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16 April 2008 @ 09:24 pm
funny peculiar  
and now for something completely different

I'd like to discourse on humour in stories. (Actually, I just want an excuse to show off my new moodtheme, but shh.)

If it's insulting to say I don't find something funny when many people do, then be warned: this will insult you. It all started a while ago, when people were recc'ing a fic. Several were convinced that it was written by sarahtales. I read about the first paragraph, after which it was immediately obvious that, one, it wasn't written by sarahtales and two, I didn't find it funny. Now, I didn't finish that fic - I don't read much HP any more, period - so I'm not judging its merits in the least. It may become hilarious in the second paragraph! I don't know. I'm just using this as a jumping-off point.

It comes down to the difference between 'humour' and 'wit', or at least what those words mean to me. Humour is situation-based. People say and do things that are completely normal for them, and amusing for us: the viewer, the reader, the listener. Wit, on the other hand, is someone who knows they're funny, being funny. Case in point: Juno. Very witty, not very humorous film. Versus Little Miss Sunshine: very humorous film, not one wit in the cast.

sarahtales can pull off witty characters because she is actually funny. (See: book deals, lol.) If you're flagposting a character as 'funny,' they damn well better live up to it. If they don't, it amounts to the same thing as a tell-not-show piece. Tricky. Dangerous. Better, I think, to write the absurd as normal and hope others find it funny.

I can't speak for how my own writing comes across to others. I probably overplay humour sometimes (all of the time?), as everyone does, but I know in theory that a well-placed comma can generate more laughs than the most wonderfully wordily witty metaphor ever invented.

Which brings me to: if people say my writing is funny - and go on to say the same about the writing of someone I don't find funny - does it mean that my writing is not, in fact, funny? If A = B and B = C then A = C, right? Or has my statistics block eaten my brain?

I'll leave you with two examples of writing I recently spit juice over, just so you understand what brings funny back for me.

from How Life Can Be, by sevenfists:

The door to the bus opens, and Andy comes into the lounge. "Two hours until showtime," he says.

"Yeah, I know," Patrick says. "I'll be ready, I just — Pete's trying to get me to write this song about cows."

"The cow song? Don't let him do it," Andy says, opening one of the cabinets and digging through it.

"You knew about this? How come everyone knows about the cow song except me?"

"If by 'everyone' you mean 'me and Pete,' then it's because you aren't part of our exclusive club of two," Andy says. He finds a granola bar and cuts the top off the wrapper. Patrick has never seen Andy rip anything open; he always uses the little scissors on his Swiss Army Knife. It's kind of neurotic.

from The World May Never Know, by skoosiepants:

Brendon still has no idea what he’s even shuffling back and forth between Gabe and Bill. It isn’t like he hasn’t snuck a look at the notes, but he doesn’t know what B44 means, or F13, or Sink this, or Eat my submarine and die, bitch. It’s gotta be code. Evil Gabe and Bill code.

TA-DA!
 
 
Current Mood: nervousnervous
Current Music: belt loops (the film)
 
 
 
The Goddamn Wolf Womanslythwolf on April 16th, 2008 09:58 pm (UTC)
Which brings me to: if people say my writing is funny - and go on to say the same about the writing of someone I don't find funny - does it mean that my writing is not, in fact, funny?

I think it just means their sense of humor includes at least one sort of thing that yours doesn't.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Converse kissscoradh on April 16th, 2008 09:59 pm (UTC)
I suppose that's true too. It's hard when your worldview doesn't like grey areas!
jehnt: bones - b/bjehnt on April 16th, 2008 09:59 pm (UTC)
I think your writing is funny. Frequently Terry Pratchett type humor, though not so much of that more recently (actually, the bandsladh fic had more of it than your other recent fics -- I figured it was maybe because you never intended the bandslash fic to be terribly serious). That kind of humor is something I approve of. General silliness. Wit. Wacky happenings. Etc. A nice combination of the above is best. With that said, I didn't find either Juno OR Little Miss Sunshine to be very funny. They were both too conscious of what they were doing, and not nearly earnest enough about it. It was enough to bring a wry smile to my face, but I don't think I actually laughed.

