Friday, August 5, 2011

How to lose a reader in 10 pages: The Visual Disadvantage

I LOVE a good movie.

And I'll be honest, my favorites are romantic comedies. My husband teases me that we always get to watch MY movies when we go to the theaters... and okay, that's right. But really, who wants to see KungFu crud any how? Not me, I say!

So he is sweet and indulges me and either sees his movies with guy friends or waits for it to come out in Red Box.

Maybe I should be ashamed at this, but I'm not ashamed enough to sit through one of his movies:-) He loves me anyway thankfully!

Here is the thing about comedies though, romantic or otherwise.

They are funny. (I know, shocker!)

But sometimes, a wee bit unrealistic. But, that's what makes it funny! Much of comedy is something happening that is exactly opposite of what you would normally expect. Two opposite things colliding and insanity, aka comedy, ensues.

Movie Examples:

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days: She is a magazine writer for a fashion/trash magazine but wants to write about politics. He is in advertising for manly stuff. She has to write a column about how to make a man hate a woman, and must role-play this for real by attracting a guy, then doing things that push him away. He has to make a woman fall in love with him in order to lead an important account.

There are similarities. They both love Baseball, but again that isn't something you would "suppose", and she uses it against him in trying to make him "hate" her.

I laughed pretty much the whole movie.

You've Got Mail: She owns a small, independent bookstore. He owns a huge, mega-bookstore set on squashing all the independent bookstores into dust. Not the most likely couple. They meet on a chatroom, but don't know who each other is. They both live in New York, and meet unknowingly, but she doesn't know he is the mega-store owner OR that he is her online beau. He, however, finds out and falls in love with her. She hates him, especially when she finds out who he really is.

Some good opposites happening here.

So here is the thing.

We NEED to have this in our books. We must have clashing characters. We need to have those funny moments that make our side ache from laughing.

But it's harder in books.

Because Seeing is Believing.

When we are in a movie, if it is done right, it is easier to believe these scenerios, because we are seeing them.

A while back, I watched Paul Blart: Mall Cop with my family. We laughed the whole time and loved it, but while we watched it, the reality of movies vs. books hit me. I'm not sure I could ever write a Paul Blart book. It was TOO funny. All the reviews would have been about how unrealistic the book was.

Can you imagine trying to write the scene pictured here? I can hear the judges comments and reviews now...

What does that mean for us as authors?

We need to write better. We need to make our characters SO realistic that even though the goals completely clash and the picture they see in their head is not normal, they can believe it.

It takes...
  • Believable dialogue.
  • Narrative that describes characters and setting well, but in a way that is natural and real, not stilted and forced.
  • Actions the reader can see in their head.
  • Goals... reasons that makes the characters how they are
Because we are at a big disadvantage over movies. Readers are forced to create an image in their own heads, and when that image goes against what is "normal", it will be hard to swallow unless done with skill. In a movie, they can see a facial expression instead of having to read one persons opinion on how that facial expression looks. So it's a combination of all 4 of those things that will make or break a funny book.

I just finished reading "Restless in Carolina," Tamara Leigh's 3rd installment of her Southern Discomfort Series. LOVED it by the way! But in it her heroine is a tree-hugging, dreadlock wearing, opossum-pet-having widow who once claimed that aliens had landed in her cornfield, creating a big circle (which she'd done herself) in order to save a deer.

NOT your typical heroine, especially when you find out she comes from an old traditional Southern family.

Tamara did a WONDERFUL job of weaving in the REASONS Bridget was like she was, and while it was hilarious (as all of Tamara's books are), it was realistic as well. I felt like I knew Bridget. I could see her, not just her physical appearance, but going through the motions of the story. Her actions.

Discussion: Favorite funny books/movies? What do you think makes for good "comedy" in books?


Wendy Paine Miller said...


You are so right about how we need to push ourselves because our readers don't have a visual. I find myself often changing words to pick the best word, not just a doable one.

How to Lose a Guy was funny. "You're so really think this song is about you don't you, don't you..." (Funny scene.)

~ Wendy

Casey said...

LOVE a good comedy, in so many ways!

Very good post, Krista. You've brought up excellent points. :)

Beth K. Vogt said...

You mentioned two of my favorite movies. Toss in What's Up Doc and While You Were Sleeping and I'm set for a movie marathon.
Funny books? I love Susie May Warren's PJ Sugar series. PJ is a wanna-be private investigator (PI.) There's one scene where she's being chased by an outraged man (in a car? can't remember) and she's throwing doughnut holes at him.
And thank you, Wendy. Now I have that song stuck in my head!

Tracy Krauss said...

Every point you made is SO true. The 'realistic dialogue' especially resonates with me. there is nothing worse than 'hearing' dialogue that just sounds phony ... We really need to be students of how people talk. Sometimes I even talk out loud when I'm writing dialogue. It helps to 'hear' if it sounds right.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

LOL....I love that movie! How about that scrapbook she made? Oh my goodness! Such a fun movie.

You are right in that it is so much harder to do comedy in writing. You have to build a great word picture to really "get" the funny stuff. It's all in the craft....

p.s. I'm sooo glad yall are HOME!!!!

Keli Gwyn said...

How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days and You've Got Mail are two of my favorite romantic comedies. I'd add While You Were Sleeping and The Proposal. Can you tell I'm a Sandra Bullock fan? =)

I admire those who can write funny stories. When I try, my writing tends to fall flat. Makes sense, considering I'm not funny in real life either. I'm the one who laughs at her own jokes and muffs the punch lines, ruining the fun for everyone else. But when it comes to puns, I'm your gal. Yeah, yeah. I see those eye rolls. =)

I'm not a hopeless case, though. There are humorous elements to my stories, but they tend to come about organically, if that makes sense. My real-life romance-writing sister actually howled when she read a line from one of my WIPs recently. Gave me hope that readers might enjoy my books. LOL.

Laura Pauling said...

I absolutely love love How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days! So heartwarming, hilarious and romantic. :)