writing

How far will I take a joke?

If you’ve read Goodnight Irene, you are well aware of my use of humor regardless of the situation. I don’t think humor is an element that should be saved for comedies. If two characters are fond of each other, they’re going to laugh…even when investigating a murder. That’s just common sense.

Of course, the humor can’t simply be injected into a scene. It must grow out of personalities or situations. Walter Williams’ fun-loving everyman and Rowan Manory’s socially-inept genius will naturally produce some of the funny when they interact, and they interact a lot.

There’s only one problem: I crack myself up too much when I’m writing.

Occasionally, a joke doesn’t work (even for me) and has to be cut. The following joke (which you will not find funny) stayed in The Opening Night Murders for three whole months. It concerns two age-old detective cliches that I happily use without examination.

  1. The detective knows much more than he should about everything. Species of plants, elemental properties, ancient legends, everything!
  2. The detective gathers everyone together to summarize the case at the end when he should simply say “He did it.” and explain later to the police.

In The Opening Night Murders, there is a scene where Walter comes across an aggressive cat. Later he tells Manory about it in a bar. I don’t recall the dialogue exactly and I’m not going to search for old drafts so I will summarize. Brace yourself.

Walter: If I ever see that cat again, it’ll be a case of felinacide.

Rowan: Felicide.

Walter: Huh?

Rowan: When you kill a feline, it is called felicide.

Walter: Okay, how do you know that?

Rowan: Because I am well-read.

Walter: No, no, no. You know the weirdest shit. You know why copper stains skin. You know the temperature that warps metal. You know how many states have a Trenton. You’re going to tell me. How do you know it’s called felicide? When would that possibly come up?

Rowan: Do you recall the Billingham case?

Walter: The husband who strangled his wife with the cat?

Rowan: Precisely. I called you with instructions to gather the four suspects in the Billingham home.

Walter: That’s another thing. Why do you always gather suspects before revealing the killer? Why not just—

Rowan: Please, Williams, allow me to answer your question before asking another.

Walter: Sorry. Go on.

Rowan: I was twenty minutes late.

Walter: That’s right. You didn’t tell me who the killer was either. I had to stand there and make small talk. Where were you?

Rowan: I was at the library.

Walter: What…why?

Rowan: I required the information for my summation speech.

Walter: stares blankly

Rowan: I needed the word for the final line. Don’t you remember? Johnathan Billingham, you are guilty of felicide…and murder! If I had stumbled on the word or used an incorrect term, the speech would have been disastrous.

Walter: You need help.

Yup. Three months.

1 thought on “How far will I take a joke?”

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