Let’s NOT Kill the Frog

No frogs were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

Something funny happened on my way to write this post… I found that I didn’t want to write it. Because it wasn’t going to be funny. Unlike a post about the time I locked my toddler in the car WITH MY KEYS and the fire department got lost on their way to rescue us. That was FuuuuN-NY (after the police came and unlocked the doors).

Once we try to analyze humor and discuss it seriously, it changes. Most often, it becomes unfunny. Mark Twain said, “The more you explain it, the more I don’t understand it.” Or, even worse: life threatening. EB White said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”

But, I’m going to give it a try anyway. And, hopefully, kill no frogs. Humor has a place in all types of writing. Because I’m a fiction writer, I’ll focus there. Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen all used humor. And let’s not forget our great American Twain. Think about the works of each of those distinguished writers. Huge variety in styles and stories. They all used humor. Differently. And, deftly. Humor can benefit your characters, your case and your career. {Alliteration is one useful literary device to bring levity into your fiction.}

CHARACTERS— No one loves a bore. {Inversion is to take what people know– “everyone loves a clown”–and turn it upside down.} In our fiction, we want characters who seem real. We want our readers to connect. A quality we love in real life? Sense of humor. So be sure to give your characters one. Humor can provide respite from your main character’s drama. As your characters show their full range of emotions and traits- inclusive of laughter and humor- they become more real to the reader. They become more important to the reader.

CASE– Okay, this word is really supposed to be theme, but I was going for alliteration up there and so “case” it is! {Breaking the 4th wall is a technique to try and bring your readers in, like a shared joke among good friends.} Humor can help make your case. If you’re funny, it can penetrate people’s natural defenses and reach in to the deep places. Twain said, “Nothing can stand against the assault of laughter.” Someone else said we laugh when we hear the truth at a velocity that exceeds our normal standards of insight. The classic authors I mentioned earlier wrote about slavery, poverty, murder, heartbreak and greed. And used humor.

CAREER– As writers, we all know we might need to market just a little.{Understatement is another literary device to try.} We need to do interviews, guest posts and meet our readers. Some of us will add speaking engagements as part of our efforts. Most speakers start with something funny and, of course, “leave ‘em laughing” too. Funny is good. Funny is fun. My bookshelves are full and my reading time limited. But if I see a funny interview or meet a funny writer, I follow up to learn more. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, you can work on it. But don’t work on it too hard. Trying too hard is not funny. But humor is bi-directional: if you can laugh, you can make others laugh.

One last thing…

CONSIDER– The most important thing is your humor has to work. Because if people don’t get it—or worse, like it– you will be shunned and have to wear dirty burlap sacks and listen to bad knock-knock jokes for the rest of your life and BEYOND. {Hyperbole can be a way to add some funny.} Before you use humor, consider if it is appropriate. Consider the maturity, culture and location of your humor and your audience. That joke about the frogs may not go over at the PETA convention. Or it might be just the thing.

A frog goes into a bank and approaches the teller. He can see from her nameplate that her name is Patricia Whack. So he says, “Ms. Whack, I’d like to get a loan to buy a boat and go on a long vacation”. Patricia looks at the frog in disbelief and asks how much he wants to borrow. The frog says $30,000. The teller asks his name and the frog says that his name is Kermit Jagger, his dad is Mick Jagger and that it’s okay, he knows the bank manager.

Patti explains that $30,000 is a substantial amount of money and that there will need to be some collateral against the loan. She asks if he has anything he can use. The frog says, “Sure, I have this”, and produces a tiny pink porcelain elephant, about half an inch tall, bright pink and perfectly formed. Very confused, Patti explains that she’ll have to consult with the manager and disappears into a back office.

She finds the manager and says, “There’s a frog called Kermit Jagger out there who claims to know you, and wants to borrow $30,000. And he wants to use this as collateral”. She holds up the tiny pink elephant and says, “I mean, what the heck is this?” The bank manager looks back at her and says…

 “It’s a knick knack, Patti Whack, give the frog a loan. His old man’s a Rolling Stone!”