I think I maaaaaay know what fic prompted all this but I'm not sure. There's definitely something on my to-read list that was recced several times recently as "very funny," and I did get two paragraphs in and think, "witty. Quite witty. Somewhat amusing so far." and then abandon it in favor of a Bones fic that made me laugh until I cried. Accidentally. Because it's the best fic I've seen in the fandom (but there's only like a dozen fics in the fandom) and the author frequently calls FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth "The Agent" in scenes where his status as an FBI agent is completely irrelevant and mentioning it seems ominous. Like it will be the middle of a makeout scene and suddenly it's all "The Agent ran his hand down her back," inappropriate capitalization and all.

And man, I used to be funny but I'm not anymore. I stopped working at it and I lost it. Rec me some funny things. Fic, books, movies, anything! I know you know some.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Hush Sound: Greta + pianoscoradh on April 16th, 2008 10:07 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I don't know what happened with my other stuff. I think I stopped trying so hard. I was re-reading my worldcup fic last week and was pleasantly surprised to find it slightly funnier than I remembered, but nothing like the fics of yore.

I think an appreciation of the ridiculous is essential to make good humour. And LMS didn't have many L-O-L moments, but I still think it was funnier than Juno. Now talk about self-conscious - Juno DEFINED it.

You should link me! I've never watched Bones and I probably never will, because of my hate-on for David Boreanzthing, but laugh-crying is laugh-crying.

You absolutely need to youtube Ask a Ninja. Tears. Running out of my eyes. OMG. 'I don't advocate violence, I'm just saying it works and you should use it.' hahahahahaha
(no subject) - jehnt on April 18th, 2008 02:28 am (UTC) (Expand)
kestrelsparhawk: catch mekestrelsparhawk on April 16th, 2008 10:03 pm (UTC)
Hmmmm. Fascinating. I find a lot of things funny, but part of it is mood -- something may leave me in stitches one day where previously I just shrugged it off. The two examples you gave I find mildly amusing. If they're fanfic, I don't recognize the canon, so that may limit it a lot.

I think you need to like the strategies a person uses to be be funny -- and, sorry for sounding Full of It, the substrategies. I think Mistful is quite funny, but there's a clear and predictable way she makes things funny; it's sort of a lavish, slightly wonky twist in how a normal person would talk. (And hell to describe in less than an essay.) Sometimes I find things funny because I recognize my experience in them, other times because they are not in ANY way how I would react. I like to be funny, but that seems impossible to plan, really, past strategies of my own. I love clueless! POV, so the second example is much funnier to me, since I understand the references.

Which is the most important part of "funny."
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: CS+TAI: Gabe's absscoradh on April 16th, 2008 10:12 pm (UTC)
Yeah, they're bandom. Obviously in-jokes are essential to the understanding of some humour, so if you didn't have the background of GABE AND HIS BASEMENT, the second quote just ... isn't. But I did so it was hilarious to me.

I agree. I think a lot of people in HP - myself included - try to emulate that style and pretty much fail, because you probably need to think in that grandiose, MitfordPratchettAustenstandupcomedy style. I don't.

Sometimes it's just that the mechanisms of the comedy become too obvious - the author sacrifices the flow of the narrative for a quip. I HATE THAT. No joke is so funny that it can't be cut.
not your typical annihilatrixfuriosity on April 16th, 2008 10:24 pm (UTC)
See, those two excerpts you quoted did very little for me in terms of funny. The second one isn't even original; I've seen the construction done in a variety of ways in profic (& other fanfic) -- and I have actually found it funny a few times but it all had to do with context. I wouldn't say they're unfunny in the really bad way, but I didn't even crack a smile at either -- but had you reworked the background and the characters into people I recognise, the first one might've made me grin if it were Draco writing a sonnet about cows and Percy with the little scissors.

I don't think your writing is all-encompassingly funny; your stories have made me smile and laugh but when I think of your writing, I think witty, not funny.

Frequently I'll be reading a fic that everyone else found hilariously funny or enormously witty and I just won't find it funny at all because the author continually sacrifices canon consistency at the expense of an out-of-world joke; this doesn't apply to metafic, obviously, but I'm sure you know what I mean.

I generally don't try to be funny when I write, because the irony is that trying to be funny generally leads to epic fail as far as funny goes, and reading a story where the author is obviously forcing the humour makes me feel embarrassed for said author.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Balloonsscoradh on April 17th, 2008 07:16 pm (UTC)
Frequently I'll be reading a fic that everyone else found hilariously funny or enormously witty and I just won't find it funny at all because the author continually sacrifices canon consistency at the expense of an out-of-world joke; this doesn't apply to metafic, obviously, but I'm sure you know what I mean.

