Hello Epic Dreamers!
Today is the last in a series of posts that answers the question “what makes a story great?” I asked myself this question because I’m currently working on my first book and I’m sharing the answers I came up with because I know all you NaNoWriMo-ers out there are asking yourself the same question.
Here’s the last item I’ve put on the list of things that make stories great.
Make ’em laugh
All of my favorite books have this in common; they made me laugh. What it is that makes people laugh is a bit tricky to explain. I don’t know about you, but I seldom whip out a pen the moment I start laughing and start analyzing why I found what just happened funny.
But since I’m writing this post, I suppose I better start. I’ll see you next week when I’ve figured it out! Until then, leave me a lot of funny comments so I have something to analyze.
Ok, I’m not really going to leave you hanging like that. But admit it, while you may not have actually laughed out loud, those last two lines did cause your lips to curve upwards just a bit.
Because it was unexpected. No one expects a blog writer to open up a topic for discussion, then stop before they’ve given an answer. And they definitely don’t expect for them to leave in the middle of the post.
There’s just something funny about people doing or saying unexpected things. Being caught off-guard isn’t just funny when it happens to us, but when we watch it happen to characters.
Take this little scene from one of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn books. One of the characters, Kelsier, is known for his daring stunts and his ability to pull off impossible acts. He just finished destroying something so untouchable that it shocks even those that know him best.
We also find absurdities funny. It’s absurd that someone should write an intro promising certain information to be delivered, then in the middle of delivering it say, “Oh, terribly sorry but I actually can’t give you this information right now. I’ll be back next week when I have it figured out.”
Say I had a character, a ten-year-old boy, who admires the local shepherd. He’s watched this shepherd herding his sheep like a general leading his soldiers and watching over them as diligently as a palace guard watching over the king. The boy promises himself that one day, he’ll watch over a herd of his own sheep just as nobly. Then one day, he finds a sheep that wandered off. Now is his chance to prove himself, so he eagerly walks toward the sheep ready to heroically lead it back to the flock.
The problem is, every time he takes a step toward the sheep it runs in the opposite direction. Didn’t the silly sheep know he was trying to help? Not being able to figure out why the sheep wouldn’t let him approach it, the boy finally gives up and stands back watching the sheep. He turns his head sideways to look at his pet snake, drooped over his shoulders and says, “I guess that dumb sheep just doesn’t know what’s good for him.”
The situation is funny because it never occurs to the boy that his pet snake would be threatening to a sheep.
Ridiculousness is funny. I guess our senses of humor haven’t matured much since we were two and thought putting underwear on our heads was hilarious.
Misunderstandings are also a way to add humor to a story.
Say character A and character B are talking about a subject and they both think they’re talking about the same thing when they actually aren’t. It’s entertaining to watch the two go back and forth getting more and more confused until they finally discover that neither one was talking about the same thing. Or even funnier if they don’t.
This sketch is a perfect example.
In this example, the viewer (which would be the reader in our case) knows that the characters are operating under a misunderstanding but it can be just as funny to keep readers in the dark and have them believe the same thing the character does for part of a scene.
I did this with my short story Tea where the view-point character had a false understanding of what a certain expression meant and got very worked up about it. Readers were sympathetic to his outrage, until he found out that the expression didn’t mean what he thought. It was funny to watch him deflate and quickly try to save face.
Well, that’s the end of our little discovery on what makes a story great. Hopefully these post have been helpful to you as you prepare to write a novel in a month. (What’s wrong with you, you crazy person?!)
There are so many things that go into creating a good story, so I know I didn’t cover them all. This list was just what I noticed in books that I love.
If you have any to add that you think makes a story great, please let me know in the comments. I love hearing your thoughts!
Oh, and I’m one of the crazy people doing NaNo next month, so if you’re looking for a writing buddy I’d be glad to add you. My username is invisibleworld.
See ya there!
Until then, keep dreaming Epic Dreamers!
***(FYI, for the moth of November I will be taking a sabbatical from blogging to reflect on nuances between the plethora of blogs out there. Actually, I’ll be busy bemoaning my lack of sleep due to a behemoth word-count goal. 😛 )
(FYI again…I will be tweeting comics, memes, and encouragements to get you through this month of insanity…can’t take a sabbatical from Twitter 😀 )