Writing a post on the most humorous characters in romance should be easy peasy, right? I thought so, since there is nothing that I love better than a book that makes me laugh. But figuring out what makes a character funny stumped me because of trying to decide which came first—the scenario (chicken) or the character’s witticism (egg).
Many of my favorite authors plop their characters in outlandish, embarrassing scenarios—usually a cute meet—and then the chaos begin. In contemporary books, authors such as Susan Andersen, Christie Craig, Rachel Gibson, Jane Graves, Kristan Higgins, Julie James, Sophie Kinsella, Jill Mansell, and Pamela Morsi are experts at creating the cute meet. I am not as knowledgeable and current in the fantasy or historical genre but I do recall hilarious books like Maggie Osborne’s westerns and MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead books. Recently I also discovered Linda Grimes’s smart, snappy tongue-in-cheek In A Fix books and Molly Harper’s Naked Werewolf series. And last year I read the sweet and hilarious Dog Days by Elsa Watson.
Along with the cute meet, some authors have the ability to take it to the next level by adding perfect repartee. You know, the precise witticism that you and I only dream of saying. Usually we think of what we should have said, hours or days after the scenario.
For example, Susan Elizabeth Phillips's Natural Born Charmer starts out like most of Ms. Phillips'a books do, as a comedic farce. The heroine, Blue Bailey, is walking down the road in a beaver costume when the hero, Dean Robillard, drives past her. It is clearly situational, but the dialogue between the two is witty and droll, and immensely entertaining and I smile every time I read it.
She nearly poked out her eye as she pushed a sweaty spike of hair away from her cheek with her paw, which didn’t seem to be detachable. “I could use a ride.
“Are you going to gnaw my upholstery?”
“Do not mess with me.”
Apologies.” For the first time all day he was glad he’d decided to get off the interstate. He tilted his head toward the car. “Hop in.”
Even though this was her idea, she hesitated. Finally, she shuffled after him. He should have helped her in—he did open the door for her—but he just stood back to watch the fun.
Mainly it was the tail. The sucker was basically spring-loaded, and as she attempted to wedge herself into the leather passenger seat, it kept smacking her in the head. She got so frustrated she tried to rip it off, and when that didn’t work, she stomped on it.
He scratched his chin. “Aren’t you being a little tough on the ol’ beaver?”
Clearly, stating “Are you going to gnaw my upholstery?” or “Aren’t you being a little tough on the ol’ beaver” wouldn’t be funny without the setup of Blue dressed in a beaver costume, but most people wouldn’t have the quickness to come up with that type of dialogue.
Eloisa James thinks up farcical situations in some of her historicals. In When Beauty Tamed the Beast, the heroine’s father and aunt want her to descend further down the path of ruin by becoming pregnant, a unique and odd perspective. And then hero Piers’s position as a physician lends itself to humor, as the heroine, Linnett, reads a medical journey’s detailing the latest medical beliefs:
“I’m reading one of the books from your library,” she told him. “A medical book.”
“Oh? Which one?” He sounded completely incurious.
“Dr. Fothergill’s Medical Observations and Inquiries. It’s very interesting.”
“It’s unmitigated rubbish. Don’t trust anything it says. In fact, don’t trust anything you read in any of those books you find in the library. Most of them were written by jabbering idiots.”
She popped her head out from behind the screen. “Do you mean that daffodil juice won’t cause a man to lose his potency? So disappointing!”
“I can see you’re planning ahead,” he said, raking a lock of hair from his eyes. “For the next man in your life, the lucky sod.”
Another way to infuse a book with humor is to tell the story in first person and have the character have a self-effacing narrative. One of the best is Becky Bloomwood from Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series. Ms. Kinsella adroitly pokes fun at Becky’s self-justifications for spending. And it is humorous, because don’t we use the same faulty reasoning at times:
OK. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. It’s only a VISA bill. It’s a piece of paper; a few numbers. I mean, just how scary can a few numbers be?
I stare out of the office window at a bus driving down Oxford Street, willing myself to open the white envelope sitting on my cluttered desk. It’s only a piece of paper, I tell myself for the thousandth time. And I'm not stupid, am I, I know exactly how much this VISA bill will be.
Sort of. Roughly.
David Rosenfelt's New Tricks, in the Andy Carpenter series, is also told in first person, and just thinking about “song talking” makes me laugh:
“Hot out there,” I say after he has grabbed a cold soda.
He nods. “You ain’t kidding. Summer in the city. Back of my neck getting’ dirty and gritty.”
Sam and I are practitioners of a juvenile hobby we call “song-talking,” during which we try to work song lyrics into our conversations. Sam is a master at it: if they gave out rankings in song-talking he would be a black belt.
He’s opened with a Lovin’ Spoonful gambit. Fortunately, I am somewhat familiar with it, so hopefully I can compete. I nod sympathetically. “Isn’t it a pity. There doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city.”
He doesn’t miss a beat, walking over to the window and looking down on the street. He shakes his head sadly. “All around the people looking half dead, walking on the sidewalk, hotter than match heat.”
“You’re too good for me, “I say. You ready to start the meeting?”
What fictional characters get your vote for the most humorous?
Leigh Davis, Blogger