I'm sure there's an argument somewhere that says origific characters can't be OOC - the way people bleat about the impossibility of JK being OOC or whatever - but it's SO OBVIOUS when ANY writer just loves a line so much they shove it into someone's mouth regardless.

Clearly I've been spending too much time on data analysis, but ... wouldn't it be cool if we could get a cross-section of people, sit them down in front of several 'funny' fics of different fandoms, and get them to provide three quotes they thought were funny, and then see if any correlated? lol EXPERIMENT!

Oh, and being multifandom really has exposed me to the differences in humour expected - nay, demanded - from each. Wackiness is barely tolerated in HP; it's a staple in bandom. And so on and so on. (Although no fandom I've been in since HP has been so thoroughly fascinated with BDSM.)
mrsquizzical: mcrmrsquizzical on April 16th, 2008 10:26 pm (UTC)
interesting.

i don't like to nail things down quite so firmly (i'm addicted to the shades of grey in life, so...) i think humour has many facets and one person's experience is never going to be another person's, so the way they read these things will be affected by that. some things a LOT of people find hilarious i find mean and cruel and cringeworthy.


(and juno was weird. it was WAY self conscious and too 'deliberately cool'. and yet... i really enjoyed it, despite its efforts to be funny. there was just a vulnerability that didn't manage to get hidden in the 'wittiness'.)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: PATD: Ryan + bakerboy capscoradh on April 17th, 2008 07:18 pm (UTC)
some things a LOT of people find hilarious i find mean and cruel and cringeworthy.

I read somewhere - demm if I can remember where, which is a pity, because it's a great quote - that 'all humour is essentially cruel.' Think about it: what joke doesn't make fun of someone or something in some way, shape or form? (And wow, is that a lot of somes.)

The bit where they were hugging on the bed? Yeah. What I didn't get was how Juno didn't even consider the third option, besides the big As.
(no subject) - mrsquizzical on April 17th, 2008 09:26 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on April 17th, 2008 09:32 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - mrsquizzical on April 17th, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
post potter omnia tristes estspare_change on April 16th, 2008 10:35 pm (UTC)
my tl;dr
Oooh! I'm so glad you decided to write about humor in fanfic. I've had a post brewing for literally years now, but I never put it up because I knew it would end up pissing off everyone. You are much braver than I.

Humour is situation-based. People say and do things that are completely normal for them, and amusing for us: the viewer, the reader, the listener. Wit, on the other hand, is someone who knows they're funny, being funny.

I really like the distinction you draw between humor and wittiness. I don't think I've ever read anything in fanfic that I found witty, but there's a lot that I found humorous. Except when people are trying to deliberately trying to be absurd, because for me humor should never be about trying too hard for a laugh. If a writer has to work to be funny, maybe she should just try something else? *mean*

Hmmm ... perhaps this is why I don't find Mistful funny. I don't even quite understand what other people find humorous in her fics -- I mean, I see where she's attempting to be funny, but that kind of self-conscious humor that strains to be clever doesn't work for me. But obviously I'm in the minority in this, lol.

Also, I'm firmly in the camp that the best humor is tragedy from another angle ... my favorite comedians are all deeply unhappy people, and the kind of comedy that is fueled by rage and self-loathing works better for me than the kind that is written by someone chortling over their own cleverness. What that says about me I'm not sure I want to know! >:D

P.S. I didn't find those excerpts from bandom fics funny! DON'T HATE ME! *cries* BTW, I do think your own fics have great humorous moments, but I wouldn't say that's why I read them. You write beautifully and you have such a gorgeous grasp of character, and so the humor just flows organically from that. I mean, you wrote a character named RAMBO DURSLEY and then made him so completely believable and sympathetic that I quickly forgot how funny the idea originally was. That to me is a far bigger accomplishment than a one-liner ... not that you don't write them well, too.
post potter omnia tristes estspare_change on April 16th, 2008 10:37 pm (UTC)
Re: my tl;dr
are trying to deliberately trying to be absurd
Re: my tl;dr - scoradh on April 17th, 2008 07:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Gossgossymer on April 16th, 2008 10:54 pm (UTC)
I find humor to be very much like art appreciation - totally subjective.

I know there are certain types of humor (mahaliem's and tkp's) that I label as similar to Maya's but other peeps may not agree - and then there are authors who people think are hillarious and they just make me do a head tilt and go "?"

