Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Make 'Em Laugh

By Kristin Owens

As writers, we search for universal truths and themes that unite us with readers. It’s our responsibility to express the full range of emotions reflecting the human condition. But I am troubled. It seems lately we are on a downslope of despair. Someone pass me a tissue.

At the recent NCW conference, I spoke with many writers about their projects. The majority seemed to have one thing in common: sadness. The woeful plotlines included teen angst, tragedy, long-slow-suffering-death, even dismemberment (thanks to keynote Chuck Wendig for THAT one). How depressing. What happened to happy? 

Another example from the industry, a big-time editor (from a huge, national, super famous magazine in which I would give a critical organ to be published) expressed interest in an essay I wrote. 

It had humor, but apparently too much. 

After two years of exclusive consideration, the editor recently emailed they’re going in a different direction, looking for stories with more ‘emotional impact.’ According to the magazine’s last six issues, that translates to cancer, divorce and/or death. Talk about a weep fest.

If you can't make it better, you can laugh at it. --Erma Bombeck

Can't Help It --- A Wiener Dog Dressed as A Wiener. Get It?
Laughter makes people happier and healthier. You know, endorphins and all that. And I believe, truly, people prefer smiling over crying. 

But could I be wrong? Am I overestimating the public’s desire for glee?

I decided to find out. 

I recently said goodbye to my gig teaching statistics. Sad. My writing career demands I devote additional time learning about commas. Happy!

For a finale, I’d like to offer up the cursory study I did last week, using a bona fide random sampling technique querying my Facebook followers. It’s completely valid. Trust me. Really. 

I asked two questions: What makes you happy? What makes you sad? For the most part, responses held no significant difference. The number of likes and comments were virtually the same.

But here’s the big finding: those who responded to ‘sad,’ wrote twice as many words than those in ‘happy.’ The cursory results validated my theory. People have lots to say about being gloomy. Also, they are more likely to share it. So, essentially, misery really does love company.  

What other people call dark and despairing, I call funny. --David Sedaris

It turns out the big winner for making people happy is – wait for it – KITTENS. Who knew?
A Kitten Wearing a Green Bay Packer Sweater. You're Welcome.

Although I won’t be writing about kittens soon --- wait a minute, my protagonist owns a three-legged cat named Grendel. How did that happen?

I challenge writers to explore a full range of emotions in their own writing... including happy. But when in doubt, throw in a kitten. 

Writers, please don’t fail and forget the funny. We all could be a lot happier.


David Sharp said...

If you got people to list the books/movies/TV shows they have read or watched more than once, I wonder what the ratio of comedy to drama would be. How many times would The Princess Bride make the list versus Schindler's List?

I theorize that people like humor more than they think they do. I don't often read a book listed as 'humor,' but I appreciate a lot of humor in the books I read whatever genre they may be. Great topic!

Susan Kane said...

Teenagers are either giddy or angry. The rest of us also have those ups and downs, but they have different labels. that is why Walking Dead is so popular. I don't know what show would reflect the Happy, now that Mary Tyler Moore is gone.

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