Letting Your Reader Breathe – Between Laughs

babylaughterAt yesterday’s meeting we had couple of comedy pieces submitted for critique – the unrelentingly side-splitting Victorian Horror piece ‘The Spectre In The Wardrobe’ by Tony Owens will be one to look out for, and the giggle-tastic and close to the group’s heart ‘Making Magic’.

While both manuscripts would have been covered in comments like ‘lol’ and ‘rofl’ (after all we want the author to know when we genuinely laughed aloud at the joke), our resident comedy expert, Meg, had some advice for those who submitted.

Firstly was to let the jokes breathe. To give you an idea of what that means think of when you watch a movie at the cinema. Right after some witty mercenary in a mask makes a quip all 100+ people in the cinema crack up. Now if without missing a beat one of the other characters were to make a witty response chances are every word that other character says will be drowned under the laugh following the first joke.

While it’s not exactly the same effect with reading, there’s a similar result, a dilution of amusement caused by the second (or third, fourth, fifth) joke when they are fired in rapid succession.

Another way to think of it is like the lesson from the May meeting about character burnout: too many characters=burned out reader. Same concept applies to jokes, if you space them out (like introductions to characters) they’re less likely to slip by or be buried in the mirth from the preceding joke.

And a more generalised comedy tip is to think of what kind of joke you’re going for. Is it simply a witty one liner, or are you going for the slow build story which, while it might contain quite a few of the aforementioned one liners, ultimately culminates in a hilarious laugh bigger (and often much more memorable) than that of a single simple joke?

Watch some comedians and see how they work. You’ll notice even the comedians who do rapid fire one liners will take a purposeful pause to let the laughter die down. But how do we know where to put those pauses? It can be hard knowing which of the jokes you wrote are actually funny, and which are so rip-roaringly such that they need an extra long break. This is where a writers group can come in handy – they can tell you which ones hit, which ones miss and which ones made them cackle so loud they woke up the baby in the other room.

Even if your story’s main genre isn’t comedy having a good laugh or two is rarely a bad thing so it’s a good idea to practice your comedic skills.

About Kirstie Olley

Kirstie Olley was the President of Vision Writers Group during 2015-2018, has had ten short stories published since joining the group in 2012, has been a finalist in the Aurealis Awards and received multiple honourable mentions in the Writers Of The Future contest. She also blogs and has free fiction at her website http://www.storybookperfect.com/
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