And as f says - sometimes canon (or writing style or lack of interest in characters) can affect the way we read a fic. I admit I didn't find the two examples funny - but that's most likely lack of familiarity with the fandom.

I guess all I'm trying to say is humor is something that can't really have a label but people do it anyway. More often we're not going to agree with others - but if you can compare one fic's humor to the humor in fics by an author with their own fanbase - those fans might give the fic you're reccing a try and be happy with it. That's all I can hope for.

Edited at 2008-04-17 08:38 am (UTC)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: FOB: Pete the dinosaurscoradh on April 17th, 2008 07:08 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah, but the point wasn't so much that there are writers similar to or who emulate Maya - I'm one of them, lol - but rather that people actually thought the writer was Maya. I was all ... no. The pacing's wrong for her, can't you see it?

Context is the golden key, I agree. There are few enough things that can transcend it. I suppose in those examples, particularly the first, I was just trying to show the random absurdity I was explaining. (But lookit nervous!Troh. He was the point of this post!)

And of course you have to have a basis for comparison. It's not good saying Woody Allen is like Woody Allen. It has its pitfalls - such as when someone is compared to, like Pratchett, and I go in expecting that and come out disappointed - but as yet there's no better way.
LOL, SCONE: buttercuprolling_scone on April 16th, 2008 11:45 pm (UTC)
for me, humour in writing is a lot about context. what you say makes sense, though. I'm one of those people who crack up at facial expressions and tone of voice. maybe I'm easy to satisfy that way, but my sense of humour doesn't always mesh with other people's. and a person can find different 'genres' of humour to be funny, like, there are some jokes I can tell my parents and they'll think they're funny, other jokes that I can't, but which I find hilarious anyway. context and personality matter a lot.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: PATD: Ryan looks good in bluescoradh on April 17th, 2008 07:05 pm (UTC)
I think a lot of people are hung up on the idea of a quotable line. But sometimes it's hard to read or watch something that's full of (successful or otherwise) quotable lines with none of the context required to hang it together. Eh.
Dee: office sword fightdulcineah1 on April 17th, 2008 12:03 am (UTC)
Which brings me to: if people say my writing is funny - and go on to say the same about the writing of someone I don't find funny - does it mean that my writing is not, in fact, funny? If A = B and B = C then A = C, right? Or has my statistics block eaten my brain?

I'm completely butting in here, but correlation doesn't necessarily equal causation. That's like saying that hospitals make people sick because they're filled with sick people, and if A = your writing, B = funny, and C = other people's writing, then that would say that your writing is the same as other people's writing, which isn't the point I think you were trying to make.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: FOB: Andy lol'dscoradh on April 17th, 2008 06:59 pm (UTC)
That's like saying that hospitals make people sick because they're filled with sick people,

Although that does tend to happen ... *amused* or at least, people usually leave with more 'illnesses' and drugs than they had coming in.

I didn't think my correlation thinger was statistically strong or anything, as this post really WAS about showing off Troh's nervous face. But thanks anyway. I'm sure the world isn't as mad as I suspect it is.
pir8fancier on April 17th, 2008 12:09 am (UTC)
I think humor is very situational. I am curious if mistful's stuff is so funny to you because are both Irish (yes?).

Another example of cultural biases entering into the picture: Monty Python. Inevitably I would find Monty Python a stitch and then at a certain point I felt they didn't know when to stop. This obviously isn't universal because Monty Python is beloved in the U.S., but it's a very fine line. At what point does the joke outstay its welcome?

To be fair, I will us an American comic who does the same thing. Steve Martin. He tends to take the joke too far. I have found some of his skits brilliant and others brilliant and then they fall short or they get tired. Again, like he doesn't know when to stop. I will say I loved both his books to bits, and I'm curious whether an editor had a hand in it, because while both premises are so like him (somewhat ridiculous), I thought both books worked very well. Perhaps he needs a staying hand.

Wrap up? I think it humor can be cultural and sometimes does transcend culture, but it's hard. Even thought we both come from western cultures, there is definitely a gap between the two cultures. I remember going to a comedy club in London with a cousin and I didn't get a 1/4 of the jokes, and the other 1/4 of the time I didn't think the jokes were funny, yet the audience was pissing in their britches. My responses were on par with the audience 1/2 the time, basically.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: PATD: Brendon/Ryan almost kissscoradh on April 17th, 2008 06:49 pm (UTC)
*thoughtful* Well, I know we are very proud of our sense of humour, and even more so of the fact that it's hard to get. (See all the warnings about In Bruges from Irish people, which amount to 'Non-Irish people won't find this funny, lol.') And America has a reputation for very vanilla humour - not so much in the sexual sense, but more in the NEVER NEVER NON-PC element. As for English humour, well ... the need they feel to cross-dress at every opportunity? What's that about? So yeah, I suppose you like your own funny best.

