by Anna Bell
There’s one thing that terrifies me about writing romantic comedies more than anything. Not the plot, the story, the believability or the characterisation; it’s the fear that what I’ve written isn’t funny. Does that terrify other romantic comedy writers too?
We’ve all been there: someone tells you a joke and you’re left wondering how it’s funny. It’s a cringe-worthy, awful situation, where you try and fake a laugh to spare someone’s feelings. But what if your whole book was like that? What if you thought you’d written something laugh-out-loud funny that fell short, and people didn’t laugh at all?
I’m particularly sensitive to the topic at the moment as I’ve just read through the first draft of my WIP. My first drafts are not known for their comedic merit and I usually add a sprinkling of laughter in the editing stages. Whilst reading through the first draft I’ve been highlighting where humour is needed. It’s not like every line has to be funny, but there are certain points in the story where it’s crying out for a joke. It’s a comment I always hate to see when I’m editing, as I then feel the pressure to channel my inner funny.
The problem with writing comedies (and this might seem a bit obvious), but people find different books funny. I remember being disappointed a couple of years ago when I read a book on the recommendation of a friend, who said it was the funniest thing she’d ever read. She said she’d been laughing at every other line. At the time I was in need of a good laugh and read it in earnest. Only I didn’t laugh once. I didn’t even snigger. I found the jokes laboured, crass and obvious. It wasn’t the type of humour I liked. The book did really well, and from what I’ve seen of the reviews on Amazon, it’s a bit of a marmite book – you either find it hilarious or you don’t find it funny at all.
But then when I read truly funny books they scare me. When I read books with jokes that seem effortless it makes me feel that I’m the least funny person in the world. And although it can be demoralising and soul-destroying reading those funny novels, it’s really useful as I try and take a step back and see where the authors add humour and what types of jokes they use.
When I’m watching comedy on TV and films, I also try really hard to think about what makes me laugh. I like subtle dry humour, shows like Modern Family and Episodes have me laughing out loud, and I try and keep that frame in mind when writing funny scenes.
With humour being so divisive, how do you get it right? I often write things that make me smile, but then by the time I’ve read it five, six or a gazillion times when editing, I start to doubt its comedic value. I over read it and over analyse. I worry that people aren’t going to get my jokes; that I have a warped sense of humour, which nobody else gets. Or that the things my character does are cringey rather than funny.
That’s why there’s nothing nicer then reading in a review or an email/tweet from a fan telling me that my book made them laugh. Then I can breathe a sigh of relief and realise that it’s not just me that gets my jokes.
Do you feel the pressure to be funny or do you naturally tap out the jokes?