What makes humor humorous?

Humor can be difficult.  There is such a wide range of humor and what people find to be funny, it is difficult to pin down a concrete set of rules to go by.  While that is true, it is also true that there are things that more people will find funny than others.  I believe the root of successful humor is reality.  Something we find funny is usually an exaggeration of reality.

I recently wanted an episode of “The Last Man on Earth” a show which I felt has gone downhill since last year.  However, the last episode my wife and I saw came across as no where near the realm of funny but down right absurd.  Now I’m not going to give away spoilers or details, but it came across to us as 4th-6th grade humor.  I’m sure the comedy displayed on the show appealed to someone out there.  After all it is still airing new episodes.  For me it was so wildly sophomoric that I thought it was dumb and the furthest thing from funny.

This had me thinking about humor.  As authors we need to convey a range of literary elements, and humor is one of them.  When it comes to comedy, sometimes creativity doesn’t reign supreme.  Instead, how funny something is has to do with reliability.   We see the world through the lens of experience.  Of course, not all experiences are relatable, and thus where the differences in tastes lies.  That is okay, but when “comedy” crosses the line into implausibility and absurdity, that is when it becomes immature.

This is why over-reliance on fart jokes for a movie geared towards adults is typically frowned upon.  Farting can be funny, but adults don’t relate to the idea that every fart is funny like a child would.  For us writers, we must keep this in mind when we include comedic scenes.  Not all my find our attempts at humor funny, but we should at least aim for the situation to be as relatable as possible.

How Dare Book Adaptions be Different!

Ever notice how book adaptions, either movies or television, differ greatly from their source?  This happens so often that if a television series or film does stick close to the book they are based on it is incredibly rare.  Most people know this, however there is almost always universal outrage when a film dares to take liberties with the story.  Why is that?  Why are people surprised by this?

When we read a book, we set up certain expectations for the story.  Things look and feel slightly different in the story for each reader.  This individual experience creates an emotional bond with the characters and world created within the book.  That’s perfectly fine and to be expected if the author did his or her job correctly.  When the story is adapted into another medium there are changes and inevitably some people become disappointed.  Disappointment isn’t bad, and some adaptions of stories are indeed subpar.  I feel the constant backlash and surprise when an adaption differs is silly.  Film is a different medium than books.  A movie or television series due to the very means in which they tell a story must differ from a book or comic.

A book’s job is to show, not tell, to be descriptive while allowing room for the imagination to fill in the blank as much as possible.  A film still needs to show, but relies much less on imagination than a book.  Subtle details are impossible to avoid in a movie and on top of that it must hold the viewers’ attentions and leave them with wanting more.  Sometimes, the source material doesn’t go very deep due to its target audience and film makers want to flesh out one-dimensional characters.  The movies may not succeed at their goal, but I can acknowledge their intent.

The Hobbit films are often criticized as terrible adaptions.  It is a trilogy of movies based off a short novel written for children.  There are quite a few deviations from the book, the same can be said of the Lord of the Rings movies as well though, which are not criticized nearly as much.  This isn’t about defending The Hobbit films, I respect why people don’t like them.  They are a perfect illustration for my point.  They are films that are very different from the book they were based on.  The book was written before The Lord of the Rings and had a very different feel to it.  The elves were silly, the goblins were less-than threatening, and you have talking animals.  The entire tone changed so much with its sequel that it leaves quite a bit of continuity errors.  I adore Tolkien, but the explanation that Bilbo wrote the first book and Frodo wrote the sequels is something I’m familiar with.  I feel that is a weak explanation.  The Hobbit films tried to rectify that in some areas, some of which I feel they did a good job, while others not so much.  Whether someone agrees or disagrees with me is fine, but anyone would have to admit there are more factors going into the disappointment The Hobbit films wrought than merely not being true to their source.  These films made a bold decision to draw out the story longer than it was, and show other sides to characters, and because it didn’t meet many people’s standards they are maligned.

Perhaps we need to stop being so surprised when film makers take liberties?  Movies and Television are different means of telling stories, and we should expect as much.  The option is always to stick with books because they are generally better than any adaption anyway due to their ability to go deeper and not be constrained to a certain time frame.

The Horror!

This may be blasphemy to the Horror genre, but I hate what it is anymore. The classical horror of the Victorian era let the imagination of the reader fill in the blanks allowing for more “horror” than bombarding people with gore. Yes, I know, death is a part of the genre, but in recent decades, death and gore isn’t a consequence, but the point of the story instead. In fact, story takes a back seat to gore and death for much of horror. I would like to challenge people to see the beauty in classical horror.

