My first novel is set in the American South. The land– and their people– have been chided, tickled, and cackled at for centuries. We’ve seen parodies from SNL, Comedy Central, and countless other sources. So when writing my book, which aspires to be funny, I was faced with a common issue known to all comedians: if it’s been done thousands of times before, it can’t be funny.
Jokes need to be novel (no pun intended), and when they’re predictable or derivative, the audience will not only sigh but in all likelihood shut down completely. Someone with enough talent and intelligence could probably come up with a joke so clever that others would fail in comparison. I, unfortunately, am not up to that task.
So I decided to keep the satire to a minimum. When I do throw punches, I’m trying to take an ethical stance: one or two comments revolve around the culinary experience in the South, which in the author’s opinion needs to be given a makeover.
But I had another objection to full-on ridicule; if I were too harsh, I’d likely offend a reader or two who happened to identify with Southern culture.
And yes, Jerry Seinfeld*, I dislike offending my audience. Many writers like to condescend to their readership, asserting their power through cynicism and deadpan. I’m naturally inclined to do that, being a cynical and deadpan jerk. But I avoid it in my writing.
I have an unwritten mission statement. It answers the question, what do I want to be as a writer? I won’t share it all with you– after all, it is unwritten– but I will say this: my goal is to entertain.
Many of my favorite artists in film, video games, and music bring nothing but joy. Take for instance, The Beatles. The boys spent a decade chanting about “love” and “peace,” concepts so abstract and corny that most of us tire of hearing them by college.
But what they did was magical. Never has a group been more fun or more appealing. They had– and still have– fervent fans all around the world. Why? Because they made lovely music, and just as importantly, they never pretended to be more than what they were: a pop group. That is, the best pop group.
On the other hand, a lot of my writerly influences tend to be jerks. That’s fine, but it’s not for me. Reading should be fun. You never know what mood or state a reader could be in. They could need a book in an existential sense. I know I have.
Books need downturns and moments of sorrow. That’s what makes a story compelling. But when it comes to harming a reader– even for art’s sake– you can count me out.
*Jerry probably won’t read this. I understand.