise

      search your writing for cliché and switch it out

Rule of threes

     Add two more things to get something funny

    Works with a running gag  You need to time three good hits. First needs to happen in the beginning.      The second needs to happen quickly.   The third should be a surprise later in the book.

   Three people in dialog helps boost the comedy

Mismatch between style and substance

Standard Joke set-up can be used. 

Consider point of view.  Absurdity is in the eye of the beholder.

Leave on the laugh.

Commit to detail. Detail can also hide a clue. 

Sock barrel 

"Diary of a bookseller" which is a memoir by Shaun Bythelle

What is screwball comedy? I looked up the answer. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the movie would be a good answer.

Below is one of several paintings in a doctor's office interior. I would have liked to gone into the offices to see some better work. The frames and matting hid the artist signatures. 

My next journey in life is to take an art appreciation class. I know if I understood the rationale, I would like the work more. But it may be like all things, what is good is subjective. 


  1. You must be a harsh book reviewer as well.

    1. Maybe not. I think there is an audience for everyone's book. I have read a few stories which really weren't ready to be printed. One I got a few belly laughs in that the young woman constantly regaled the reader with activities that we older women do. It was written by another senior citizen. But for the most part, I feel humbled with how good some people's work is.

  2. We spend a lot of time shouting at the TV telling them to learn how to spell!!! Hope all is well, Diane

    1. That is something I catch in some books. I had a friend to self publish a book on Kindle. It was really a nicely organized story. But toward the end, there were misspellings and a repeat of a portion of one chapter in another chapter. I kept a record and asked if she wanted to know about any typos. She did and accepted them with grace. I imagine she just wanted to have something published which I understand completely.

  3. Humour has kept me from drowning more than once. Including black humour.
    I love that you are continuing to learn - I hope I am too.
    And a big yes to memoirs. They often feature in my towering to be read piles.

    1. Humor has been a huge coping mechanism for me in my life. I can be funny and have an audience truly bent over in laughter. But it was hard to put that on paper. I'm still not sure it is there. But writing has been a great decision for me. Whether anything ever gets published. I don't know. But the journey is worthwile.

  4. Ahhh... You're a teacher too. What fun! I'll bet 75% of my commenters/readers are (retired) teachers. Actually, I rather like that painting. It does make you come back to look at it again.

    1. I thought the same about the painting. At first, I thought what is so special about someone throwing paint on a canvas and then diluting a portion. But it grows on you. It makes me think of the band REM.

  5. I know I will never have the time to read everything I want to read (Not that I won't try) so I read what looks good to me instead of what all my friends are reading.

    I'm sure being a teacher was hard. I can't even imagine.

  6. Totally agree that you can learn something from everyone.

  7. I can be a scathing reviewer. I have a low tolerance for very poorly written books or huge plot holes.

  8. My problem at school wasn't the grades I was given, which were probably quite justifiable, but that when I was getting bad grades my parents didn't blame the standard of teaching or the fact that I was unhappy at that particular school. They just blamed me for not trying hard enough.

  9. Like Secret Agent Woman, I'm a scathing reviewer. Especially as so many books are both badly written and badly edited.


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