I’m often asked how I write ‘funny’. Occasionally this is a comment on my handwriting but usually it concerns writing humour. My normal response is it just happens – I just make it all up but that’s no response at all. So I’ve taken one of my characters, Seline Allbright, and tried to look at what I actually do.
This is not a tutorial on humour writing just an examination of how I deal with Seline.
There are three main elements: situation, character, and backstory. They’re all interlinked but can also be teased apart.
The situations in which Seline finds herself are mostly mundane, not in themselves funny at all. They become funny due to her interaction with them. Standing in a queue at the bank, in the dentist’s chair, the cinema, buying a sausage from the butcher; none of these are funny but the character makes them so.
Even Seline’s character is not in itself funny. She is a strong minded woman and doesn’t suffer fools. She is sociable and will strike up a conversation with total strangers. She is supportive of her friends and family and forgiving of their eccentricities.
The humour comes from her thought processes which are seldom what her friends think they are.
She makes the assumption that her thoughts are transparent to all and therefore the latest unfortunate she has engaged in conversation will be able to follow them.
So we have the thought cascade where a thought triggered by a current event or conversation leads to another and on to another until the final thought bears no relationship to the initial one. To Seline what she then says is totally logical but may be greeted by bemusement by the listener.
Similar is the layered reminiscence where a memory from her past leads to another and on to another until we find she is somewhere quite different to where she started out.
The majority of the stories take place over a very short time period, sometimes just an extended conversation.
Seline often makes up her own words or will use words inappropriately. She also likes to make up weird similes ... he jumped like he’d eaten a frog.
Scenes from her childhood and adolescence often form an important element of each story. Her past life unfolds during the telling with a cast of eccentric characters:
Her taxidermist mother
Her good friend Senga
The insalubrious Uncle Vernon ...
Uncle Bernie who just might have lupine tendencies
The father she never knew
And, of course, a succession of ever hopeful but endlessly puzzled boyfriends.
That’s Seline Allbright, a character I’ve come to love over the years. She first came into being as I stood at my sitting room window watching a large and rather strange aerial being erected on the house opposite and I wondered what sort of character would just march across the road and demand to know what was going on. For no logical reason I imagined a small dumpy woman in a woollen cardigan and Seline was born – Seline Saves the World. Interesting to think that she will still be there, at least in electronic form, when I’m long gone.