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Writing the Romance Novel: Humor and Romantic Comedy, with guest Linda Windsor

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Several weeks ago, I asked my favorite Romantic Comedy author if she would write a column on writing Romantic Comedy. She was wonderful enough to respond, even though she was in the process of getting ready for a trip to Bermuda. Here’s what Linda Windsor has to say about writing RomCom:

    I really can’t say how to write humor. I have done a workshop about the structure of it, but as to the spark itself, I think you have to have sense of humor to start with. You have to have an eye to see the humor in almost anything. You have to take life’s most embarrassing moments and incorporate them into a scene that will work for the heroine/hero.

    I wish I could say more, but there isn’t a formula for it. You take the mundane and “what if” it to funny. Or you take funny real life and incorporate it into a scene. So much of the funny things in my books are real. They happened to me or someone I know. Yep, I grew up with clowns. Not really. Just ordinary people who can laugh at themselves.

    I had a friend who witnessed a fire in which someone murdered had been disposed. Her son went in and dragged out the body. It was freezing, so the cops set up office in friend’s hotel suite, at her compassionate invitation, to question the hysterical widow (Black Widow). A book was written about it, one of those dark true crime stories. But to hear my friend tell all the asides, it was hysterical. How she was hugging the murderer and nurturing her, not knowing she’d just shot a man in cold blood and set him on fire. How friend’s poor hubby, oblivious to all, tried to sleep in the other room while strangers kept coming in and sitting on side of his bed to use the phone. Someday, I might be able to use that. It’s all about perspective.

    And of course, there is my infamous horseback ride in Jamaica, which is in IT HAD TO BE YOU: riding bareback in the water on the horse that ate Jamaica and dodging floating islands of fresh horsey pooh. “This wasn’t in the brochure!” was my direct quote. In my Piper Cove Chronicles, (WEDDING BELL BLUES) the crab debacle happened to me. Except I was on the kitchen counter, a mallot in each hand, while the critters crawled all over the floor. I could have used a hero. Instead, years later, I used that incident, my hysteria, in a book. It was NOT funny at the time.

    The “What the Lord’s forgotten, you can pad with cotton” episode in FOR PETE’S SAKE, happened when that same girlfriend (who nurtured the murderer) and I went out years ago and she borrowed my dress. We stuffed the pre-formed bodice with paper towels and, as my friend danced the night away, she left a trail of paper towels and one of her bosoms was indented.

    The wad pantyhose in the pant leg of my not so suave heroine in PAPER MOON was me. I felt this lump in my leg as I knelt to get goodies from a vending machine at work. Knowing something was amiss that I didn’t want to share with the men in the lunchroom, I hastened to my office, locked the door and investigated. Somehow pantyhose had managed to get in the leg of my slacks and, my not being the most alert in the morning, had not noticed. Except in my book, I carried it a little further.

    Many know I lost my late husband four years ago. I hadn’t been to the huge cemetery but twice in my life and the day of his funeral, I wasn’t making a map. So there I was wandering through the tombstones, teary and feeling like the worst widow in the world. I mean, how can you lose your husband? Then I thought of him elbowing Jesus and telling Him, “Look, you only had to watch her. I’ve been living with that for 23 years!” And I laughed. A little later I found the gravesite and as I stared at my feet, I realized not only was I a ditz for losing poor Jim, but I was wearing a navy and a black shoe…of different heel heights! I could imagine the head-shaking going on in heaven. Sad, heart-breaking, yet funny. And my dear hubby had the greatest laugh of all, of that I’m certain. He delighted in my ditziness. Couldn’t wait to see what I’d do next.

    It’s all in perspective. At least that’s the “magic” that works for me.

If any of you have ever gotten an e-mail from me, you know that my tagline under my “signature” is Inspirational Fiction with a Sense of Humor. But up until I started graduate school in 2004, I wouldn’t have categorized what I wrote as humorous. Why? Because I took myself and my writing too seriously. I’m the kind of person who is very easily embarrassed by even the littlest mishap, and it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve learned not to take myself so seriously. Because of that, I didn’t want to put my characters into any kind of situation that I would personally find uncomfortable. I struggled for nearly six months, once I realized I needed to infuse humor into my writing, to allow things to happen to my characters, or for them to have internal reactions to conflicts, that were funny—or at least smile inducing. During that time, I read all of Linda Windsor’s contemporary romances (my favorite is Along Came Jones), and then took several workshops she taught and listened to her talk about how she takes situations she’s experienced and incorporates them into her stories—and they’re always the funniest scenes in her books.

