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Monday, March 2, 2015

GUEST POST: Finn Fancy vs Discworld: The Humor Fork in My Writing Road by Randy Henderson

When I wrote the first lines of Finn Fancy, it wasn't going to be my book that sold. I was just having some fun while scratching my writing itch because I was burned out on writing deep and seriously serious epicly epics. That first burst of being silly and having fun took me through the opening with the crazy magical attack, and then after a bit of thought through a crazy Dunkin Donuts story, the first snarky interaction with Finn's sister, and Finn's mother's ghost telling a story about the Holy Crap.

Then I had to pause, because I realized I really was having fun with it, and liking the characters, and wanted to keep going. Many of my short stories featured humor, and I'd read folks like Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Jim C Hines, Michael Underwood and Christopher Moore, but hadn't dared dream I could get published writing humorous novels. Yet I really wanted to keep writing Finn Fancy.

So I had to actually think about where the story was heading, and what would drive the plot. I drafted up a rough outline, and brainstormed an initial cast of characters pretty quickly, then forged forward. And as I did, I realized I had to also begin making more conscious choices about where to insert humor, how to insert it, and how much to insert.

I had reached a kind of fork in the road at that point -- I could either attempt the Adams and Pratchett route of complete (and genius) whacky parody with comical characters and crazy other worlds, and hope that it somehow worked; or I could write a story anchored in our reality (with a hidden magical layer), and give it a humorous voice with the occasional dips into complete whackiness.

I chose door number two, the approach of using the humor to balance the darker or more serious aspects of the story, to break it up and make it more fun than grim, more funny that gritty.

Which is not to say Pratchett and others don't also have serious moments and drama in their stories, obviously, and Pratchett definitely explores issues of religion and politics, culture and economics.

But as an example of the difference, the underlying foundation of Finn's reality is our own world with all its rules and issues, a world of embarrassing high school memories and awkward dates, where the characters are folks you might know in real life; whereas Rincewind's world is a Discworld on the back of elephants on the back of a giant space turtle, filled with characters who are parodies of real world and fictional figures, where Pratchett finds a way to shine a light on the ridiculous (and painful) in our world by taking it out of the context of our world and plopping it down in the middle of his wonderfully crazy fantasy world.

Even Adams, who featured Earth in his work, made his characters completely comical (or comically sad), and quickly made it clear that our world was far more ridiculous than we ever realized. In other words, Pratchett and Adams took it to a whole other level that I completely envy but did not feel was right for Finn Fancy (or perhaps that I just wasn't brave enough to commit to). I come close at times, maybe, but there are entire sentences -- nay, paragraphs even -- where I don't make a single joke.

Perhaps in part because I'd read many manuscripts from fellow aspiring writers who'd attempted humor and parody in the Adams and Pratchett style, and failed. I knew enough to see that if you try to write purely comical stuff, or humor that is deeply cultural in nature, it is like telling a long joke -- some people will get the joke, and some won't, some will like the joke, and some won't.

What that means in a practical sense is that if the core of your story is the humor, then that will be a tougher sell both to editors and to readers. Unless you are a genius like Pratchett or Adams. Not an impossible sell, just a tougher sell. But if you incorporate humor as one balanced aspect of a story that also has drama, suspense, action, adventure, and romance, then readers who do not get the joke or find it funny may still enjoy the other aspects of your story.

And while many people are dismissive of humor as being easier to write than serious drama that explores the metaphor and all of that, the truth is humor is often far harder to write -- at least humor that makes the majority of readers actually laugh, and doubly so humor that also makes people think, and triply so makes them laugh again the next day when they think about it, and then think about why they laughed.

Not that Finn Fancy is necessarily at that level (yet). But I am proud of having told a fun story that people seem to enjoy, that will perhaps make someone's crappy day a little less crappy.

Humor: hard work for high risk (and often its own reward). Maybe I should put that on a tee-shirt. With a picture of a fat grumpy cat so it is somehow funny, of course.

Official Author Website
Order Finn Fancy Necromancy HERE

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Randy Henderson was born in the state of Washington and is the debut author of the darkly humorous contemporary fantasy novel FINN FANCY NECROMANCY. He is the Golden Pen Grand Prize winner of Writers of the Future for 2014, and his short fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, the M-Brane anthology 2020 Visions, and Every Day Fiction. Randy graduated from the Clarion West writing workshop in 2009.

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of the author and Fantasy Magazine.



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