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Using Humour in Fiction

Mysteries, thrillers and horror fiction can be very grim. Some authors (including me) add a little humour to lighten the load a little. But there are a few things to consider if you want to use humour in your fiction. (Note: I’m using the Canadian spelling of  “humour” because I am Canadian).

First, a big  no-no:

Don’t have your character or characters crack a lot of jokes. This isn’t stand-up comedy or a comedy TV series. There could be one exception to this – if a trait of one of your characters is to tell jokes – bad or otherwise and it fits in with the plot and this character’s interaction with other characters. But use it sparingly or not at all. It is not the best technique.

Some techniques that can work:

Your main character is a klutz. Picture a klutzy private investigator or cop or? This can bring up several scenarios that can lighten your story. It can also provide some problems for your character in their investigation. For example, your PI is snooping outside a house where nobody is home at the moment. Or maybe he or she gets into the house to look around. Instead of the family dog barking at them or charging at them, why not have the kluzy PI trip over a sleeping cat and fall down a few stairs – or how about a whole menagerie of animals – maybe he or she collides with a snake that has gotten loose from its cage? And the PI is terrified of snakes.

Or give your PI or cop, what we call a character tag and use that to create some humour as the character does what he or shee normally do. In my Beyond books, Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding stutters – not with work-related things, but with personal things that make him nervous – such as his attraction to PI Dana Bowman. He also suffers from migraines. In one scene in Beyond Blood, Fielding knocks on the door of the bedroom Dana had to sleep in overnight – not at her place as a murder and kidnapping took place there and her home is a crime scene,so Dana and her fraternal twin PI  Bast Overture are staying at a neighbour’s next door. Here’s a short excerpt from Beyond Blood with the encounter the next morning between Dana and Fielding.

Beyond Book No. 2

The pounding came from the bedroom door.

“M … M … Ms. Bowman,” Fielding said from outside the door.

Couldn’t the man give me a little privacy? I pushed the covers off and realized I was in a strange bed and still wore my party dress. Red for blood. Red. Cut it out, Dana.

“What the hell do you want, Fielding?”

“Are you d … d … decent?”

“What?” I scratched my head and yawned.

“Ms. Bowman. I need to talk to you.”

“So talk.”

“I h … h … have a ch … ch … change of clothes for you.”

“What?” I leaped out of bed, ran to the door and pulled it open.

Fielding leaned against the wall. His face resembled whitewash and red rivers flowed through his eyes. He held a plastic bag, which he slid over my way.

“Your ch … ch … change of clothes. C … Constable Nivens collected them.”

“Thanks.” I grabbed the bag. “You look like hell. No sleep?”

“Just a migraine. I get them all the time. It’ll pass.”

“Migraine. Here, come in and sit down on …” A quick glanced around the room showed an ironing board piled high with clothes standing beside a chest of drawers. A basket of clothing sat in the room’s only chair. “… on the bed.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“No, it isn’t. Migraines are awful. My mother used to get them, but thankfully I don’t. She used to blow in a paper bag, to get rid of the pain, I mean. Maybe there’s one here.” I started rummaging in the dresser drawers.

“Ms. B … B … Bowman. It’s all right.”

“Here we are.” I shook a scarf from a Fashion Shoppe bag and shoved the bag at Fielding. He ignored it. “Put it over your face and blow.”

He stared at me, for once speechless, took a deep breath and sputtered.

“Take the damn bag and blow. And go and sit down. I don’t want to have to deal with a cop passing out in a bedroom.”

A little colour hit his face for a second. He staggered over to the bed, plunked down on the edge, leaned over and blew. I moved towards the doorway, stopped and swung around.

“Look, Fielding, I’m sorry. Guess we’re all a little edgy.” I sat on the bed beside him and touched his forehead. He flinched and pulled away. “Sorry. Do you want a glass of water?”

“W … w … wait. It’s the kid. I m … m … mean your son. I have a daughter.”

