Lol. This post isn’t really about poisonous mushrooms, that was a cunning ruse to get you attention. It’s really about book 9 and why I’ve been finding it hard to write. I believe it’s a question of genre.
With specific genres, plots tend to come fairly easily once I have a character in mind. The story grows up around the characterisation and dialogue – probably because those are the bits I like playing with most. To give you a for instance, when I was doing fantasy in May I was given two character suggestions and knew immediately what I was going to do with them, so I sat and wrote it.
Humour is not a very specific genre, and to be honest I don’t have a specific character in mind. My vague plan was to write about the experiences of recent graduates living in the city in a sort of bubbly, chick lit way – Sex and the City but with real people who have real relationships, money issues, terrible flats, identity crises, whatever. Not just any old real people, but real Scottish people.
The writing of this was always going to be semi autobiographical in some ways, as I am a real Scottish person who graduated a few years back and has had various real person issues, sometimes with hilarious consequences. But I have struggled with the narrative because life doesn’t have a plot, it just sort of happens. I’ve also had real problems trying to keep things fictional – I don’t want to piss people off by using real events they might feel are best forgotten. I have also struggled to extract the humour at times because there are occasions (maybe when you’re in the third month of wearing a dressing gown and gloves over your jeans, jumper and other layers because your flat is so incredibly cold you might die in your sleep) when it’s hard to see the funny side.
There is a large element of craft in writing something amusing. I don’t mean that there’s no craft in writing something that isn’t, I just approach humour in a different way to other genre fiction. I can sit down with the aforementioned fantasy story and splurge out ideas without worrying too much, but when I’m actively trying to be funny I think about it more. Because I’m not meant to be redrafting, my brain is faced with the challenge of being funny first time and that is not how I roll – I need a couple of goes.
This is totally against the ‘no editing’ principle so last night I stopped thinking about it and just threw things out of my brain. I reckon out of 4,500 words maybe 1,000 ones will be usable. I suppose it could be worse, but it does feel a bit like writing for the sake of it rather than because I have something to say. The problem is that with this book the ‘humour’ comes from the way I tell it – the story isn’t the funny part. The story is just human life, which has farcical elements but no punch line.
In addition, if you aren’t in the mood, it’s really hard to come out with anything humorous. Anyone who has ever done anything knows there are days you struggle to sit and do what you need to do. Maybe you can’t be bothered to write that report your boss wanted last week so you sit and stare at a blank excel sheet until your eyes go funny and you think you’re in the tundra. Perhaps you don’t want to go into the shop because members of the public are idiots and they’re going to spend the day asking you endless, pointless questions. It could be your day off from your temp job, which you’ve had to start out with the dentist who has made your face hurt so you’d rather hide under a duvet feeling sorry for yourself than work on that book you’re meant to be writing.
If you’re having one of those sorts of days, telling yourself you have to sit down and write something funny is basically heaping salt on an open wound. How can you make people laugh when you’re wallowing in the depths of self pity, or you have a bit of a sore toe, or you’re just feeling a bit apathetic? Now is the time to spend three hours on Twitter moaning about the government, after which you do the dishes to create the illusion of productivity whilst also stirring up unwarranted feelings of resentment against your flatmates.
I’ve had a few of them this month, so writing the funnies has proven hard. I want this book to be cheerful humour rather than satire, because there is too much scope in the subject matter for me to veer away from biting wit and into the realms of having a whinge. And if I’m honest, this whinge has been whinged a thousand times before – where is the audience? Older people already know life after college or university is harder than you might have initially expected after MPs lied through their teeth that education = jobs ahoy. Those currently going through this realisation have no real desire to be reminded – this is why we have gin. And younguns are going to have it tough enough with their thousands of pounds of debt without hearing the light at the end of the tunnel is still barely glinting on the horizon when they finish studying.
In summary – my genre is too vague and my chosen subject matter is fraught with peril, which has made book 9 particularly challenging. Guess I picked the wrong year to write a different novel every month.