Back in October of 2021, I recorded a performance of my 2014 flash horror story “Your Hand in Mine, We’ll Be All Right” for Flash Fiction Online — it’s only recently that I remembered that I didn’t actually announce it on my own dang site. As we head into spooky season, though, I thought I’d toss up a link– enjoy!
(Some handy trigger warnings: body horror, self-harm, mutilation, fetal distress, and my questionable acting ability.)
It is sometimes said that you can’t teach someone how to write comedy. I think that’s a bit silly, though — I think it’s more accurate that you can’t teach someone how to write something universally funny, because humor is tied so closely to our hindbrain animal limbic system electrical zoomies that what each of us find funny is deeply personal, tied to our experiences and preferences and whatever the monkey is screaming in the back of our heads.
In other words, you could equally say that you can’t teach someone how to write a universally hot sex scene, or a universally scary horror scene. You can, however, write something you find funny (or hot or scary or all three, go for it, I’m not your boss). And in that case, while you won’t hit everyone’s funny bone, you’ll definitely get somebody — you’re your own proof of concept.
And once you accept that, then– sure, you can be taught how to write comedy. It’s all practice, study, and:
A Few Handy Hacks (for Writing Humor)
1. Having a “straight man” and a “comic”, a’la the traditional double act, actually works. Feel free to switch who’s who as need requires.
2. Having a good rhythm – and strategically breaking that rhythm – is important. Listening to a good stand-up comic’s monologue will demonstrate that, or reading any good comic writer’s work. The rhythm catches the reader, and the break makes them laugh.
3. Having mostly funny stuff and then tossing in a dollop of real-life consequences or angst will make the funny stuff funnier and the real stuff realer.
4. Lead the reader to expect one line of dialogue because of circumstance or internal monologue, and then give them a different (preferably banal or off-topic) one. Bait and switch.
5. I sometimes like to fuck around with punctuation and “um”s and stuff, because I think that’s hilarious, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. “What. Um. Yes. I mean. What?” is guaranteed to make me giggle, is what I’m saying.
6. Heighten humorous reality by being a bit more fun with description and action. Don’t just have your character smile at annoying person’s misfortune – have them on the floor beneath the conference room table, gibbering gleefully and throwing in random unhelpful comments. Give them some adverbs. Later, do a call back and have them remove some errant carpet fuzz.
7. Typically, the word “said” is all you really needed to get by in dialogue, when you need a dialogue tag at all. Comic fiction is one of the places where you can get a bit more frisky if you so wish. (Particularly when paired with bait-and-switch, as in, “Basil leaned over and wrapped his arm comfortingly around Ted’s shoulders. He gave a quick squeeze and, in tones of kindest understanding, murmured, ‘You absolute tit.'”)
8. Never underestimate the power of an amusing and unexpected prop, the funnyman’s version of Chekov’s shotgun. Georgette Heyer accomplished great things with a strategically placed baby duck.
9. There’s something really satisfying about a super long sentence followed by a really short one. Or a very long paragraph followed by a very short one. Or a section of any sort of decent length followed by an absolutely minuscule one that consists of nothing but a joke. Somehow that’s just really funny.
10. List humor. Humans just get a real buzz out of lists that get progressively sillier (or even just lists of quite normal things, but extended beyond what could be considered reasonable. Monty Python did a lot of this.) The internet has unfortunately discovered this as well, but it still works. I could get into why, but, unfortunately, I won’t.
Happy December, folks. I have a bunch of posts that should (fingers-crossed) be popping up over the next couple of days, but in the meantime: I have one new story this year, but it’s a particular favorite. It’s eligible for the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Bram Stoker, and any other award your heart sees fit to nominate them for. See below for a link, quotes from reviews, and a little spoilerish rundown (first written up on twitter) of why this story is so important to me.
‘Demon Fighter Sucks’ is one of those horror stories that’s a bit funny, a bit sad, and fun to read. Broken into sections like ‘Step 5: Do Some Mugglefucking Magic,’ the story takes readers on the journey of conjuring a fairy while weaving in the main character’s backstory, which of course ends up having a significant impact on the spell and its conclusion. Like any good story.
Young Run is a 16-year-old girl who – as part of her campaign against the fake magic of supernatural TV shows – attempts to summon a fairy for her Fun with Public Domain Magic livestream. Both entertaining and poignant.
