This week’s post is on adding humor through quirky characters. This is a great way to pump up the humor in your story. In general, if we think of a character type – grandmother, cheerleader, private investigator, or whatever – a certain image will easily come to mind. That image tends to be based on societal stereotypes.
For example, someone who needs a “grandmother” character might picture a plump woman with white hair who bakes cookies. But not all grandmothers have white hair! Creating a more distinct character might mean going beyond that initial thought. Perhaps this grandmother dyes her hair with blue and purple streaks, is the town mayor, and takes her grandson to the bowling alley for nachos. A more specific character is actually more believable than a generic character – and a lot more fun.
You should always try to go beyond the easy cliché. When writing humor, push it even farther. Create characters who have interesting quirks, unusual hobbies, or strange passions. They don’t have to be over the top, if that’s not your humor style. Simply make each character as fresh and real as the people you know in life. Let’s look at two examples.
In my humorous mystery Something Shady at Sunshine Haven, war correspondent Kate moves back to Arizona to recover from an injury. Kate’s mother is now in an Alzheimer’s unit at a nursing home. That’s not funny. I don’t want to make her mother’s memory problems the butt of jokes. Still, the relationship between Kate and her mother can have touches of humor.
In the following excerpt, Kate visits her mother for the first time since Mom’s Alzheimer’s was diagnosed.
Mom’s room was the third on the left, small but cheerful, with a single bed, dresser, desk, and chair. She looked like herself, although her face twisted in confusion when I entered.
Dad said, “Look who’s here to see you, Mother. Our daughter Kate has come home.”
Mom reached out with both hands. “Kitty!”
I hadn’t gone by that nickname in decades, but it was better than being forgotten.
“You look tired,” she said. “And you’ve cut your hair.”
I was tired, but I’d worn my hair short for over a decade. Was she remembering me from some previous era? If she thought I was still twenty, then “tired” was a delicate understatement for how I’d changed.
She brushed hair off my forehead. “You should grow your hair out again. It looks so nice long, when you bother to style it.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Maybe she hadn’t changed much after all.
While there is humor in the scene, it’s also a poignant moment between Kate and her mother, and I’ll bet a lot of people will identify with having a parent who sometimes makes unwelcome personal comments.
Something Shady at Sunshine Haven: War correspondent Kate Tessler has followed the most dangerous news stories around the world. But can she survive going home?
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In the Felony Melanie: Sweet Home Alabama romantic comedy novels, the quirky side characters are more extreme. In Felony Melanie in the Big Smashup, Melanie wants to join the demolition derby with the boys. She gets help from an older woman who use to drive.
“Now that you’re warmed up, let’s see you backwards,” Miz Kitchens said.
“Backwards?” Melanie squeaked.
Miz Kitchens leaned down with her arm across the window frame. “You don’t think you can do the Derby going forward, do you? You have to protect the engine. That’s why the cars mostly run around backward, at least the ones that last.” She shook her head. “Pretty as a pumpkin but half as smart.”
Melanie’s face heated. “I can drive backward.”
“Then do it.” Miz Kitchens straightened and slapped the top of the car. “Come on, tail up and stinger out!”
Melanie bit down on her lower lip, squinted at the rearview mirror, and tried to back the car down the row.
Oops. Good thing all the cars were already damaged. She pulled forward a couple of feet and tried again.
Whoa! Now she was too far in the other direction. She’d barely passed the parallel parking part of her driver’s exam. Her eyes said she should do one thing, but the car didn’t seem to agree.
Miz Kitchens stomped over to her, waving her arms. “No, no, no! You want to putter around in backward circles while they ram you? You’ve got to drive with confidence. Don’t rely on your mirrors – you won’t have them in the derby anyway.”
Melanie twisted around to look out the back window. That gave her more warning when she was going off course. She managed to get down the road. Now she just had to turn –
Whoops. She’d meant to go the other way. Oh well, no one would know what she intended. At least she made it around the row of cars without hitting anything.
No, no, brake! Where was the brake? Her foot got caught under it. She yanked it out, slammed it down, and jerked to a stop. Okay, lesson learned. She had to know where the gas and brake were without looking at them. She touched her foot from one to the other a few times to get the feel for how far apart they were.
Miz Kitchens threw her arms in the air. “This ain’t no tea party! You have to be tougher than any fellow out there. Girls in demolition derby are as scarce as deviled eggs after a church picnic. You fail out there, and they’ll say no girl can do it.”
Visit the Amazon series page for Felony Melanie: Sweet Home Alabama romantic comedy novels. Sign up for our Rom-Com newsletter and get Felony Melanie Destroys the Moonshiner’s Cabin. These first two chapters from the novel Felony Melanie in Pageant Pandemonium stand alone as a short story
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