Welcome to part two of my #PBchat Mentorship Experience series. Today we’re chatting about digging deeper in your manuscript to find the funny. (If you missed part one, you can still read it HERE.)
Dev and I worked on balancing the humor and heart in two picture book texts, one with absurd humor and the second a pun filled mystery. While working on them, it was evident that there were a few “bad habits” I needed to unlearn. One of those bad habits was writing too sparse. So my first dig deeper tip is…
But sparse is king in picture books, right?! Wrong. That’s not to say that sparse can’t be funny and some writers do it really well. But telling writers to leave room for the illustrator without showing them how to do it effectively can create a humor bad habit. This habit leaves the writer with a manuscript that is too vague and in humor, being specific is funny. Let’s look at an example of specificity in one of my favorite funny movies.
In a scene of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Roger handcuffs himself to Eddie, an alcoholic detective who hates toons. It’s funny because Eddie hates toons. He is angry and it’s also pretty inconvenient for him. But it’s not exactly laugh out loud funny. The laugh comes when Eddie is struggling to saw the handcuffs off. Roger slips out of the handcuffs to hold the box steady and reveals to the viewer that Roger had the ability to slip out of the hand cuffs all along. Ta-da! Cue the laughter.
The laughter is a result of going past the funny situation on the surface to find something specific that would make it even funnier. This leads me my second dig deeper tip…
The bad habit that I am still struggling to break is moving to quickly. In both the process of building the story and the story itself.
Turns out, I don’t workshop an idea quite as long as I should. A great bit of advice out there for writers is to ask themselves ‘what if’ but it isn’t followed up by the next step in the brainstorming process. How does that ‘what if’ affect the characters and what chain reaction does it cause.
Funny moments often take setting up. It’s okay to linger in a story moment to set up the humor. I was letting the advice “start late and get out early” as well as “show don’t tell” keep me from setting up funny scenes properly. I wasn’t letting my scenes reach there full humor potential because I was trying to move past them too quickly.
Let’s take another look at that same handcuff scene. Eddie bumps his head on the lamp at the beginning of the sequence and during the entire scene, the ceiling lamp is swinging back and forth. In post-production, the animation team had to shade the cels, frame-by-frame, to line up with the ‘real’ shadows generated by the moving lamp. It was a lot of work but it made a world of difference.
Ralston, who worked on the film said this, “And every time I heard this phrase—”You know what would be funny?”— I knew I was in deep shit. It would be way harder. But it would be way funnier too.” Sounds a lot like revising a story.
Once I lingered in those “what would be funny” scenes, I added over 300 words to my showcase submission. 300! That’s a sparse picture book manuscript in itself. They were all words I had been afraid to add. But they undoubtedly made the story funnier.
It takes courage to be funny. Comedians used to fall flat on their face for a laugh. Fortunately it’s our characters who do the falling. So throw everything you’ve got at them, even the kitchen sink.
If you enjoyed this blog, let me know in the comments below. And make sure to subscribe so that you are notified when I post part three which will be all about the showcase.
Until next time, friends, stay creative!