This one means a lot to me, folks. And not just because I used the word “mugglefucking” and got paid for it. It’s the last story I sold before my mother died, and the first story to get published after she died. For a lot of reasons (particularly apparent if you read it) this work is important to me, and Apex Magazine did a great job with it. Spoilers ahead…
I have a new short story out from the excellent Apex Magazine, “DEMON FIGHTER SUCKS“, in Issue 123.
It’s the last story I sold before my mother died, and the first story to get published after she died. For a lot of reasons (particularly apparent if you read it) this work is important to me, and Apex Magazine did a great job with it.
“Fragment of a Letter to an Inhabitant of a Planet, Remote from the Earth, of a Superior Race of Beings” is purported to be written by a “Eusebia”, who had the idea for it after seeing the funeral procession of Admiral Nelson. The story is from the POV of an alien from another planet who is visiting Earth, unknown to anyone except a local guide. It’s implied that the aliens know about Earth because an angel told them about us weirdo humans, who are mortal and seem to revel in death. (Apparently, despite being aliens, they believe and are affected by Christianity. Oh, 1800s England.)
Reading through the text, it appears that the aliens are immortal and live on a planet that has no death, to the point where they don’t experience seasons, are apparently vegetarian, and don’t sleep. Our unnamed alien narrator — who also has a “subtle vehicle” that lets them go through walls and observe us invisibly — comes to the conclusion that God has made it so that humans have to sleep so as to prepare us for the inevitable horror of permanent death through repetitious mini-deaths… which has unfortunate consequences for our entire understanding of life.
It’s an interesting story, though more for seeing the author do a neat bit of negative-space worldbuilding (telling us about their species/planet through what their narration chooses to highlight and/or be confused by) than for any real plot or message. But… it’s an SF story in a women’s magazine, under a female pseud, during the Regency period. It’s pretty likely that Jane Austen read The Lady’s Magazine — how great is it to imagine Jane sitting around and discussing distant planets with her sister Cassandra, making jokes about what they’d do with their own “subtle vehicles”, wondering what other things would look weird to an alien observer?
If you’d like to read the story yourself, here’s the direct link to the scan, here’s a downloadable PDF of the original printed story, or you can click the “Continue Reading” below for a transcription. It’s a neat bit of SF history that I haven’t seen referenced elsewhere, but let me know if you’ve seen otherwise, or if you know of other Regency SF that could use a light shined on them. Enjoy!
Originally published on The Anna Katherine Co-op of Evil, April, 2012. “Anna Katherine” is the pseudonym of Anna Genoese and Katherine Crighton; this story is a prequel to the Door-world book SALT AND SILVER, 2009.
Rian Corveau is fifteen years old. He lives about twenty minutes north of the border, speaks French better than he reads it (and he only does around his Quebecois family, anyway), loves hunting better than fishing, and has just had sex for the first time.
Michelle is six months older than him, and lives in town, and is so beautiful he doesn’t know words in enough languages for it. Her skin is the color of milk. Her lips are wide and thin around her mouth. Her laugh is rough and catches in the air when he tries to kiss along her skin like he’s seen in movies. She smells like spice and snow.
It began on a Tuesday. Aliens arrived, in swirling disco-ball orbs
that were very shiny, and started laying waste to everything in sight
and more than a few things in important bunkers. Munitions were
destroyed; surrender was denied; the destruction of the world was both
imminent and inevitable.
The cats of the Eastern seaboard decided, in a group vote, that the humans had finally proven themselves useless.
Originally published on tumblr, March 13, 2015. Written for whitesheepcbd. Warnings: offensive treatment of developmentally disabled children/adults, referenced child abuse, referenced filicide, blasphemy. I tried to be respectful of the developmentally disabled community and their concerns – any errors of fact or misrepresentations of their experience are entirely my fault and, at any rate, I should not be seen as any sort of source for more information (there are many self-advocating groups/blogs both on tumblr and on the web in general that are much better spokespeople/resources than me — start with the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and go on from there).
Sunday school was one of the things that Sam was
supposed to pay attention to. His mama walked him to the door every
time, which didn’t match what the other parents did; it bothered him. He
dragged his feet, trying to get her to stop and go back to her pew, but
she thought it was because he didn’t want to go, and just kept moving.
It was backward. She was getting it wrong and he couldn’t tell her and
she wouldn’t listen anyway.
He stood in the door once she pushed
him inside, like he always did, and waited there, watching, until she
went back to her pew and the sermon started up again. He checked the
church – everybody was matching again. Good. Now he could go into Miss
Sarah’s class and sit in circle time for today’s lesson.