Saturday, May 12, 2012

And the Tension Builds...Yawn

copyright 2012, Pat Bertram

Alfred Hitchcock is often referred to as the master of suspense, but I find some of his movies dreary. The tension rises at a leisurely pace and there is nothing to relieve the single grey note of suspense. By the time I am halfway through one of his films, I hope that everyone dies and gets it over with.

For me, the problem with these movies is that they have no sense of humor. A bit of comic relief would give the films color, would make the suspense more surprising by comparison and the revelations more shocking. Anyone who is familiar with color knows that this works. Yellow is brighter in the presence of purple, its direct opposite on the color wheel, than in the presence of any other color, and purple is more vibrant in the presence of yellow.

I am trying to cultivate humor so that I don’t turn out to be a single-grey-note writer. I’m not planning to add slapstick to an otherwise serious story; nor am I planning to use a lot of clever quips and one-liners. They get annoying after a while, and overshadow the plot. A touch of quiet humor works just as well and makes readers (or film watchers) let down their guard so they are more susceptible to deadly thrusts.

There are many ways of being humorous. One can juxtapose different character types as I did in Daughter Am I. I did not intend for the book to be humorous, but parts of it ended up that way because of Mary’s relationship with the old gangsters. The humor did not come from the age difference but from value differences. The old gangsters had no problem breaking the law, and Mary did.

One can also have a character say or do the opposite of what is expected. The classic Lou Grant remark from Mary Tyler Moore is a good example: “You’ve got spunk,” a pause, then, “I hate spunk.” Or one can have a character struggle to come up with a witty remark and finally come out with a simple “Hi.”

Humor does not come naturally to me, but then, even funny people have to work at it. Agents and editors have rejected me because they say they don’t fall in love with my characters. Maybe a bit of humor will make my characters more lovable. It will certainly make writing them more fun. At the very least, they (and my books) will not be colorless.

Pat Bertram


Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado. When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book — character and story driven novels that can’t easily be slotted into a genre — she decided to write her own. Second Wind Publishing liked her style and published four of Bertram’s novels: Light Bringer, Daughter Am I, More Deaths Than One, and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and one non-fiction book, Grief: the Great Yearning.


Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Pat, you hit the nail on the head. A little humor not only relieves the tension so we can set up the "tension and release" cycles, but also makes readers fall in love with our more human characters. I loved the juxtaposition between your gangsters and Mary, it was priceless! Thanks for blogging with us today and have a great weekend.

Pat Bertram said...

Thank you for having me as a guest, Aaron. I'm always pleased to be here!

Mary and her gangster friends is a special favorite of mine. Oddly, the book was not intended to be humorous, but by the time I gave each of the octogenarians a few quirks to distinguish one from the other, and with the value differences added into the mix, the humor just naturally showed up.

writerchick said...

I always include humor -in fact most of my stories contain comic relief. I can't write a serious stories. I agree with pat and the others about the need for humor in suspense stories.

Linda Nance said...

I feel in awe of your talent in so many ways. You have such depth and an ability to bring reality and feeling with your words. I love the idea of adding humor. There are times we have to see a little humor in life and the characters come to life in many ways.

Pat Bertram said...

Writer Chick, thank you for stopping by. Always nice to meet new people, especially those who agree with me!

Ah, Linda, you always say such sweet things. Thank you.