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“So a vampire and a werewolf walk into a bar…”

I was over on duotrope the other day, and I found a listing for an anthology called Dark Jesters: An Anthology of Humorous Horror.  They want real horror fiction – not stories making fun of the genre – but with a humorous angle, maximum length 2,000 words.  I’d love to try to write a story and submit it.  The low word count would keep me from getting too complex, and since I’ve been stuck on the writing lately, a deadline might help me get my ass in gear.  It probably wouldn’t be accepted, but it would be fun to try.

But you see, I have this problem.  I’m not sure what’s funny.  I don’t mean that I have no sense of humor.  I find a lot of things humorous and I love a good laugh – often at my own expense – but I have a hard time defining what makes something funny.  And my sense of humor is different than a lot of people’s.  For example, when I used to work at the book store, a bunch of us were in the back room, looking for a particular book.  Our manager was digging through a box, and was just about to move it over and go on to the next one, when my friend looks over and says, completely deadpan, "Don’t forget to lift with your back."  I burst out laughing, and a second later he did, too.  Everyone else just stared at us like we were idiots.

So, what makes something funny to you?  Does someone falling on their face make you laugh?  Or are you more about the witty banter and the caustic comebacks?  Do you prefer your humor to be slapstick or intellectual, dry British style or raunchy toilet humor?

p.s.  Credit for the title of this post goes to Tiffany.

17 Responses Subscribe to comments

  1. Tiffany Maxwell

    Allow me a minute to bask in the glory of the title. Okay I’m done.

    I think for me, my humor largely comes from innuendo and juxtaposition. Pairing something serious with something wildly absurd, scary with silly, grown-up with childish, etc. etc. My Little Ponies fucking. Hannibal Lecter as Hello Kitty. iCock, a vibrator that pulses to the rhythm of your iPod playlists (available in six colours, including limited edition mauve! Also available, iCock nano!).

    Basically, just taking something normal, and applying something else to it that makes it just a bit surreal. To me, that’s funny.

    Also, FIRST! I’m making up for lost time.

    Sep 18, 2008 @ 12:06 pm

  2. Shayne

    I’m extremely envious of your sense of humor. I could never have come up with any of that.

    And thanks. That’s a good point. I’ll give that some thought.

    Sep 18, 2008 @ 12:46 pm

  3. Tiffany Maxwell

    I don’t understand why one would be envious that their thoughts aren’t consumed by the mating practices of children’s toys of the 1980s.

    You heard me. Consumed.

    It’s the nights…the lonely, lonely nights…that I fear the most.

    Sep 19, 2008 @ 2:54 pm

  4. Shayne

    You are an evil, evil woman. I’m just saying.

    I was thinking about what you said – not about the mating practices of children’s toys, but about the use of juxtaposition to create humor – and I realized that that’s also one of the best ways to create horror. Take something ordinary, and then throw in something that doesn’t fit. I remember reading a short story by Stephen King once, called, “Morning Deliveries (Milkman #1). The milkman is in the back of his truck, which King has laid out as being a normal truck, full of butter and milk and other normal stuff that you’d expect to find in the back of a milk delivery truck. And then you get this: The orange juice was behind the deadly nightshade. And it’s absolutely brilliant, because it’s horrifying without really being horrible at all.

    Sep 20, 2008 @ 2:01 pm

  5. Ian Rogers

    That’s a great King story. As I recall, there was also a tarantula in the back of the deliveryman’s truck, that he ends up putting inside an empty milk carton that he leaves on someone’s doorstep. Freaking creepy.

    Sep 21, 2008 @ 7:19 pm

  6. Tiffany Maxwell

    I don’t remember this one, which book is it in?

    Sep 22, 2008 @ 11:11 am

  7. Shayne

    I mostly prefer King’s novels to his short stories – The Regulators is my absolute favorite – but I did really enjoy “Morning Deliveries”. I found it creepy, too, and that’s rare. Most stories these days seem to go for the perverse or the deviant to make people’s skin crawl, but King can do it by throwing the out-of-place into the everyday. That’s definitely one of the skills I want to learn.

    Sep 22, 2008 @ 11:42 am

  8. Shayne

    “Morning Deliveries” is in Skeleton Crew.

    Sep 22, 2008 @ 11:51 am

  9. Tiffany Maxwell

    Ah, which would be the one I’ve never read.

    Personally, I prefer King’s short stories for scare factor, and his novels as…I don’t know. For their lit’ry value. Or something. Y’all.