I've even experienced that. You just want to string out a metaphor or something because it's so good, but in so doing you lose all the impact. I think we're afraid to let the comedy go, in case people don't get it. But cutting is always to be advised, imo. I need to be strong!

Then again, I'm loving the humour in bandom fics, which is very teen America. idk, it might depend on what you're looking for as well. My friend loves to boast about how funny Woody Allen films are just because they're Woody Allen films, but I don't care; I think his writing is boring and pretentious. There can be an awful lot of pretension about humour, can't there?

Edited at 2008-04-17 06:49 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - pir8fancier on April 17th, 2008 06:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scoradh on April 17th, 2008 07:12 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Daisy-chama: HP - Harry - Ron looks ridiculousdaisy_chan on April 17th, 2008 02:45 am (UTC)
This is something I've boggled over as well- not just for humor, but in writing quality too. Basically, you just have to accept that everyone has different standards and what's "good" and what's "funny" is more subjective than we'd like to think it is ;p
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: FOB: Pete's wannabe Trohminatorscoradh on April 17th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)
It's easy to meter quality in general writing - well, okay, it's easier. If you use proper SPAG, sentence structure, etc ... there should be some kind of definition that can be applied to humour as well, a standard to live up to. Dammmit, there should!
Langelinodingleberry1003 on April 17th, 2008 07:51 am (UTC)
delurking for a moment :)
Ok, as a reassurance, it's not A=B, B=C, therefore A=C. But more like A -> B, C -> B. In which case, you can't conclude anything about A's relationship to C. So if all As (scoradh's fics) are Bs (considered funny by people of dubious credibility), and all Cs (unfunny fics) are Bs (considered funny by people of dubious credibility), you cannot come to any logical conclusion about your funny fics actually being in the unfunny group. they could be unfunny, but let's face it, in the real world, i'm willing to go out on a limb here and tell you they aren't, and are quite funny.

the moral of the story is, i am a huge fan of your work (may contain nuts, probly my all time fave, but i also adore pretty much every single other thing), and i tutor LSAT for a living, so many apologies for the overzealous logic explanation. can't wait to read your big bang story and thanks for writing and sharing!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: PATD: 9 in the afternoonscoradh on April 17th, 2008 02:24 pm (UTC)
Re: delurking for a moment :)
See? This is why I'd have failed statistics if it weren't for my friend doing, oh, the whole project for me. I don't understand logic! Or maths! But I'll just do what I did when my science teacher told me I have hundreds of little bugs in my intestine, and just believe you, despite the essential dubiousness of the assertion.

Hopefully BB3 will be good! I'm quite jazzed about it now that it's finished (and no one's seen it yet). :D
Amanuensis: go out for pizza (laurel_tx)amanuensis1 on April 17th, 2008 02:59 pm (UTC)
Those examples remind me of fabularasa's writing! 'S why I love her stuff. Witty and funny and fabulous.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: FOB: Pweezy + GHD = <3scoradh on April 17th, 2008 06:40 pm (UTC)
I have a deep, deep appreciation for the ridiculous, and an even deeper appreciation for those who bring it to the yard.
purelytaintedktpurelytaintedkt on April 18th, 2008 07:44 am (UTC)
I've popped open a "mistful" fic and gotten an eyefull of most definately not mistful.

I love reading the journals of writers i read, because One, it's interesting, always, adn fuels my inherint need to know, and two, the really good ones write the way they blog. Mistful is just entirely witty and hysterical. she ha sa running commentary on everything and writes her life screen play style that'll just about mke you pee your pants. And i've noticed the way you describe things like medical school is the way you've described things in Hogwarts.


And How life can be sounds amusing, so I'm going to go read it.



(btw, is there some tip I'm missing on how to write and not forget where you were going twelve pages in?)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: MCR: Frankieeeescoradh on April 18th, 2008 09:08 pm (UTC)
(btw, is there some tip I'm missing on how to write and not forget where you were going twelve pages in?)

I have no idea, I usually lose my way two pages in, if I ever knew where I was at all!