I’ve always said that making people laugh is one of the hardest things to do. Writing books with humor is a challenge to even the most nimble authors, and making a character who is genuinely funny even more difficult. I reference the people in my books, who, be they witch, vampire, asshole at the bank, or good hearted truck driver, are all real people to me when I write them.
Now, let’s break that down– genuinely funny— as it contains two of the most important parts of your main character.
- Genuine. I have a single goal when I create a character, and that is for the reader to think, “I know this person.” I want my readers convinced that the character is someone they might meet the next time they leave the house. That’s critical.
- Three Dimensional People. I use this term to describe the characters because they should exist in every plane; you should feel their personalities, their voices, and the background of their lives. All of these make them have a weight on the pages. Don’t skimp on background. Don’t use background instead of dialogue. Here’s why.
- Dialogue Is Good Voyeurism. I’m not talking about watching your neighbor through their window, you dirty little critter, although if they’re leaving the curtains open while they dance naked to Bon Jovi and you have a box of wine and nothing to do on a Friday night hey who’s fault is it anyway I mean– sorry. I meant to say, dialogue– good dialogue– is the single best method to get inside the head of your characters. For readers, one page of dialogue is equivalent to an entire chapter of exposition, because it tells you why they act as well as how they will act in the future. This is how we bring readers with us to the last page. They must burn for the Great Reveal in which all becomes clear.
- Real People Are Hilarious. Don’t think this is true? Go to the returns desk at any major retail store on the planet. Then wait. Within fifteen minutes you will see: Thieves. Liars. People with sweaty ‘bra money’. Flimsy excuses. Glorious expressions from the employees. Anger. Resolution. You might even see an adult in a onesie, given the state of our planet. It’s all there, and it’s free. My point is: real life is a fountain of hilarity, if you observe the right places. If you want unlimited rage, go to the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you want funny, go everywhere else. Then– write it down.
- Read Aloud. Let me repeat this: read. your dialogue. out loud. You should laugh, or cringe, or feel. . . something. What you should not feel is nothing. If that’s the case, the dialogue is flat and it needs to die. Start over, keeping the best sentence you have, then ask yourself. What would your character do if they were at the returns desk at Walmart? It’s a great start, and you might surprise yourself by learning more about your own characters.
I know Carlie, Ring, Saavin, French and Wulfric inside and out because to me, they are real. I can hear their voices, see their walk, and imagine how they might deal with an overcooked steak (steak cannot be undercooked, fight me!) or flat tire. You know, life. This is why I’m able to make Carlie more than a Quirky Girl Doing Cute Things.
You know what to do. Keep your eyes and ears open, take a few notes, and write people who you every day. But, you know, with dragons and swords and stuff. That’s what I do.
I’ll be in Frankenmuth, Michigan for Once Upon a Book (Aug 11-12). They claim to have the World’s Best Chicken Dinner. My body is ready.