Thursday, March 04, 2010

Scary Funny

by David Ellis

For the last couple of my books, I’ve tried to focus on my strengths in writing. There was a time when I was really into experimenting but then I started to think, why should I experiment on the reader? I wouldn’t want someone to experiment on me.

So instead of trying to write from a female point of view or writing a novel in reverse chronological order, I thought I should go back to the things I was doing when I first got into the business. I figured my strength was writing a thriller with a wise-ass, first-person protagonist.

But while it’s been great fun in most ways, it’s also been challenging. I find a natural tension between humor and suspense. A real edge-of-your-seat, ticking-clock thriller with a laugh on every page? Hard to do. The occasional wise crack from the cool hero? Sure. But sustained humor? It’s a real challenge.

I want a protagonist who sees everything with a jaded view, who internally (to the reader) makes fun of situations and people, who manages to put a humorous spin on everything. But does that really work when said protagonist has only 'til midnight to solve the case, or they execute the innocent man?

So, I ask two things of our good readers. One, if you would please explain to me how to combine these two elements in one novel. In a hundred words or less, with monosyllabic words.

And second, what is your favorite example of the pulsating thriller with lots of laughs?

17 comments:

Dana King said...

What you're trying is very hard to pull off. There's humor in what I write, but it's situational. Funny things happen to people all the time; I embrace them. That's not the same as putting humor into a situation where no one would find any.

I see writers try to do this all the time, and it rarely works. If the book is intended to be humorous, the tension and suspense can't be too severe. (Carl Hiaasen comes to mind.) There are also dramatic stories where humor is used to good effect. (Robert Crais does this well; so did Robert B. Parker.)

There's a well-known writer (who shall remain nameless) who makes jokes during potentially catastrophic situations, and it just falls flat,. at least for me. The attempted humor kills the tension to some extent, but, even worse, the jokes seem horribly inappropriate.

It's a delicate balance. Jon Loomis pulls it off in his book HIGH SEASON about as well as anyone, though that's more of a mystery than a thriller.

Good luck.

Cozy Crime said...

I've never read your books yet, but I'd like to. Do they have much vulgarity in them? I know people like to tease me as an old lady, but I just don't like it when people use filthy langague.

Dan said...

I think Dennis Lehane did took a good crack at this with "Sacred". That being said, I also think it was the weakest of his Kenzie/Gennaro series. I'm not saying that I disliked the book, but some of the humor seemed a bit cliched and just didn't completely click with me.

Anonymous said...

Read a few of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books. Then read 'em again.

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