Mary Connealy is an author, journalist and a teacher. She releases three books with Barbour this year, is a columnist for the Lyons Mirror-Sun, and an occasional book reviewer for the Sioux City Journal. She lives on a farm in Nebraska with her husband, Ivan and their four daughters, Joslyn, Wendy, Shelly and Katy.
Comedy is Serious Business.
I’ve been trying to write a blog giving advice about how to write comedy for a while and you know what?
It’s a hard, serious business.
Have you ever heard the expression, ‘The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s apathy.’
Only someone we really care about can deeply hurt us. It’s that the love is betrayed that flips a person to hate. I think of this as having your feelings open. And when you’re open, things can slip in.
Comedy is like that. It opens your feelings and then, when the reader is . . . you might say vulnerable. . .you can flip those feelings to something else. Deal with something really important, revealing, dark or heavy, through the humor.
This is a scene in Doctor in Petticoats that, I hope, opens the reader up with comedy, in a very serious situation, then once they’re vulnerable, lets me make them feel something much more powerfully than if I’d just played it straight the whole time.
It also lets me reveal a very troubled hero, but also make him sympathetic.
The set up.
A stagecoach wreck. Lots of people hurt. My heroine, Beth, needs the help of a man who, though she doesn’t know it, is a burned out Army doctor. He’s come to believe everyone he touches is harmed.
Beth has been mostly ignoring him on the stagecoach ride, but now she needs help and he’s the only one who can give it.
Doctor in Petticoats
Beth surged to her feet. “We need help over here!”
She stomped to the man’s side and, carefully considering her approach—or maybe not so carefully—she grabbed the man’s filthy flattened black Stetson off his head and swatted him with it.
“Hey!” He turned as if surprised to see her.
“I didn’t exactly sneak up on you, now did I?” She waled on him again.
He shielded his face. His once-white shirt tore up one side at his sudden movement. “Will you stop that?”
“Do I have your attention, you miserable worm?” Beth threw the hat at his head.
He held his arms over her face, the bedraggled white sleeves rolled up nearly to his elbows, and glared through his wrists at her. His eyes narrowed.
“You get up off the ground and help us, you worthless skunk.”
“Get away from me.” The skunk’s eyes flashed like he had rabies.
“I need help. I don’t care how hung over you are, how lazy you are or how stupid you are. Right now I need some muscle, and I know you’ve got it. Get on your feet and get over there and help us, or so help me I will rip your arm off and beat you to death with the bloody stump.”
The man’s eyes seemed to clear. Maybe she’d pierced the alcoholic fog. “I’m not drunk.”
Interesting that he hadn’t protested being called stupid or worthless or a skunk. . . what else had she called him? She’d lost track of her insults somewhere along the line.
“Oh, puh-leeze, you expect me to believe you’re this worthless without the help of whiskey?” Beth jammed her fists on her hips and straightened away from him. She had to get some air. “If that’s true then I might as well shoot you here and now. Do the whole world a favor.”
The drunk’s eyes slid from her to the writhing man. Beth had always been sensitive to others. Her ma had told her many times that was her finest gift.
Right now it felt like a curse.
Beth saw something so vulnerable and fragile in the man’s eyes that she almost regretted asking for help. It wasn’t fear or laziness or stupidity or drunkenness. It was as if Leo’s suffering ate into this man’s soul.
What horror had Alex seen to put such a look in his eyes? Beth couldn’t give him the break he so desperately needed. “I can’t do it without help. Please. We can end Leo’s suffering.”
“He’ll still hurt. Dislocated shoulders take a long time to heal.”
Beth realized what the man had just admitted. He knew something about healing.
“I. . . I can’t. I can’t help him.”
“You don’t have a choice.”
Beth was afraid she might have to tackle him. “I’m not giving you one.”
Alex turned, stared at her. Their eyes locked. Seconds stretched to a minute, maybe longer. Growing slowly, a sensation Beth had never felt before almost made her let go, back away. Those eyes, it was as if he was looking all the way into her soul. She felt strength drain from her as if he was drawing on reserves within her, soaking up courage like desert ground in a rainstorm.
Alex watched her, drew from her. Finally, his eyes fell shut. Beth saw tears along the rim of his lashes.
Then he started nodding. He physically changed. He seemed to grow taller, his shoulder’s squared, his chin came up. When he opened his eyes a new man was there, or maybe an old man, the man Alex Buchanan used to be before he crawled inside a bottle.
Beth could see what this was costing him. As if he paid for this courage by stripping off his skin with a razor.
He’d awakened something in her while their eyes were locked, something brand new.
“Let’s do it,” he said.
She’d never been so proud of anyone in her life.
Mary again: Any comments about comedy? What style of comedy do you like? Three Stooges? Noel Coward? Dialogue, slapstick, situational? Do you like comedy in a book or isn’t that the reading experience you go for.
Tell me the funniest book you’ve every read and if you leave a comment you’ll get your name in the drawing for a copy of Doctor in Petticoats.
Doctor Alex Buchanan is a wanted man–a deseter from the army stalked by a bounty hunter–but he’d rather be dead than inflict any more pain on his patients.
Beth McClellan is idealistic, believing the nursing training she received will be enough to help her serve as doctor to her home town in West Texas.
When Alex and Beth meet in a stagecoach accident, they find that they work well together. But are his demons and her dreams too deeply rooted for either of them to pay the price required for a future together?