Post Author: Charise Olson

Charise Olson writes contemporary women’s fiction. She likes to say she writes California Fiction. It’s like Southern Fiction, but without all that humidity. Her characters face serious life situations and cope with humor. Someone always has a smart mouth and Charise claims IM-plausibile deniability as to their origin. Charise is a mom to anyone needing mothering (whether they think they need it or not!) and owns two alpacas. Why alpacas? Because they were cheaper than a lawn mower. The menagerie also includes two dogs and two cats. In addition to her fiction writing and family, Charise has a paycheck career in social services and education.

 

The Answer to All Your Worries

My backyard. A nice place to let worries go.

As we look forward to 2012, it may not be so filled with resolutions but questions:
Will I get an agent?
When will the agent get back to me?
Why did I only get a form letter?
Will I get a contract?
When will I hear from the publisher?
What’s going on with my publisher?
What are the trends?
What marketing technique is going to make my book a best seller?

This blog post is meant to answer all those questions.

I know, it’s not April Fools, and it may not strike you as funny when some of those questions feel so serious. But the thing is, the thing this blog post is really about, is those questions can’t be answered. Those questions- or similar ones- only serve to distract you from what you can answer:
How is my writing?
What can I do to improve my craft?
What can I do to improve my professional development?
What can I do to increase my industry savvy?
Am I doing best? Why do I not value my best as enough?

As we focus on questions we can not answer, as we worry about people that we do not control and as we try to know the unknowable– we are burning time and energy better suited elsewhere.

When we allow delays, distractions and even doubt to crowd in- that is time we are not writing. That is energy we could have used to edit. Or read a book on craft. Or attend a workshop. With all the time I have used worrying and wondering about stuff beyond my control, I could have attended whole conferences for weeks on end!

As the end of the year approaches and 2012 stretches before us, it is filled with opportunity. Opportunity for you to be the writer you are intended to be. No agent, publisher, contract or sale makes you a writer. Writing makes you a writer.

Yea, easy for you to say.

Uh, no. NOT easy. At all. It is a constant practice to remind myself to focus on my own stuff. It is not something you hear once and just magically stop worrying. Part of my ongoing practice is to work on reframing anxiety producing questions into thoughts that can actually be productive.

More than a year ago, I received an exciting response from an agent (ie “I love your novel. I want to discuss representation.”) This was pretty much my dream agent. I spent way too much time wondering when the agent would call, why she hadn’t called, maybe she’d changed her mind about me. Maybe she didn’t like my facebook picture and social media wouldn’t build my career after all. Maybe she didn’t think my blog title was funny…on it went.

Common thought about worry is to push it out of your mind: “Don’t think about it. Stop worrying. Let it go.” Sure. That’s going to happen. It’s like telling you not to think about elephants. Quick! What are you thinking about? Usually, elephants.

Here’s what I do.

Take one sentence of your worrying thoughts. The one that seems to sum it all up. Why hasn’t she called? Instead of trying to push that thought away. Invite it in. Mull it over with a cup a coffee. I take my cup and stare out at my backyard. Take a few breaths and really think that through.

Are you ready for that call?

The answer for me was: NO. I wanted her to call. Because I wanted an agent. But I was not ready. I wanted to be further along on my WIP. And, I was nine months pregnant. I was not in a life position to discuss building a new career. As I focused on my stuff, I was able to let go of that worry about when the phone call would come.

Instead of spending time and energy on what someone else was doing, I was able to focus on my own tasks. Like getting my word count higher on my new novel. Like researching what to do when an agent calls and oh, yea, HAVING A BABY (a 9 pound baby at that!).

I did get that call. And when I did, I was ready. And so was she. My worry had accomplished nothing. My peace did.

Now, when I am going to get that publishing contract?

Post Author: Charise Olson

Charise Olson writes contemporary women’s fiction. She likes to say she writes California Fiction. It’s like Southern Fiction, but without all that humidity. Her characters face serious life situations and cope with humor. Someone always has a smart mouth and Charise claims IM-plausibile deniability as to their origin. Charise is a mom to anyone needing mothering (whether they think they need it or not!) and owns two alpacas. Why alpacas? Because they were cheaper than a lawn mower. The menagerie also includes two dogs and two cats. In addition to her fiction writing and family, Charise has a paycheck career in social services and education.