“I know. You told me earlier.”

“Well, I want you to know, Ms. Bowman.”

“Dana.”

“D … Dana, that I’ll do my best to get your son back safe and sound.”

“I know that, Fielding.”

“Don.”

“What?”

“M … my name is Don.”

“Okay, Don. Anyway, you have two private detectives in the house to help you out.”

“Now, listen here, Ms. Bowman. You let the police handle this. Your job is to answer your cell phone if it rings, so we know what the kidnappers want. Nothing else.” He pointed his forefinger under my nose. (Copyright Sharon A. Crawford, From Beyond Blood, Blue Denim Press, 2014).

As you can see,  there is enough for the reader to visualize – especially a burly cop blowing into a brown bag.  hey are in close quarters and both characters are uncomfortable. But it is only a moment before the two characters return to “business”. But what else does the encounter tell you about the characters and the story?

In my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point, some of my stories are noir and satire, one in particular – The Body in the Trunk, which has an unusual take on two friends trying to move a body to… well, that would be giving it away. You have to read it to get it.

And that’s my last suggestion. Read published novels  containing humour in the genre you are writing in. Three authors who do it so well are:

Melodie Campbell with her Goddaughter  series. The Toronto Sun calls her “Canada’s Queen of Comedy”.

Steve Shrott (who also teaches humour writing) with his stand-alone mysteries. One features a dentist who is a part-time PI and another features an actor whose main roles have been dead bodies.

Janet Evanovitch and her  mysteries. Her bail bonds character, Stephanie Plum, is forever getting into scrapes, especially with the two fellows who like her.

See how these authors work their humour to fit their characters and their plots.

Happy reading, especially over the Christmas season.

Have a good holiday.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

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Crime wave hits Gerrard Ashdale library March 24

Longshot of the Gerrard Ashdale library CWC presentation

Longshot of the Gerrard Ashdale library CWC presentation

At 6.30 p.m., March 24, 2016 an unusual crime wave hit the Gerrard Ashdale branch of the Toronto Public Library. Downstairs, the dead body outline was “drawn” with masking tape. Upstairs, “crime” was in progress – at least between the book covers, and expanding to the audience facing the five crime writers in the front.

For the next hour and a half, true crime writers Mark Eddy and Nate Hendley and crime fiction authors Lisa de Nikolits, Steve Shrott and Sharon A. Crawford (also moderating to keep the crime enthusiasts on track) discussed various aspects of crime writing and reading – from authors’ and readers’ view points.

Besides the why we write what we do (Lisa and I have social justice as our reasons and Mark Eddy, author of The Recent History of Terrorism in Canada 1963 -2013, wrote that book because Canadian literature didn’t have this history published). We also discussed where we get our ideas. For example, many of mine come from real life incidents such as a harrowing drive up Highway 11 to cottage country with a friend when her car brakes stopped working. I take the incident and fictionalize the characters and plot.

But one of the most interesting discussions was in answer to the question:

What is your take on novel or true crime endings, i.e., should you leave the reader hanging or have a resolution that ties up the book’s contents?

Some wanted a full resolution, but some were okay with a resolution for the main plot, but some of the issues with the characters could be left hanging, especially for series novels. Nate Hendley, who (among other true crime books) wrote Steven Truscott; Decades of Injustice about Steven Truscott (who was wrongfully convicted of murder and rape at age 14,in 1959), was pleased that he could put in his book that in 2007 the Ontario Court of Appeal declared Truscott acquitted of the rape and murder of Lynn Harper. That declaration was the result of Truscott himself filing an application for this in 2001. Justice moves slow. In fiction, that can happen faster.

The five of us authors in the hot seats also discussed unusual ways we promote our books. For example, Nate Hendley had copies of his Truscott book at a presentation of a play about Truscott in southwestern Ontario. I dress up as my main Beyond Blood character, Dana Bowman and do short skits where Dana disses me. See my website for where Dana will next appear.