The setting is a rarely traveled part of the world, perhaps the woods, and there is either a killer or monster lurking. Unfortunately, a group of stupid college students go in that region and get picked off one by one in terrible and gruesome ways. This is the sort of thing that passes as horror anymore, with few exceptions. I enjoy tales of werewolves, in fact my upcoming book will include them, but gaining inspiration was pretty challenging because there are very few quality werewolf stories out there.

I enjoy stories that are based around suspense and unknown with supernatural elements. This is what horror used to be. It isn’t just horror that has changed, fantasy has grown darker and grittier. Dark and gritty isn’t inherently, bad but both modern fantasy and horror have grown incredibly cynical in their messages. In horror most of the time everyone dies brutally, life is cheep, and it seems fantasy is adopting that approach as well. Why is that? Storytelling tends to follow cultural trends, have some genre fiction stories gotten darker, horror much earlier than others, due to an increasingly cynical outlook on life? Is it due to changing tastes that accompany an evolving culture? What if storytellers focused on plot and character development over pushing boundaries instead? At this point it is hard to imagine any boundary that hasn’t been pushed anyway, perhaps all of us who craft stories need to examine why we write them and what is their purpose.

Fall is here again


It is my favorite time of year again.  If you have been following my blog for a while now, you are undoubtedly aware that I absolutely love autumn.  It is when the leaves turn beautiful colors, the temperature drops (I hate hot weather), and we celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Not to mention the mosquitos are finally gone, which is a big deal here in Minnesota.  Not one of these single aspects are what makes fall wonderful to me, not even all of them combined.

For me, fall has a certain feel to it.  It is a spiritually refreshing time of year.  Sure, everything I listed contributes to that feeling, but there is something deeper to autumn.  I see it as the annual climax in God’s creation before everything becomes white and brown.

Then there is Halloween.  Oddly, I used to hate that holiday as a child, a time in most people’s lives when they were actually excited for it.  I was easily scared as a child, and it didn’t take much to keep me awake at night worried something was going to get me.  Aside from that, Halloween was simply creepy and felt like it left a stain on my being.  Once I became an adult, things changed.  I began to enjoy dressing up and going to costume parties with my wife.  After some experiences in college, I also became fascinated by the Celtic origins of Halloween.  When I became a father, Halloween became even more fun.

As a writer, autumn is a very inspirational time of year, and it is difficult to pinpoint why exactly that is.  Perhaps it is the absolute freshness of nature, or the fleeting beauty that trees display only for a few weeks out of the year.  Fall is truly a beautiful time of year and so fleeting.  Take time out of your day to enjoy the marvel of nature before it is gone for yet another year, especially if you are a writer.  Your soul will thank you.

The lack of fantasy films

As a writer, obviously I’m a huge fan of books.  I love that books are able to flush out a plot and the characters better than most movies because they aren’t confined to a certain length.  In saying that, I argue that films are just as important as books to the genre, and frankly there is quite a shortage of quality fantasy movies.

The most recent fantasy films we got were The Hobbit Trilogy.  Many people are divided over this films.  Some complain about the deviations from the books, the 60 frames per second, supposed lack of character development, and the over usage of CGI.  I would argue that they are gleaming gems for the fantasy genre.  These films are far from perfect, but in the context that films should be judged separately from books they are some of the best fantasy films made recently.  No, I do not count the overabundance of Marvel movies, besides they are science fiction not fantasy.

Over all there has been a draught of well-made blockbuster fantasy films, which is rather disappointing.  Why is that I wonder?  It isn’t like the audience for fantasy movies is too small.  I would imagine filmmakers could tap into The Lord of the Rings fan base.  Over the last decade science fiction movies, particularly superhero moves, have seen a huge uptick in quantity.  Most fantasy films I have seen in recent years have been independent films, which is fine of course, but where are all the major films?  Someone might point to Warcraft, and that might be a valid point, but we all know that movies based on videogames are rarely tolerable let alone good.  Perhaps Warcraft will prove an exception to the rule, but that is still one move.  The fantasy movies that have been released within the last few years have generally been panned.  The Seventh Son, The Last Witch Hunter, all of them were pretty mediocre as far as reviewers were concerned.

What can us fantasy fans do about this?  Well, maybe not much but we can support the films that are being released and maybe give attention to indie films.  Typically, independent films have low budgets and subpar special effects, but I have found more than a few gems.  Hopefully since superhero movies have made such an impact on culture, fantasy will not be so over looked in the coming years.