    Sep 22, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

  10. Shayne

    I think his short stories probably are scarier than his novels, but I tend not to care about the characters in his short stories as much as I care about the characters in his novels, so I don’t care about the outcome as much, either.

    Also, I have to say that I don’t really find his stories all that scary, in the grand scheme of things. Creepy, for sure. Well-written and compelling, absolutely. But I’m not really all that worried about walking into a bathroom and getting eaten by a tiger, if you know what I’m saying. The things I find scary are the things that could possibly happen – nasty 100-year storms, killer sharks, insane murderers, etc. – which is why I found “Morning Deliveries” so disturbing. It’s just like the stories about kids getting Halloween candy filled with glass or razor blades. It probably won’t happen, but it could. And, at least to me, that possibility makes everything far scarier than a story about monsters.

    Sep 22, 2008 @ 1:29 pm

  11. Ian Rogers

    It’s hard to make a reader care about a character in a short story because you don’t really get the chance to get to know them properly.

    I like both King’s novels and his short stories. Ellen Datlow has said that she believes the short story to be the ultimate form of the horror story. She talks about it in the introduction to one of her recent anthologies, Inferno, which I strongly recommend.

    In terms of the scare factor, I don’t think I’ve read any horror stories that have ever really scared me. Probably because I was raised on them, and horror movies. I’ve read stuff that has grossed me out, but that’s not even close to being the same thing (although some writers believe it is).

    Jaws was pretty scary, but I have a thing about the ocean and sharks.

    Sep 22, 2008 @ 7:03 pm

  12. Shayne

    That makes sense, about the short story being the ultimate form for horror. In a novel the horror has to be built and then sustained over a length of time, but a short story is more of a one-two punch, which increases the intensity and the impact.

    According to my gothic lit professor, terror is the ultimate emotion, the one all good horror writers should strive to instill in their readers. Terror is pure, it uplifts us – and not in a Julie Andrews, the-hills-are-alive kind of way, either – and it drives us to fight or flight. Horror is second best. It drags us down, freezes us in our tracks, and relies on a combination of fear and revulsion to get the job done. Third best is the gross out. King says something extremely similar to this in On Writing, so I’m not sure if my prof was paraphrasing him, or if she’d got it from somewhere else, but I figure it makes good sense, no matter the source.

    I guess, for the most part, horror stories don’t really scare me, either. The Stand scares me, and Cell, but other than that, not so much.

    I, too, have a thing about sharks. I don’t know if I had it when I watched Jaws the first time, but I certainly do now.

    Sep 23, 2008 @ 12:15 pm

  13. Ian Rogers

    That sounds about right. If you’re interested in more commentary on horror fiction, then H.P. Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature” is required reading.

    Sep 23, 2008 @ 4:59 pm

  14. Shayne

    Hey Ian, thanks for the link. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get through the whole thing – Lovecraft’s style is so wordy it makes my head spin – but I’ll give it a try.

    Sep 24, 2008 @ 12:32 pm

  15. Tiffany Maxwell

    Shayne, how strange, my gothic lit professor said something very similar. :P That is a King quote, but I don’t think it came from On Writing. Something older. An introduction to an anthology, maybe. Anyway, moot point.

    I agree with you that the plausibility of a story is probably the biggest factor in making it scary for the reader. That’s why Misery and Swan Song scared the ever-loving hell out of me. Personally, however, I find the supernatural, totally unlikely stuff can scare me as well, depending on how it’s delivered. 1408, for example. It starts off somewhat plausibly, and then gets stranger by degrees, which sort of pulls the reader along. That’s been my experience anyway.

    Sep 24, 2008 @ 2:17 pm

  16. Shayne

    Tiff, I think you might be right about the anthology intro. It’s probably Danse Macabre.

    The stranger-by-degrees explanation sounds like a good one. I also think it has something to do with how well the story is grounded to begin with. And I’m not just talking about grounded in reality, I’m talking about making the reader feel a sense of “there but for the grace of god go I.” That’s what makes a movie or a book scary. Not just the idea that it could happen, but that it could happen you. In 1408, the main character is staying in the hotel because he wants to see a ghost. How many of us haven’t entertained the thought that it would be fun to stay in a haunted place for a night? I know I have.

    Sep 25, 2008 @ 11:34 am

  17. Tiffany Maxwell » Blog Archive » ‘Tis the Season

    [...] makes for a scary book or movie. I’m kind of ripping off Shayne, who just recently posted an entry discussing what makes humor. Which quickly dissolved into a discussion of what makes for scary. [...]

    Oct 03, 2008 @ 9:43 pm