~ By Elizabeth Dudak
I like to think of myself as a comedic romance writer or a romantic comedy writer, whichever strikes my fancy at the time. Either way, I write humor – or what I hope is humor – and writing humor is like using strategy to place minefields. The humor has to be planted with the precision of a surgeon and cannot be spewed haphazardly across the pages of your story. Then, once planted, there is a certain dance to follow to make the humor real, entertaining, and well, funny. If anything along the way is misplaced or a step missed, the setting, the characters, the dialogue and the plot will blow up, making one, unreadable mess.
When I began writing my contemporary romance novel – excuse me, my humorous contemporary romance novel – What the Heck, Dec?!, I wrote in the voice of my main character, Marti Karnawski, as she experiences true love and lust for the very first time. Writing in first person gave me some freedom to use humor as I have always believed inner thoughts are probably funnier than what comes out of mouths – think Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary and Katie Macalister ‘s The Corset Diary, both great examples of first person humor. However, I had to be careful. If I used too much self-deprecating humor, I would create a pitiful or very insecure protagonist and that’s not funny. On the other hand, if I wrote her sounding too secure, too clean, she would be not be relatable, no growth needed and that’s not funny either. On the third hand – yes, being an octopus helps when you are a writer – I needed Marti’s inner voice to be in accordance with her actions and her words, or else she would come across not genuine and one of the biggest turn offs for me while reading romance is a phony main character. So my best effort was to write Marti with some insecurity, yet true to the secrets she was sharing with the reader.
As in What the Heck, Dec, the book I am currently writing, the second in the series, is in first person, but in a different voice and I find myself slipping back into Marti. I am having a difficult time divorcing her as I loved that gal. I have to keep reminding myself, this is a different book, a different character and a different subject matter. It’s actually a more serious subject matter that my book is taking me on – and make no mistake, the book takes me, not the other way around – and I am not fully sold on the direction. I question if dark and serious subjects belong in contemporary romance comedy. Or does humor necessarily have to go away in the dark? My current dance is called the how-much-humor-and-where- to-place-it-without-offending boogie. And, to be honest, I’m not always the best dancer. I do step on toes.
For me to write humor, I have to feel it. To even begin to write, I have to get that crack myself up feeling and to feel, well, funny. Some days, I’m lucky if all I can muster is a knock-knock joke. Writing in a great mood bodes well for writing humor, yet I do have to rein in my giddiness so it does not take hold of my story and overpower it. During my editing – because I do edit while I write which is an entirely different blog – I am amazed how over the top or under the ground my humor can read. Balance is the key in any dance through the minefields and sometimes, I can get klutzy and the story bombs.
So do I succeed in writing humor? Well, I can only look to the reviews I received for What the Heck, Dec?!. For the readers who gave me high marks in their reviews, I suppose I did. For the other readers, the ones whose reviews weren’t so kind – most notably the one reader who called my novel a wall-banger as in she wanted to throw it against the wall – I suppose I failed. Whatever the views of the readers, I did take away lessons in what worked and what might have blown up on me and really, in this hard work of being funny, at least I took the first step in dancing on the minefields.
I live in the tiny suburb (more of a town) of Warrenville, IL located forty minutes west of Chicago, with my husband, Peter, children, Leah and Matthew and Ruby, the Diva Dog. Since both kids are in college and tuition is like a first and second mortgage combined, I have a full-time day job as an Administrative Specialist for a mental health facility. I have written opinion-oriented columns for local newspapers for over five years and have had articles published in magazines as well as medical books. What the Heck, Dec?! is my first contemporary romantic comedy novel, my first contemporary comedic romantic novel…. okay, my first novel ever. I am currently squeezing in the writing of the second book in the series whenever I can – the mornings, lunch time, on weekends – and I am forever writing in my head. Feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ElizabethDudak.