Saving the Best for Last

I am currently working on a revision of a novel. It’s a fairly humorous piece and someone pointed out to me recently that humor works best when the punch is saved for the end.

I wasn’t completely convinced, but I thought I should at least give it a try. As I worked on it, I started noticing this technique in books and movies. Once I started looking for it, it cropped up all over the place.

Humor (or really any kind of emphasis) works best when you save the punch for the end.

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For example, in Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, the first two paragraphs read like this:

Linderwall was a large kingdom, just east of the Mountains of Morning, where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable. The climate was unremarkable. The knights kept their armor brightly polished mainly for show—it had been centuries since a dragon had come east. There were the usual periodic problems with royal children and uninvited fairy godmothers, but they were always the sort of thing that could be cleared up by finding the proper prince or princess to marry the unfortunate child a few years later. All in all, Linderwall was a very prosperous and pleasant place.

Cimorene hated it.

By putting “Cimorene hated it” at the end, that line gets the emphasis. It gives the whole thing a humorous tone. But imagine if Wrede had switched things and written something like:

Cimorene hated where she lived. Linderwall was a large kingdom…All in all, Linderwall was a very prosperous and pleasant place.

That doesn’t work nearly as well. It doesn’t have nearly the same effect as the actual beginning of the book. Plus, in this version, the emphasis would be placed on Linderwall rather than on Cimorene. The main character gets lost.

In the book Space Case, Stuart Gibbs uses that technique with individual sentences:

Living in Moon Base Alpha is like living in a giant tin can built by government contractors.

That sentence is a lot more amusing than if Gibbs had reversed it and written something like:

If government contractors had built a giant tin can it would be like living in Moon Base Alpha.

Or a few paragraphs later, while talking about the moon-base toilets:

In zero gravity, you have to take extreme precautions to ensure that that whatever comes out of your body doesn’t fly up into your face.

Ew, yes. But also funny. By placing the punch at the end, Gibbs amps up the humor instead of letting the funniness get lost in the sentence.

While I’m not an expert at this, something simple like rearranging sentences to shift the emphasis has really helped me achieve the affect I want in my scenes. Even when I’m writing about something like traveling facial hair.

What tips do you have for writing humor? What are some of your favorite humorous books?

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20180131_162833 (4)Jenilyn Collings loves to read and is always looking for books that will make her laugh. She has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She enjoys watching Korean dramas, BBC period pieces, and thinks Avatar: the Last Airbender is the best show ever made.

Writers are Readers: Best Lessons from New Adult Books

Read, read, read. And read some more.

We here at Thinking Through Our Fingers are strong proponents of the idea that writers must be avid and analytical readers in order to learn the craft. By reading in our genre especially, we can learn much from the example of others.

In this “Writers are Readers” series, several of our blog contributors will be sharing some of the best reads within the genre that we write along with the lessons learned from these gorgeous reads. I write both Young Adult and New Adult, and my spotlight will be on New Adult books. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this genre, these are stories that feature characters between the ages of 18-24. This is a time of newfound independence and freedom, of self-discovery and exploration, of trying out new and often risky things, of testing the waters of adult relationships, of incurring emotional hardship and damage, and perhaps most of all, of the tumultuous emotional development that brings us into adulthood and makes us who we are. Particularly popular within this genre is contemporary romance, likely because this age represents a time when we can explore and experiment with those adult relationships for the very first time.

As such, the following book picks are some of the New Adult contemporary romances that drove a lesson home…and in a few cases, a stake through my heart. ❤

Note: Due to the nature of the genre, all of the contemporary romances in this list contain mature subject material, including varying degrees of sexual content associated with emotional progression of characters (some more on the sweeter side, others definitely steamy). Everyone has different tastes, so you may want to check out non-spoilery book reviews or preview a sample of a book if you think this may be an issue for you.

For a lesson in realistic romance: Flat-Out Love by Jessica Park, Deep Blue by Jules Barnard


For a lesson in humor and voice: Imperfect Chemistry by Mary Frame, Imperfectly Criminal by Mary Frame, With a Twist by Staci Hart

For a lesson in building sexual tension: A Little Too Hot by Lisa Desrochers, Obsession by Jennifer L. Armentrout


For a lesson in emotional development: Wait for You by J. Lynn, Charade by Nyrae Dawn


For a lesson in damaged characters: Tragic by J.A. Huss, Unbreak Me by Lexi Ryan, Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire

For a lesson in external conflict/suspense: The Untamed Series by Jen Meyers and Victoria Green, The Chicago Underground Series (1-3) by Skye Warren (note: this is a dark romance)


For a lesson in romance that will break your heart into a million pieces: Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover

If you want to catch any of the other posts in Thinking Through Our Fingers’ “Writers are Readers” feature, here they are! 🙂

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Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both YA urban fantasy and NA contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. Find out more about Helen at www.helenboswell.com.

Writers Are Readers: Best Lessons from Middle Grade Books

I strongly believe that writers must be voracious readers. Read widely, read critically, read for fun, and definitely read as many books as possible in the genre you’re writing. It’s definitely helpful to read new releases to get a sense of what’s selling (or what was selling a year or two ago), read classics to get a sense of what lasts, and read as a way to connect with your author peers.

Some of the best writing lessons can also come from thoughtfully and analytically reading the very best books in your genre or age group. If you look at the books that have had the greatest impact on you, stop and ask yourself what it was specifically about that book that was done so masterfully.

The best books do many things well, but I find I can often pinpoint one characteristic of favorite books that made each truly memorable and exceptional. Here are the titles I turn to when I want a book to show (rather then tell) me how to get it right.