As Linda points out above, you can’t force humor. I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I cannot stand Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, and, most especially, Will Farrell. Aside from the fact that most of their humor is, simply, juvenile and degrading, I don’t like them for the most part because they try to force the humor. They do stupid things in their movies or comedy acts just for the sake of getting the cheap laugh—and many of the jokes are at someone else’s expense. But I know there are a lot of people who think they’re some of the funniest people to walk the face of the earth. (I know, I’m sounding like a curmudgeon.)

In writing, the humor needs to evolve naturally out of your own personality. What do you find funny? When is the last time you laughed so hard you cried (or nearly peed your pants)? Have you ever laughed hard and long enough that your stomach and face muscles ached for a while afterward? What made you laugh like that? What kind of comedy movies/shows do you enjoy? What’s the last novel you read that made you laugh? Have you ever analyzed why these make you laugh?

For Discussion:
Who is you favorite comedian? What’s your favorite romantic comedy movie? Who’s your favorite RomCom author? Book? Can a romance be humorous without being a romantic comedy?

9 Comments
  1. Erica D Vetsch permalink
    Thursday, May 15, 2008 9:22 am

    Favorite Romantic Comedy movie is While You Were Sleeping. I could watch that film a zillion times…oh wait, I have! 🙂 Followed closely by My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

    Favorite comedian? I don’t know that I have one.

    Favorite RomCom author? Georgiana Daniels.

    And Yes, I think romance can have some humor without being a romantic comedy.

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  2. Thursday, May 15, 2008 11:30 am

    I like romantic comedies but wouldn’t say that I have a favorite. For some bizarre reason, the movie that keeps popping into my mind is The Long, Long Trailer with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. That and the original Yours, Mine, and Ours, which maybe is my favorite romantic comedy. So I’ll guess my favorite all-time comedienne was Lucy.

    I don’t read a lot of romantic comedy. I’m not sure why. I’ll have to look up Ms. Windsor’s books.

    But I love books that make me laugh, even when they’re not specifically tagged as comedy. Romance can definitely be humourous because life is humourous.

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  3. Leslie S permalink
    Thursday, May 15, 2008 12:22 pm

    I’ll admit- I had to stop reading as soon as I read the part about the horse ride… cause then I realized who I was reading.

    I LOVED that book.. and I can’t read any more because silly me didn’t check to see if Linda has more books out there! 🙂

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  4. Thursday, May 15, 2008 1:58 pm

    The last time I laughed so hard that I cried–and ached afterward–was watching a Bill Engvall standup program on Comedy Central– “15 Degrees Off Cool.” I almost hate to admit this, but the funniest part of his program was when he was discussing flatulence (yes, tooting, passing gas, farting, whatever you want to call it). Sometimes the bodily functions that we found so humorous when we were four still affect us the same way as adults. That’s not to say I’d ever include that kind of humor in my writing, but it’s good to experience that kind of laughter.

    My favorite comedy movie is A Christmas Story. I can’t say that I have a particular favorite romantic comedy, but here are some:

    10 Things I Hate About You
    The Bachelor and the Bobbysoxer
    Bringing Up Baby
    My Big Fat Greek Wedding
    Sleepless in Seattle
    While You Were Sleeping
    You’ve Got Mail

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  5. Thursday, May 15, 2008 1:59 pm

    Oh, and I meant to mention: I started reading Linda’s Wedding Bell Blues yesterday, and I am LOVING it!

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  6. Thursday, May 15, 2008 2:24 pm

    I love this post! I really wish I could write good comedic scenes.

    I loved the perspective insight! It’s so very true. Anything can be turned to humor if you just look at it through the correctly skewed eyes.