A Match Made In (Critique) Heaven

If Katherine and I start looking like this, we're going to the spa.

Finding the right partner can be fun, enlightening, and even life-changing, but it can also be fraught with disappointments, hurt feelings, and confusion. Um, I’m talking about critique partners. What were you thinking?

I am blessed to have worked with Katherine Hyde for over six years. I knew critiquing was a valuable part of the writing process, but it was scary to think of turning my words over to someone else. And it was just as intimidating to give feedback to someone else about their story. Katherine and I have assembled a few pointers for successful partnerships.

Finding the One                                                                                                        Charise: Katherine and I met at a writer’s conference. And actually, I met my other partner at a writer’s conference. So, there’s one thing: you don’t have to have just one (unlike in life partners and then, really, one is plenty unless you want a reality show and legal trouble). You can find a critique partner through conferences, local writing groups, and national associations.  I think it’s important to have some mutual understandings of how the process will work. Maybe try a sample first to see if you’re a good match. You are inviting criticism of something precious to you (your story, your words) so you want to be sure your partner will not only be honest, but be honest in a way that leads you to better writing and doesn’t crush you, rewrite you, or delude you that you’re better than you are.                                            Katherine: How do you know you’ve found The One? She gets your writing on a deep level. She loves your writing for itself; she’s not constantly trying to make it over into her own image. She wants the best for you, and that means she’ll be both honest and compassionate. Her critiquing style fits with your style; her strengths and weaknesses complement yours.

Keeping the Romance Alive                                                                              Charise: I like that my partners and I have a friendship beyond critiquing. I value our rapport beyond the critiques we exchange. And I feel that friendship helps us “get” each other better on a writing level too. Even if you’ve been together for a while, remind your partner of why you appreciate them. We writers can be fragile souls. It helps to hear that our insights are valued. That our attempt at creating something with words is worth it. I also like flowers and chocolate…                             Katherine: Make sure you both know the rules going in. The rules for how much material you exchange and on what schedule, what depth of critique you want, etc. The rules can be flexible, as long as you work them out together. Always make sure any negative feedback is tempered by something positive. Be reliable–keep to your commitments or let her know why you can’t. And remember, what happens in the critique relationship stays in the critique relationship.

Resolving Differences                                                                                   Charise: As with all relationships, communication is key. I think it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that it is only your opinion (no matter how right it may be) you are giving to your partner. Don’t forget their story is THEIRS, so it is your partner’s prerogative to ignore you. However, before you ignore something, think it over and make sure you’re not being defensive. You need to be open to learning.       Katherine: Your relationship should be based on mutual respect, kindness, and remembering you’re on the same team. These will go a long way toward resolving any differences you might face. Try to remember that even though your WIP feels like your baby, or sometimes like your own raw stripped-to-the-bone self, to your readers it’s just a book. It has to work as a book. Your critique partner is there to help you make it work.

As humans we are made for relationships with our true loves, friends, family, and even our pets—as writers we are made to have a critique partner. If you refuse to critique others or have your work critiqued, you will not be romanticized like some George Clooney-esque confirmed bachelor. You will be the lonely hermit that people whisper about. Okay, not really. But the right critique partnership will make you a better writer. And who doesn’t want that?

Questions for the readers: Do you have a critique partner? Do you have more than one? How did you meet? What’s it like for you? Do you have any good tips for successful partnerships?

Post Author: Charise Olson

Charise Olson writes contemporary women’s fiction. She likes to say she writes California Fiction. It’s like Southern Fiction, but without all that humidity. Her characters face serious life situations and cope with humor. Someone always has a smart mouth and Charise claims IM-plausibile deniability as to their origin. Charise is a mom to anyone needing mothering (whether they think they need it or not!) and owns two alpacas. Why alpacas? Because they were cheaper than a lawn mower. The menagerie also includes two dogs and two cats. In addition to her fiction writing and family, Charise has a paycheck career in social services and education.

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