Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Try not to get shot, beaten... - Dimorphic by Cy Wyss

It's easy to become a superhero.
First, discover a superpower. It might take a while to get used to, though --- especially if it's something as weird as being your twin brother half the time.


It's easy to become a superhero.

First, discover a superpower. It might take a while to get used to, though --- especially if it's something as weird as being your twin brother half the time.

Second, recruit a sidekick. Or, two. It'd be nice if they weren't a pyromaniacal sycophant and a foul-mouthed midget, but you get what you get.

Third, and most important, hire a mentor --- preferably not a vicious mobster with a God complex, however, this may, realistically, be your only choice.

Finally: go forth and fight crime. Try not to get shot, beaten, tortured, or apprehended in the process.

Hazards of Humor

With her gun in hand, Christine edged toward the opening. She was as quiet as she could be. Muffled street noises carried up to her: the whirr of engines passing, the revving of a motor, and the honking of a horn. She lifted an elbow and wiped her sweaty brow. The sound of her own breath would give her away, she thought. She crouched low, ready to spring into the gaping entrance of the apartment. A quiet moment passed and she could hear her heart pounding in her chest. She wondered if she listened very closely if she could hear her assailant breathing. She thought he was just inside the door, waiting. She licked her dry lips and prepared to move.

“Hey, Christine, you hear about the guy with no arms and no legs in a pot of boiling water?” her partner whispered. “They called him Stew.”

* * *

What about humor in a suspense genre? There are inherent risks to such an approach. It is hard to resist. At least in the mystery genre, there is plenty of precedent. The wisecracking private eye is an institution, from Dashiell Hammett to Robert B. Parker, and beyond. For the thriller genre it is less clear cut. What can go wrong? What can go right?

Humor Can Interrupt the Story
Thrillers and mysteries are all about suspense and keeping the reader guessing. Humor can be like a flat tire, distracting the reader and pulling them out of the story. Like Christine’s partner’s misplaced joke, humor can act as a discordance, killing the suspense. On the other hand, humor can relieve the tension of a particularly long suspenseful scene. Like the hard boiled PI making quips while the bad guy holds a gun on him, humor can act to ease the reader’s passage, reassuring that everything will be okay.

Humor Can Fall Flat
This is not a problem restricted to genres of suspense. Since humor comes off differently to everyone, it is tough to make a joke or twist of speech that will appear universally to readers. It is particularly difficult in the genres that aren’t typically seen as whimsical. If a reader isn’t expecting humor, it will be even more difficult to hit the mark. On the other hand, we do have a long tradition of the witty hero, facing death with aplomb and assurance. Not only mysteries have such heroes. Graphic novels abound with quips and snarky remarks. A complete lack of humor on the part of the main character in a book is almost as jarring as an excessively ribald riposte.

Humor Can Spice Up the Pot
What is the point of humor in a suspense genre? For that matter, what is the point of humor at all? Obviously for anything in the comedy genre it is the stock in trade. For other genres, it is a bonus, little nuggets of sunshine embedded in the otherwise serious text. It can be used to pace the action, inserting a little reflective pause amid the chaos. It can be used to reveal something about a character, their take on life, or how they react to surprise or defeat with humor. Ultimately, humor is a device like any other such as tense, voice, or metaphor.

A light touch is probably the best approach, especially in genres where the reader may not be expecting gobs of silliness. No humor at all is probably almost as difficult to achieve as humor that everyone finds funny. Even if the author strives to keep humor out of their words, some people will find certain configurations humorous regardless. Best to relax and let it flow naturally. Most people are somewhere on the spectrum of having a sense of humor, including authors. Why repress that instinct? Of course, no author wants to be as obvious or inappropriate as Christine’s partner, above. Leave the explicit jokes out, most likely. Did you hear the one about the author who never used humor in any of their work? No? Neither did I.

About the author:
I live and write in the Indianapolis area.

After earning a PhD in Computer Science in 2002 and teaching and researching for seven years, I’ve returned to the childhood dream of becoming an author. I better do it now because I won’t get a third life. Behind me, I have a ton of academic experience and have written about twenty extremely boring papers on query languages and such, for example this one in the ACM Transactions on Databases. (That’s a mouthful.)
Now, I write in the mystery/thriller/suspense genres and sometimes science fiction. I know for some people databases would be the more beloved of the options, but for me, I finally realized that my heart wasn’t in it. So I took up a second life, as a self-published fiction author.

Online, I do the Writer Cy cartoon series about the (mis)adventures of researching, writing, and self-publishing in today’s shifting climate. I also love to design and create my own covers using GIMP.

Author's Giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway


Wendy Barrows said...

Great post, thanks!
Loved this book.
Note to author - In this case, humor definitely works!

Cy Wyss said...

Thanks for the opportunity to write this post, it was fun.