For a lesson in voice: Ida B by Katherine Hannigan, Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
For a lesson in dialogue: Twerp by Mark Goldblatt (and its sequel, Finding the Worm)
For a lesson in making the reader fall in love with a character, even when they’re making terrible choices: Joey Pigza Loses Control by Jack Gantos; Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
For a lesson in humor: The Tapper Twins Go to War (with Each Other) by Geoff Rodkey; The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
For a lesson in mystery and suspense: The Greenglass House by Kate Milford; Nooks and Crannies by Jessica Lawson
For a lesson in just the right amount of scary: Mothman’s Curse by Christine Hayes; The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox
For a lesson in weaving together multiple threads: Holes by Louis Sachar
For a lesson in just beautiful writing: Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith; Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
For a lesson in writing authentic and caring parents: Loser by Jerry Spinelli; Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
For a lesson in writing unforgettable siblings: The Penderwicks by Jeannie Birdsall; Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
For a lesson in establishing a sense of place: The Five Lives of Our Cat Zook by Joanne Rocklin; Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
For a lesson in how to really write a novel in verse: House Arrest by K.A. Holt; The Crossover by Kwame Alexander; Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
For a lesson in packing an emotional punch: One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Everything is Fine by Ann Dee Ellis

What about you? What novels have given you your best lessons on writing?

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Elaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. She’s a member of SCBWI and represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of EMLA. You can find her at elainevickers.com on the web, @ElaineBVickers on TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption. 🙂

The Avengers and Writing Humor

I really enjoy the Marvel movies and, with Ant-Man still in the theaters, I thought I’d talk about my favorite thing in them. No, it’s not Tom Hiddleston’s smile or Chris Hemsworth’s biceps. It’s not the epic scale of the movies or the special effects. No, my favorite thing about the Marvel movies is the use of humor. And the best part about the humor in the Marvel movies is that it’s totally relatable to writing, which means I can watch the movies and call it research.

Some people shy away from using humor in their stories because they aren’t writing a funny book, but using humor in a story does a lot more than make the reader laugh. In fact, I think it’s something that most, if not all, stories need to have in small doses. In any case, I thought I would highlight a few ways that the Marvel movies use humor:

1. Hooking the reader (or viewer)

In the very first scene of Thor, Jane grabs the steering wheel from her assistant and their vehicle crashes straight into Thor, running him over. To make matters worse, Jane’s assistant then proceeds to taser Thor. The unexpectedness (and because the viewer knows that Thor can’t be permanently injured by something so piddling as a giant research van or a taser—this wouldn’t be funny at all if it happened to an ordinary mortal) of the accident makes it funny and intriguing, making us want to know why the Norse god of thunder is wandering around in the middle of the desert, and we’re hooked into the story.

2. Creating relatable characters
At one point in The Avengers, Tony Stark is asked what he would be without his Ironman suit. To be honest, I don’t relate to much of his list. I’m not a genius or a billionaire or a playboy. Maybe a bit of a philanthropist, but, really, that’s not what makes me relate to Iron Man. What makes me relate to Iron Man is his sense of humor throughout the movies. He’s quick with the snappy comebacks and often makes me laugh, even when the situation is dark.

And humor in dark situations leads me to my next point:

3. Breaking up tension

This is something that the Marvel movie franchise is fabulous at doing and they do it all over the place. The writers are very good at breaking up tense scenes with a witty line or something funny. One of my favorites is near the end of The Avengers when Thor and Hulk, who had previously been fighting each other, had just cleared out the train station of all the aliens. The two of them look at each other, share a brief “good job” sort of look…and then the Hulk punches Thor, sending him flying.

At that point, the Avengers were in the middle of a nearly hopeless battle against the aliens, but that small moment gave viewers a break in the tension of the situation, gave them a little moment of hope. Giving small breaks like this is crucial in writing and storytelling because in breaking up the tension, it actually amps it up. It seems a little counter-intuitive to briefly stop the tension in order to increase it, but it works. The reason is that in tense scenes, especially longer ones or when the tension continues over several scenes or long periods of time, essentially only one emotional note is hit. In this instance, it’s fear. Fear that the Avengers won’t succeed, that they won’t work together well enough, that there are just too many aliens, etc.

But if the writers hadn’t added in any humor and kept going with fear, the monotone nature of the emotions in the scenes would become, well, boring. And we all know that the one thing you can never do in writing is be boring. Briefly changing the emotional tone in scenes keeps things interesting and keeps the reader from feeling overwhelmed.

4. Hinting at who to root for

Humor is often used to let us know who to root for and also which characters are redeemable. The Red Skull doesn’t really have a sense of humor. When things go wrong, he doesn’t crack a joke and I never want him to succeed with his plans. Loki, on the other hand, does have a sense of humor and because of that, I want him to win, even though he’s the antagonist.

5. Makes us feel like we’re part of the group

One of the things they do in The Avengers is constantly poke fun at Captain America because he misses so many references. As a viewer, though, we catch most of those references, so we feel like we’re in on the joke. Also, through well-placed and humorous dialogue, we understand the Avenger’s private jokes, like the shawarma, and we feel like we’re part of their team…only without the superpowers.

6. It’s just plain fun

Let’s face it, adding humor just makes things more fun. So go to and let yourself have fun adding humor to your stories!

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Jenilyn Collings loves to read and write things that are humorous or romantic (preferably both). She has worked as a dental researcher, a florist, a martial arts instructor, and a tracker at an alternative high school (she’ll leave it to your imagination what that entailed), but she’s now focused on writing and child wrangling. A long time resident of the Mountain West, she recently moved to New England with her family where she is gaining an appreciation for umbrellas, fall colors, and turning lanes while driving