Authors’ Roundtable: Humor in Writing- Karen Cantwell and Bridget Stegman

4 Aug


This week’s discussion topic is ‘Humor in Writing,’ and our guests are Karen Cantwell, author of Take the Monkeys and Run, and Bridget Stegman, author of Summer Resolutions. If you love mysteries with a generous helping of humor, check it out.

Karen Cantwell:

Mark Twain said, “Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritation and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.”

I’m very excited to be participating in this roundtable discussion. When David invited me to talk about how I inject humor into my writing, I said “Sure!” I can do that. But soon after, I wondered. Can I? How DO I inject humor into my writing? Hmmmm. I’ve always found turkey basters to be quite useful . . .

Okay, so let’s see if I can get temporarily serious on the subject of funny. Truth be told, I’ve never really thought about HOW I inject humor into my writing. I just do it. It seems that even when I set out to write a serious piece, some little bit of humor finds its way into the story. But how do I do it? I decided to consult some experts on the subject and see if they could dissect for me what I was doing.

Steve Martin said this: “Chaos in the midst of chaos isn’t funny, but chaos in the midst of order is.” Well, yes. This is true. When I look at my own novel, Take the Monkeys and Run, the entire story revolves around a hugely chaotic event in the life of soccer mom, Barbara Marr, who has generally led a very orderly, sedate life. Barbara Marr’s suburbs is order – what happens to her over the course of the three days of the story, is CHAOS. As Barb puts it herself in Chapter Five: “Not necessarily being accustomed to finding dead heads in neighborhood basements, I wasn’t exactly sure how this was going to go down. Would I be wearing gray by the end of the day, curled up on a cot singing the jailhouse blues?” Monkeys, severed heads, mafia – chaos.

The great man of humor, Groucho Marx said, “Humor is reason gone mad.” Immediately I think of Janet Evanovich’s Grandma Mazur in the Stephanie Plum series. Grandma Mazur is not your typical grandma. Typical grandmas – grandmas we expect to read about – are REASON. Grandma Mazur, however, is an old lady that shoots bullet holes into the dining room tables and attends punk rock concerts – she is reason gone mad. And she’s one of the funniest characters out there.

Another funny man, Victor Borge said, “Humor is something that thrives between man’s aspirations and his limitations. There is more logic in humor than in anything else. Because, you see, humor is truth.” Well, ain’t that the truth? I find that some of my funniest lines in Take the Monkeys and Run are those that people might think truthfully in their minds, but not necessarily say out loud. In Chapter One, Barb’s husband has left her. She’s in bed trying to find something on TV, to distract her from her misery, but she finds nothing but movies about divorce: “Disgusted, I turned off the TV, turned out the lights and contemplated learning voodoo so I could hex Howard with a festering urinary tract infection.”

Finally, I, Karen Cantwell can attest to the poop-can-be-funny rule: “There are definitely, unequivocally three monkeys . . . make that four monkeys in my trees. And the fourth one just pooped on my mums.”

Thanks, David!

Bridget Stegman

Everyone has a different idea of what humor is to them. My collection of short stories has a main character that has a neurotic personality, and nothing ever goes as planned. My goal is to have my readers laughing at her “situations”.

I remember reading Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money, and thinking what a great job she did at creating a story that was naturally funny with believable characters. Evanovich does an outstanding job of telling a story, maintaining a high level of interest and making the reader laugh out loud. I have never been a bail bondsman, like Evanovich’s main character, but I could put myself in the characters shoes and picture myself catching the bad guys.

Humor can also be easily misunderstood in writing. A writer’s goal might be to make people laugh, when instead the reader is offended or in a worst-case scenario, the reader is bored. A good humor writer has to know their audience and plan accordingly. I often find myself laughing when I hear a country song on the radio. I doubt this was the writer’s goal, however, humor is subjective. Apparently I’m easily amused by beer and losing best friends.

Thanks to Karen and Bridget for sharing their thoughts. If you enjoy humor in fiction, be sure to give their books a try!

4 thoughts on “Authors’ Roundtable: Humor in Writing- Karen Cantwell and Bridget Stegman

  1. Thanks for the insights Karen and Bridget. I find that humor is difficult for me to include in my novels and stories, although it does peek out on occasion. We;ll see if it can be a bit more often.

  2. Thanks for the post. I've tried to add humor in some of my short stories but none of my novel length fiction. I find it much easier to put humor in my personal essays.

  3. Thank you, David for having me here to share what little I seem to know! 🙂 I do hope the quotes from others far more knowledgeable than me helped give writers some idea.

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