We four authors—Eileen Key, Becky Melby, Rachael Phillips, and Cynthia Ruchti—worked together on a previous release—A Door County Christmas novella collection (Barbour)—in 2010 and were thrilled to join forces again on novellas that highlight another Wisconsin location—Cedarburg, the scene of all four seasons of life and love in Cedar Creek Seasons, which released in September (Barbour).
When we were invited to participate in The Borrowed Book blog, one of the first thoughts that piqued our own curiosity was how each of us might answer this question:
How do you write comedic characters without their becoming caricatures instead?
BECKY MELBY (author of “A Contest of Wills”): The most effective (and fun) tool I've found for creating realistic comedic characters is eavesdropping. My husband routinely has to wait for the glazed-over look to leave my eyes while we're having dinner in a crowded restaurant. It's so hard to concentrate on the conversation at my own table when there is raucous laughter at the one behind us! I love tuning in to everyday banter and picking up bits of wit and the rhythm of timing that make people laugh. While it's okay to populate a story with a few over-the-top quirky secondary characters, if you give your main characters too many extreme eccentricities or put them in too many banana-peel-slip situations, they can come across as cartoon characters rather than real people. It's the subtle little sarcastic observations of your hero or the way your heroine looks at the world through chartreuse-colored glasses that make readers smile. In Contest of Wills, much of the humor comes simply from the contrast in the way Willow and Wilson approach life. Combining a cautious introvert with a live-out-loud extrovert created the perfect set-up for comedic conflict.
www.beckymelby.com, http://www.facebook.com/becky.f.melby, Twitter: @BeckyMelby. I’m also a contributor on www.novelPASTimesand www.thebarndoor.net.
RACHAEL PHILLIPS (author of “In Tune with You”): Romance offers the perfect opportunity to use a classic duo set-up: a normal character versus a comedic character who thumbs his nose at the rules. In my story In Tune with You, Chesca, the quintessential classical church choir director, clashes with Seth, a football coach and the pastor’s choice for church drama director. Seth sings “Jingle Bells” in February. Off-key, which amounts to mortal sin in Chesca’s eyes—er, ears.
One method I use to avoid caricaturizing characters is to model them after real people. Seth shares several traits with my father, the world’s quirkiest pastor. Like Seth, Dad adores eating at truck stops and singing Christmas carols at unexpected times (he often led our congregation in “O Come O Ye Faithful” in August). Seth, like Dad, infuriates traditionalists like Chesca, yet harbors a passion for God and deep concern for unchurched friends, both adults and children.
Layering spiritual strengths between flaws and weirdness usually creates a likable, believable, yet complex character—one who could show up at your church, singing “Jingle Bells” in February!
Website: www.rachaelwrites.com, Facebook/Twitter.com/rachaelmphillips
EILEEN KEY (author of “Silvery Summer”): In the seventh grade I was voted Wittiest Classmate. It’s a title I’ve worked hard to maintain for many years. I believe life without a great sense of humor would be. . .unimaginable! So it is with the characters in my story. Claire finds herself in situations where she has to come up with an answer on the fly. She can’t let Eli know he’s “getting” to her. Eli doesn’t realize he’s keeping her off balance by his very presence in Cedarburg. The conflict begins. How do you develop this kind of character? Look around. I try to write real life types who experience real life situations and have them deal with the outcomes in an unusual manner. God’s gifted each of us with special personalities and quirks, so springboard your writing from the knowledge you have within. Add a little twist and voila you’ll have your reader laughing.
CYNTHIA RUCHTI (author of “Maybe Us”): Snicker. Chuckle. Laugh. Guffaw. Smile. In a world that doesn’t seem to get enough laughter to counteract its stressors, it’s a joy to tell stories that not only warm hearts but tickle funny bones, too. In writers’ workshops, I’m sometimes asked how to write humor. I cringe, because if humor doesn’t come naturally, it will either lie flat on the page or jump out obnoxiously like a pop-up clown. Life is full of funny moments. Not everyone can write about them in a humorous way. What results from a trying-too-hard attempt is a caricature—a character with every feature of face and personality exaggerated. But as the others have said, when real life reactions take an interesting twist, or a quirk or curiosity shows up at an inopportune time, comedy is more natural. In Maybe Us, Derek’s long, lean frame is accompanied by bowling ball klutziness. Play-by-the-rules Beth has hair the color of a toasted marshmallow. So does Derek’s dog. Those little curiosities set the stage for scenes that evoke a smile. In life, our family adopted the philosophy, “If we think we’ll probably laugh about this calamity later, why don’t we go ahead and laugh about it now?”