I was asked in an interview recently about where my inspiration comes from to write comedy. My brain started making associations, leading me to remember the old adage, "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." Then I giggled at the word "hard".
My brain immediately went to work again, digging through all of the files of my past memories search for further associations to make. I remembered this Orkin commercial from years ago:
At the end of the commercial, he says "Ants are tough. Orkin's tougher."
All of this happened in the space of about one second after I read that interview question, and I came up with the title for this blog post.
Not wanting to waste a good erection joke, I started trying to think of material to justify having a title at all.
I thought I might write some comedy writing advice, but I quickly found that every time I thought up a "rule", it was one that I habitually violated, or something that other people whose comedy writing I respect violate to great comedic effect.
So when I threw away all of the specific dos and don'ts (probably a good idea for any creative endeavor until you really get a handle on your own style and voice), I was left with only broader bits of wisdom that aren't specific to comedy writing.
Know your characters.
If you're an aspiring writer like I once was, you've probably wasted a lot of time (that would have been better spent reading fiction and writing) reading How To books about writing and similarly themed blog posts.
There is a lot of garbage available on how to write fiction, but one thing most of the books and blogs on the subject have in common is that they will tell you to know your characters. They'll often contain a list of stupid questions that you should know each of your characters' answers to. Personally, I think those are a huge waste of time.
I used to think "know your characters" was just a piece of fluff advice, Something that people feel obligated to say, but that doesn't have any real meaning, like "Do not take while drinking alcohol," or "Seriously. Stop sending me pictures of your junk or I'm calling the police." It wasn't until recently that I came to understand what "know your characters" really meant, and how it was affecting my writing.
Fortunately, I'd been intrinsically and unintentionally following that advice all along, but it wasn't until my editor pointed out two lines, one from The Land Before Tim, and the other from A Fistful of Gold Pieces, that I bothered to give it a second thought.
The lines weren't particularly funny on their own, especially out of context, so I won't share them here, but they were funny because of who said them. When you know your characters -- and I'm not talking about when their birthday is or what their favorite color is or any of that bullshit -- when you truly know them, then what they do and say will ring so much truer to a reader's ear. In my case, the reader will (hopefully) laugh, but the same thing applies to drama, suspense, or really any time you want to bring your characters to life. (HINT: Always!)
Master the rules before you break them.
I stated before that I considered and rejected the idea of pulling a bunch of bullshit comedy writing rules out of my ass. If you're going to stand out from the crowd, you've got to veer off the path of rules and conventional wisdom from time to time. Like I mentioned in a previous post, we self-published authors are at a potential advantage over the traditionally published folks, because we have more room to experiment. (I say "potential" because that same freedom could be a major disadvantage if you fuck it up.)
Picasso didn't start painting arms and shit on people's faces until well after he had mastered the art of painting normal looking people. Likewise, I didn't get to the point in my writing career that I'm at now (decent, midlist author with a growing fan base who occasionally appears on Amazon's Top 100 Fantasy Authors list)...
...until I carefully considered the advice of those who had gone before me, determined the reasoning behind it, and ultimately rejected most of it.
"You can't put the word "SHIT" on your front cover."
"You can't write stories about gamers transporting into their game world. That's been done before."
"For Christ's sake, you can't give your characters Hit Points!!!"
And that's just some of the advice I got for writing the books. I've also swum against the stream of marketing advice.
"You can't just spam your book advertisements on Twitter."
"You can't make your book covers yourself."
"You can't write short stories. There's no market for them."
I'm not telling you to stand up and say "Screw the man!" with every decision you make. Don't start spelling "cat" with a Q just because Fuck you, Noah Webster!
There's a lot of conventional wisdom out there that I do abide by.
"Don't be boring."
"Make sure you're putting out the best product you can."
"Keep putting out new books."
All I'm saying is that if you understand the reasoning behind the advice, and you factor that understanding in while making your decision to ignore said advice, then have at it.
For example, the aforementioned use of the word "SHIT" on the cover of Critical Failures. I posted my cover on a popular writers' website to be critiqued. Several of the bigwigs on that site told me that I absolutely shouldn't have a swear word on the cover of my book.
People would be offended.
Bookstores wouldn't carry my book.
People would be hesitant to read the book in public, for fear of other people seeing the cover.
I could certainly understand the reasoning behind that advice, but I thought it was too good (and appropriate) a tagline not to use. Especially since...
The type of person who gets offended by the use of the word "SHIT" on the cover is absolutely not going to enjoy my book. These people are not my target audience. If I can stop them at the cover, that will mean fewer bad reviews (Such language!) for me in the long run.
I'm a self-published author. Even now that I'm doing pretty well, I don't expect to be taking up space on any bookstore shelves anytime soon. I certainly had no such expectations when I was publishing it. Besides, if it comes to that, I can change the cover anytime I like.
I expected most of my readers to be reading on their Kindles, so they could safely read my books in public without searing the eyes of the innocents.
You get out of it what you put into it.
Writing is hard, exhausting, grueling work. Comedy writing even more so.
If you're going to succeed, you've got to be harder. You've got to suffer through the exhaustion. You've got to... I don't know... eat some gruel?
I have a number of indie author Facebook friends, and I see a lot of things that make me shake my head.
One of my biggest head shakers... "Support Indie Authors!"
It's not that I don't want your support and your money. I absolutely do. Hell, we were so broke a couple of years ago that I considered eating the dog.
But this is a business, not a charity. It's up to me to create some value for which you, my readers, will pay me. I don't want you to give me your money because I'm an indie author. I want you to give me your money because you value reading about a half-orc shitting himself more than you value five bucks.
That's why I get up at five thirty every morning so that I can get in three hours of writing before work. That's why I suffer through the monotony of two or three Twitter spam sessions a day. That's why I spend a lot of time thinking about strategies which might better take advantage of the tools I have through KDP Select. And that is, in part at least, how I've lived in Korea for thirteen years and still never eaten dog.
Speck would very much like you to have a look at my books.