“I don’t want to alarm you, girl, but this may be one of the worst chapters you have ever written,” he says, lighting his imaginary cigarette.
“No smoking in here, muse,” I snarl.
“I don’t have time for this kind of nonsense,” he says, ignoring my icy stare. “You’re making me look bad, lady. This is the second time in two months I’ve had to stop by. If you don’t pull yourself together, I’ll be reassigned to the Sunny Sarasota Retirement Home inspiring the Silver Sneakers crowd or, worse, I’ll be riding herd over budding artists at Little Tykes Fun Fiesta. You know I’m not fond of kids.”
“You never had kids,” I snap. “They are highly creative. It’s possible you might really enjoy them.”
He nods, smiling that seductive evil-dead smile. How could I, someone who struggles to scribble a single coherent paragraph, have written such a tantalizing creature?
“Point taken. However, their creativity differs from that of adults in one profoundly important way.”
“Children haven’t lost their sense of humor, my beautiful writer.” Juan folds his arms over his vest, covering the laser burns on the fabric. I did kill him off in my first novel, but he has returned as my muse and alternately infuriates or inspires me.
“You’ve lost it, babe,” he says, shaking his head. “The humor you had in the first novel is too well-hidden in this second story.”
I sniff, insulted but intrigued. “Yes. You’re right. I’m just having a hard time making murder, drug lords, and slavery funny.”
He laughs, white teeth flashing in his brown face. “There were plenty of terrible misfortunes in your first book and somehow we made the readers laugh. For God’s sake, have you forgotten everything I taught you? Humor is essential in this kind of fiction. It can’t be taken seriously. Think of Carl Hiaasen’s Skinny Dip. A man tries to kill his wife by pushing her off a cruise ship, for crying out loud. But she lives to torment him. Even a grim book like Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War has humor or at least irony. Your POV character is too, too serious. Of course, her situation is dire, but she is still capable of sarcasm, if you allow it. Turn her loose. She can banter with the best, heap on derision, look death in the eye and laugh.”
He thumps his chest and a puff of smoke rises from the bullet hole over his pocket. “Until the day you re-shirted me, I was one sarcastic sexy bastard. Remember how humor makes a book sing? Hell, even The Stand had its moments. How about Randall Flagg’s classical reference to Sympathy for the Devil?” Juan chuckles, brushing back his dreads. “OK, that was only in the mini-series but it made you laugh out loud.”
“Yeah,” I mutter. “Naomi is too serious. Maybe because she’s older than my usual characters. Oh god, am I falling prey to ageist stereotypes?”
“Naw. She’s still hot in an obsessive workaholic paleo-archaeologist a kind of way.” Juan grins down at me, perching on the edge of my desk. “Listen, when you had me fired and disgraced by the biggest news outlet on Earth did you let it get me down? Hell, no, you had me laugh in the face of failure, and it made me a great character.”
As his gorgeous Cheshire cat smile fades, I return to my chapter. Time for a rewrite. This chapter only. He was right about humor – he’s always right.
How important is humor in your writing? How do you make your readers smile?
Photos from Foter