As a romantic comedy writer I’ve got two main goals with my book: to make my readers swoon along with the budding romance and to make them laugh. Sounds easy in theory, but when was the last time that you watched a sitcom and you didn’t laugh along with the canned laughter or you read a book that everyone else said made them ‘LOL’ all the way through only for you not to even crack a smile? Comedy is subjective and just because you find it funny is no guarantee that your readers will too. Which is why whenever I release a book I am absolutely terrified until the first few reviews roll in validating my humour (and yes I know it’s read by editors but readers are harsher critics). My latest book If We’re Not Married by Thirty is my seventh published novel and whilst it doesn’t get any easier I have found a few ways to help during the writing process to ease my nerves and trust in my comic abilities.
Right at the very beginning of the novel planning process when I’m brainstorming an idea for a novel, I look for a hook that will easily lend itself to humour. In my novel It Started With A Tweet social media obsessed Daisy was forced to go on digital detox on a remote farm. With that hook, I could imagine immediately all the different funny ways Daisy might try and escape the detox and fuel her online addiction. In the same way when thinking of the story for If We’re Not Married by Thirty I imagined all the amusing things that could happen if you decided to suddenly jump quickly into a relationship by passing the ‘getting to know you’ stage and straight into the ‘this is who I really am’ stage.
When I’ve planned my novel and get down to writing the quick and dirty first draft I forget about being funny. I concentrate on getting the story right, the plot ironed out and the characters developed. If I’m writing what will become a really funny scene later I’ll make a few notes along the side reminding me that I need to add humour. Writing a laugh out loud scene takes a lot of time and I don’t want to interrupt the first draft flow or to give myself crippling anxiety that my jokes are awful. When I’m on the second draft and I know the characters better and their personalities I can really make the humour sparkle. I can spend time getting the timing right and agonising over word choices and making sure that it is as funny as I think it can be.
I’ve stopped being hard on myself about how much comedy my books have in them. When I first started writing I used to try really hard to make everything I wrote sound amusing. I desperately wanted to be like those writers who seemed effortlessly funny where every line is comic genius. It took time for me to realise that I didn’t need my book to be like that. My readers want to laugh but more than anything they wanted to go on an emotional journey with my characters and I don’t need to shoehorn gags in for the sake of it. Now, what I try and do is sprinkle humour throughout but have two or three really, really funny scenes. In If We’re Not Married By Thirty I wrote a scene where my two main characters are found in a compromising position by the mother-in-law to be. It’s the first scene I’ve written that even after the final proof-read (perhaps the zillionth time I’d read it) I was still laughing out loud. It’s that scene that readers have quoted to me when they’ve told me how much they enjoyed the book.
I play to my strengths when writing comedy too. I feel I’m at my funniest when I have moments with a large ensemble cast. I’m sure this comes from my love of watching sitcoms where the humour builds up. Frasier is a perfect example with its scenes where the comedy is derived from misunderstandings and the peculiarities of the characters and you can see it start to build up slowly to the crescendo which always has me in stitches. It’s that kind of humour that I like to channel in my books. My favourite scenes to write are always a big dinner scene where everyone’s trapped at the table and whatever is going on with the characters is trapped there too. I want my audience to feel the tension round the table and cringe along with what’s going on.
Just as thinking about what I love when watching or reading comedy, thinking about what I don’t like influences my humour too. For me my pet hate in novels is where someone has tried so hard to create comedy that they get their character to do the most ridiculous things in order to get laughs. Once you stop believing the character you stop rooting for them. This is where I have to reign myself in, not getting too carried away with a situation for laughs at the expense of a story.
To answer my title – how do you know if you’re funny? – You don’t. It’s terrifying, but all you can do is trust your gut and not force it. I always think the best bit of writing advice is write the book you want to read – and that absolutely applies to humour – if you laugh when reading it then hopefully others will too.
(c) Anna Bell
Anna lives in the South of France with her young family and energetic labrador. When not chained to her laptop, Anna can be found basking in the sun in the summer, heading to the ski slopes in the winter (to drink hot chocolate and watch – she can’t ski) or having a sneaky treat from the patisserie – all year round!
You can find our more about Anna on her website – www.annabellwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @annabell_writes.
About If We’re Not Married by Thirty:
Lydia’s not exactly #livingherbestlife. She never imagined she’d be here at thirty – newly single, a job that’s going nowhere and her friends all winning at life when she’s still barely taking part. So she jumps at the chance of a free holiday and jets off to sunny Spain.
Then, out of the blue, she bumps into her childhood friend, the handsome and charming Danny Whittaker. She’s always had a crush on him and they soon enter into a passionate holiday romance.
But this relationship could be more than just a fling. Years ago they made a pact that if they were still single when they turned thirty they would get married. But noone really follows through on these pacts . . . right?
Could Lydia’s back up man really be her happy ever after?
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