    Okay, I’ll admit that I’m extremely strange and I find humor in the expressions and reactions of people when they meet unfortunate circumstances. My family thinks I’m sadistic at times. But, honestly, it’s not the fact that they get injured or how they get injured or bumped that makes me laugh, it’s their expression, the contortion of their bodies that causes me to roll over in laughter–and yes, tears do flow in many of those cases.

    When I was in first year university (many moons ago) I remember riding a bus in Toronto and it was a snowy, ugly day. Slush was everywhere and fresh snow was still falling. The bus stopped at a loading station and I happened to be sitting on the right side of the bus and looked out at who was ready to load. (I’m breaking out laughing here as I type this–this never gets old for me!) I couldn’t believe what I saw. I mean, really, winters are not new here. We’re in Southern Ontario, snow happens and it was the middle of winter, so don’t you expect people to be smart enough to wear boots? Well, this one lady stood there with grocery store plastic bags over her shoes tied around her ankles. An accident just waiting to happen in the slippery slush, right!

    Well, as I’m wondering where the woman left her brain, doesn’t she start up the steep bus steps and the next thing I hear is a loud groan and howling of “Oh, my” then a splunk. Looking out the window again I see her contorted form spewing onto the curb, splattered in dirty slush.

    She was so lucky that I wasn’t the bus driver. I honestly slunked down in the seat and doubled over in laughter the whole rest of the bus ride. The bus driver of course, was so concerned and went to help the mess of a woman up into the bus. Thankfully she didn’t work her way back to where I crumpled in laughter trying to avoid the nasty glares sent my way by those hearing my snorts and grunts.

    Okay, wiping my tears, I believe you had actually asked for romantic comedy’s, not perilous situations turned into comedies for sick people like me.

    My picks would be Sweet Home Alabama or Doc Hollywood, I think.

    Thanks for the laugh, guys!

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  7. Thursday, May 15, 2008 10:57 pm

    LOVE The Bachelor and The Bobbysoxer. But I despise A Christmas Story. Sorry, Kaye!

    Some of my favorites:
    The Philadelphia Story
    Two Weeks Notice
    27 Dresses
    Sweet Home Alabama
    My Big Fat Greek Wedding (especially since my best friend is Greek, and yes, their living room furniture is covered in plastic)
    Does I Dream of Jeannie count? I think it should since they were in love and it was a comedy.

    Arsenic and Old Lace isn’t a romantic comedy, but it is one of the best comedic movies of all time and Cary Grant’s finest comedic performance IMO.

    I don’t normally care for Carrey, Stiller, Ferrell and Sandler either. Thoroughly enjoyed Stranger than Fiction though and I LOVE Liar, Liar. That’s about the only Jim Carrey movie I like. In that one he doesn’t resort to the cheap gags or the stupid jokes but showcases the great talent he has for physical comedy. Just thinking about the scene where he’s fighting with an ink pen gives me the giggles.

    I grew up watching Martin and Lewis movies, so I’ve got a huge soft spot for them. Dick Van Dyke, Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore, and Bill Cosby of course. I was raised according to the Cosby method (I brought you into this world and I can take you out) and his Bill Cosby: Himself show that he did in the middle of the Cosby Show run is one of the funniest things ever put on film, particularly The Dentist bit. Love Danny Kaye too and Victor Borge. Phonetic Punctuation and condensed operas will never cease to be funny.

    Grew up with Abbott and Costello too and the 3 Stooges. Who’s On First and That Horrible Word are classic comedy routines that will also never cease to be funny.

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  8. Friday, May 16, 2008 12:26 am

    Aww, thanks Erica! You made my night 🙂

    As for my favorite comedian, I’d have to say Lucille Ball–I LOVE LUCY! The woman always had a plan, which usually evolved into something hilarious.

    My favorite RomCom movie of all time is My Best Friend’s Wedding.

    Now Kaye, asking us when was the last time we almost peed our pants is so personal, but for you I’ll think about it and let you know!

    Linda–great post! Two different shoes that weren’t even the same height? Yes, it’s all about perspective 🙂

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  9. Monday, September 6, 2010 6:16 am

    I love to read romantic as well as comedy stuff. So I enjoyed that book very much. Thanks Ms. Windsor. And yes I liked this post as well also.

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