On Blending Dark and Funny
One of the hardest things about writing humor is timing. Normally you wouldn’t want to crack a joke during a pivotal scene—but when writing funny books, especially for kids, that’s the best time to make them laugh. I find that’s what makes for really great humor—putting it in a place where you least expect it!
Humor has to be relatable. It needs to be something every reader has either experienced for themselves, has witnessed or could imagine happening. It can be slapstick, such as tripping (or “random gravity checks” as we like to call them), or a pie in the face. Or situation comedy, which consists of family or work relationships (think of your favorite sitcom on TV). Irony is often a great way to incorporate humor, too. I mean, who hasn’t gone inside to avoid the rain, only to find their roof is leaking? That’s funny. Well, not for the homeowner…
In the opening chapter of Cinderskella, Cindy is trying to get the attention of a cute boy named Ethan. She imitates a supermodel by doing a runway strut to the front of the class. The teacher mistakes this walk for a need to use the restroom. When I read this aloud to my daughter’s fourth grade classmates, they erupted into a fit of laughter. Because when all else fails, bathroom humor always succeeds!
There are some pretty serious scenes in Cinderskella. One of them is in the second chapter when Cindy’s mom dies. In the midst of that horrific, sad scene, Cindy takes a “Time Out” to address the reader and justify why she chooses to cry during this difficult time. While death is never funny, the fact that Cindy is able to explain her emotion to the reader –and does it in a way that most anyone can relate to—gives the reader a moment to recoup themselves and take a breather. That’s when people are able to laugh at themselves.
Cinderskella also has some creepy elements to it and finding the right time to implement humor is pretty tricky. Sometimes it was best to let the creepy scene play out without any humor, other times it was a great opportunity for the main character to laugh at herself. In one scene where Cindy is faced with a perilous situation, she takes a moment to address the reader with a “Time Out”, relating her circumstance to a horror movie. Don’t go in the basement!
Humor can NOT be forced. It has to come naturally. One way for humor to really work is to have a completely inappropriate or unexpected response. We’ve had to ask ourselves, “What would we do in this situation?” For instance, if we were being chased by a dog who wanted to eat our bones, while most people would chose to just run faster, or try to defend themselves, we’d probably cry out, “My bones aren’t on the menu!” —that’s the kind of thing we added into the manuscript.
The real key to humor, whether the story is dark and creepy, mushy-gushy romance or other-worldly even science fiction, is to time the humor well. Well-placed humor to solicits the best response from the reader. We like to think we succeeded with that in Cinderskella. Hopefully our readers will agree.
Human by day and skeleton by night, Cindy is definitely cursed. And because her mother recently died, Cindy has no one to turn to except a father who’s now scared of her and an evil stepmother who makes her do the housecleaning with a toothbrush. To make matters worse, the Spring Fling dance is approaching, and Ethan, the cutest boy in sixth grade, doesn’t seem to know Cindy exists. Of course, Cindy doesn’t think letting Ethan find out she’s part skeleton is the best way to introduce herself.
While facing such perils as pickled pig’s feet, a wacky fortune teller, and a few quick trips to the Underworld, Cindy’s determined to break the curse—even for a single night.
About Amie and Bethanie Borst
Bethanie Borst is a spunky 13-year-old who is an avid archer with Olympic dreams, enjoys the outdoors, loves reading and is quick to make lasting friendships. When she is not writing, she swings on a star.
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