Comic Principals

Some authors have a canny ability to make us laugh while reading their stories. Yet, what one person may think is funny, another may not. This subjective nature, according to Connie Willis, makes comedy difficult to study, but “humorous fiction has analyzable and learnable techniques.” In his article, “The Comic Point of View: Putting Humor in Your Fiction,” David Bouchier provides a long list of comic principles. They include: incongruity, irony, word games, satire, visuals, caricatures, strange and awkward settings, exaggeration and understatement.” Yet, knowing these principles and applying them effectively are two different things. Sharon Creech is one author who knows how to make us laugh with her funny opening and amusing protagonist in The Unfinished Angel.

The Unfinished Angel by Sharon CreechUsing satire, Sharon Creech tempers a disturbing, yet funny, statement that her protagonist makes in the first few lines of The Unfinished Angel. “PEOPLES ARE STRANGE! The things they are doing and saying—sometimes they make no sense. Did their brains fall out of their heads?” (1) Exaggerated sarcasm makes us laugh when, in reality, we should be disgusted with the morbid image of brains falling out of heads. With this statement, Childs sets the tone for the story and piques the reader’s interest with humor.

This funny beginning serves an additional purpose. The protagonist is introduced as an entertaining character who has a humorous way of narrating the story. In the novel, The Unfinished Angel, Creech creates an angelic character that is a bumbling caricature, slightly offensive, but humorous enough that we come to like her.

“An Angel is supposed to be a happy being, no? Angels are supposed to float about bringing love and goodwill and protection and good fortune, no? I do not know where I got these ideas. Maybe they are wrong. Me, I am not feeling all that cheerful with all these peoples around, and I am not finding many peoples deserving of the splashes of love and good fortune, even if I knew how to splash and where to get the love and good fortune.” (18)

Angel uses long sentences and grammatical incorrect speech patterns to deliver a shocking opinion in a true and humorous way. In addition, “Funny characters are unusual, strange, odd and perhaps obnoxious and always extreme.” (Bouchier 23) Angel makes us laugh out loud because she expresses her wacky world views using a peculiar mode of narration.

Finally, Bouchier defines what makes a great humor writer.

“Great humor writers were and are good writers first and foremost… Humor must be easy to read and transparent. It should announce itself in the first line and move relentlessly forward with something funny in every paragraph.” (27)

Writing comedy is a matter of perspective, but it is also a skill that can be studied and developed. Do you have a work in progress that is comedic? Examine your characters and narrative. What situations do you put them in? How can you stretch the scenes with satire?


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