Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Five Mistakes Thriller Writers Make: Number Three -- Humor

So You Think You’re Funny?

Thriller Guy is here to tell you that you’re probably not. Or at least not as funny as you think you are. Don’t take this too hard, you’re not alone.

TG reviews, as you faithful readers know by now, around ten thrillers a month. Many of them have protagonists who are usually some sort of tough-as-nails soldier, spy, mercenary, private contractor or whatever, and he usually has a sidekick or team of sidekicks. In at least 75% to 85% of these books, the guy and his best pal love to josh back and forth making humorous comments at the expense of one another. One series in particular, and TG is too lazy to go to the massive pile of ARCs behind him and root through to find the offender, has the deadly duo, a black guy and a white guy, who kid each other incessantly about race, size of penis, bravery or lack thereof, homosexual tendencies, lack of prowess in bed, inability to maintain a healthy relationship with a woman, inability to maintain an unhealthy relationship with a woman, and a myriad of other unfunny takes on relationships, society or each other. Every woman who comes on page has her breasts discussed, and every character, even the women, always discuss breast size concerning every other female character. It’s embarrassing, crude, sophomoric, and definitely not funny. And this is a bestselling series. TG has pointed this stupidity out several times in reviews, to no effect. So what can we learn from this example? Besides the fact that TGs views seem to carry very little weight.

Many thriller readers are men who find this sort of juvenilia funny. Or to put a more generous spin on the data, that many thriller readers are quite willing to gloss/skip over these inanities to get to the part where the guys shoot and kill lots of people.

But forget this guy and his stupid heroes for a minute. Lets bring this closer to home. Thriller Guy has a story.

Years ago, TG was contacted by an agent who had a writer who was writing non-fiction books about his years as a soldier and sniper in Vietnam (One Shot, One Kill, an excellent book about snipers) who now wanted to branch out into fiction. Would TG get together with this guy and maybe come up with an idea for a thriller? TG did, and the result was Hellhound, by Allen Appel and Craig Roberts. Yes, clicking on this last phrase will take you to a site where you can actually buy a copy of this masterpiece. Actually, it’s a pretty good book. But the point of this story is…

Appel wrote the book with his son and Craig. The son’s name is also Allen Appel, which has caused uncounted problems over the years. The two Appels have written several books together and have a similar style. During the writing of Hellhound, (which is the name of an advanced attack helicopter) they had the Russian evildoer, as I remember it, coming up on shore under cover of night on a beach and stumbling into a group of hippies who were camped out, and who take the guy in and treat him to a night of revelry. This scene was hilarious. At least to the two Appels. It went on for at least 50 pages and led to other scenes of high hilarity. Eventually the book was finished and it was sent to the agent. After a couple of days the manuscript came back in the mail and scrawled across the title page, the agent had written, “CUT THE FUNNY SHIT!”

And he was absolutely right. What the hell were those two guys thinking? Chastened, all the funny shit was cut out (it amounted to a couple of hundred pages!) and the book went on to publication. Now, those were the days back when agents actually acted like editors and had the best interests of their clients at heart and who weren’t afraid to undertake some tough-love agenting. These days, most agents are toadies, as are the editors who now quail in fear at any writer who has had any success. If someone is bringing in money, God forbid they should be given any advice that would hurt their tender egos.

But even if agents and their editor brethren are afraid to say anything, and even if many readers are too dim-witted to even notice the stupidity of the attempts at humor, TG  does notice, and TG will say so, in print, and TG will make you, the writer, look like a fool. So here’s some good advice, writers.

Don’t try to be funny. It buys you nothing. It usually misfires, and when it doesn’t, it doesn’t do anything to fill the thriller reader’s primary need: for thrills. Not comedy.

So stop it. If you want to write comedy, fine, go ahead and give that a whirl and find out how tough that can be.

So let’s paraphrase the old show-biz saw: Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.

In writing a thriller, Killing people is easy. Comedy is hard.

Stick to the easy part, leaving a bloody trail of bodies in your hero’s wake.

And stop with the stupid jokes about women’s breasts.

And now for a commercial message: Last week’s blog was an infomercial about Allen Appel’s new Kickstarter project. If you are a reader of this blog and would like to support the author, check out the project here and donate. Thriller Guy has been a little disappointed, no let’s be honest, he’s been very surprised and disappointed that very few eyeballs have gone to the site and far fewer pocketbooks have been opened to help fund this project. As TG has pointed out before, Appel has hefty gin bills to pay and these books, in this case the sixth in the Pastmaster series, don’t get written on coffee and cigarettes alone. So give a few bucks so that books get written and TG continues to hurang and bloviate about writers and thrillers. Thank you.

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