Meantime, here’s another photo of the CWC gang up close at Gerrard Ashdale. Both photos were taken by the library branch’s head librarian, Gail Ferguson.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

The CWC gang up close - Sharon, Steve Shrott, Nate Hendley, Lisa deNikolits, Mark Eddy

CWC gang up close – Sharon, Steve Shrott, Nate Hendley ,Lisa de Nikolits, Mark Eddy

 

 

 

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Behind the scenes of author presentations

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Authors don’t suddenly appear at libraries, cafes, pubs and other venues to read. There is work involved, especially with the organizers. And when you have two different events on consecutive evenings, it can get shall we say busy?

Especially when Mr. Murphy (that rascal from Murphy’s Law) gets into the act.

I help organize crime readings/presentations for Crime Writers of Canada. Most of these are in libraries but some occur in cafes and pubs. This week there are two, one this evening and one tomorrow evening. I’ll list them at the end.

First, way back before the reading time, I have to contact the library branch or café or pub. Sometimes I email; sometimes I phone and sometimes it is in person. Whichever way, there is always follow-ups re details between the venue and myself and of course, lining up authors. Then some to and froing by email to authors, to the venue, re publicity – who does what – and actually doing it. Being somewhat old school (well, in age) I like to print some flyers and the like, but I also do a lot of social media, e-newsletters, etc.

I also have to organize the presentation setup. Sometimes I get lazy and just introduce the authors and have them talk about their books and writing, read a bit, and then answer questions from the audience. Other times I organize an interview or panel setups (with some reading and q and a). The latter two are the way of this week’s two presentations. Fortunately, my cohort in crime, Rosemary McCracken is helping with the interview setup for tomorrow’s presentation. (More below).

However, sometimes when things seem to be going along well, Mr. Murphy appears.

For example, an unexpected rental fee for microphone equilpment at a café or pub. Or bad weather – blizzards or heavy rainfalls (the later has happened and the event was cancelled – which meant contacting authors and the library. This one started as an email, then phone conversation between one of the other authors reading and myself. We decided it would be best to cancel – if the library agreed. Fortunately, I got the librarian on the phone and she cancelled the event. The other author I had to email because I didn’t have his phone number. And he was from just east of Toronto. Fortunately, he had the sense to phone the library to find out.)

This weather for this evening’s event is for dry warm weather – so far. Tomorrow’s? More showers, maybe some scattered thunderstorms. Keeping toes crossed here that all goes well including the event. And that means not just the authors able to make it okay but people to see and hear us.

Only time will tell. But it can get nerve-wracking. My point? When you go to see and hear authors read, remember that there is work involved in putting these events together.

And the two events this week where some of us Crime Writers of Canada authors are appearing.

Tonight, June 11 at the Bloor/Gladstone library branch, 1101 Bloor St, West, in Toronto from 6. 30 p.m. to 8 p.m. I’m moderating a panel featuring Rosemary McCracken, Steve Shrott and Steve Burrows.

Tomorrow, June 12, at the Red Rocket Coffeehouse, 1364 Danforth Ave., Toronto, from 7.30 p.m. to 9.30 p.m. Rosemary McCracken and I share the interviewing duties and authors will also read a bit and answer questions. Also featuring Karen Blake-Hall, Steve Shrott, Linda Cahill, Robert Hoshowsky, the latter a true crime author.

And of course we authors are bringing copies of our books, hopefully to sell some.

See Rosemary’s blog post on Moving Target today for some more details. https://rosemarymccracken.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/busy-days/

And if you are in the area, drop in at one of the locations for an evening of crime – between the book covers.

Cheers.

 

Sharon A. Crawford

Sharon A. Crawford is the author of the Beyond book series. More info at www.samcraw.com and www.bluedenimpress.com – my publisher – you can also purchase e-books – both Kindle and Kobo from Blue Denim Press. Click on the Beyond Blood Book cover at the top of this post.

 

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