Sometimes My Characters Make Me Laugh

Posted: March 15, 2014 in Self-publishing
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One of the best pieces of advice I’ve come across in my seven or so years of writing fiction of questionable merit comes from Stephen King’s On Writing. Okay, 95% of the best writing advice I’ve encountered has come from On Writing, but bear with me for a moment. As tempting as it is to relive the genius that is your completed manuscript a nanosecond after you type “La Fin,” King suggests locking that bad boy in your dresser drawer and denying it the light of day for six weeks, minimum. Since I have the patience of Andy Dick at the DMV, my completed novels only spend four weeks in hard drive purgatory. Lucky them.

Mr. King points out, and I’m paraphrasing here, that the six (or four, if you’re as ADD as me me me) weeks of separation is time enough to distance yourself from the work and make logical, practical decisions when it comes to editing drafts two-through-whatever. This is valuable advice, and I look forward to the day I can heed it. Unfortunately, I have as much trouble pulling the plug on my “darlings” as the next guy or gal; my first drafts tend to look suspiciously like the finished product. Thankfully, my characters have a good sense of humor about the process.

One of the fun things about revisiting an old manuscript long after moving on to the new one is that you gain a sort of detached insight into the characters you’ve created. You know you wrote them, but as King noted (again, paraphrasing), it feels as if they could’ve been written by a kindred spirit. Most of the stuff I’ve self-published so far is dark and/or post-apocalyptic fiction, so it’s comforting to know that one of the attributes most of my characters share is steadfastness in the face of unspeakable adversity. Here are a few lines and/or exchanges from/between/among my characters that made me laugh months (even years) after I initially wrote them:

From Signal Fire:

  • Reese (refusing to buy into the hysteria of the populace after mysterious lights start popping up all over the planet): “I’ll just sit back and watch everyone run around like their heads are cut off and screaming to the high heavens about how the sky is falling.”
  • Tom: “How can people scream if their heads are cut off?”
  • Reese: “You know what I mean.”


  • Travis’s interior monologue after trying on the sweater his fashion-challenged wife has picked out for him: The sweater was covered in bizarre geometric patterns, as if a trapezoid and a rhombus had coupled and their offspring had somehow been immortalized in knit.


  • Young blogger Leo Simmons’s alternative name for the Teacher Conference Day that suddenly appears on his school’s schedule following the lights’ arrival: If they wanted to be honest, they would’ve called it a We Don’t Know What’s Going on With the Aliens, So Go Ahead and Stay Home Just to be on the Safe Side Because We Don’t Want to Get Sued by Your Parents Day.

From A World Gone Gray:

  • Captain Benjamin Phillips, squeezing through the barely-open door of a ruined strip club: He hissed in pain when the edge of the front door bit into his nipple. Guys around here used to pay a fortune for stuff like that, he thought.


  • Morton and Howard, soaking wet and starving, approaching a lighted farmhouse in the middle of nowhere: “What do we say when they answer the door?” Morton wondered aloud.
  • “Tell them you’re Ed McMahon and they’re Dipshit County’s newest millionaires,” Howard suggested.


  • Kidnapped pilot Mike, responding to über-rich alcoholic Howard’s query regarding the edibility of a dead colt: “You complain about the quality of liquor in some farmer’s basement, but you’re open to the idea of making Secretariat-burgers out of a week-dead horse?”

It’s surprising yet gratifying (surpratifying?) to know my characters can be relied upon to inject a measure of levity into otherwise precarious situations. Hopefully the characters in my forthcoming mainstream/contemporary novels (y’know, the ones who are actually supposed to be funny) can follow suit.

  1. Karla says:

    Lol. I’ve only written two things (neither published). One has a lighter tone and when I re-read it, I laughed, or at least smiled, at some things my characters have said. The other one is a bit dark, I guess. And the ending always makes me sad 😦
    The “dark” one (not really dark) I will self publish this year. After I finished the first draft I was like, “It is perfect!!!!” I only made word changes and corrected punctuation, but that was as far as my editing went. Then I was forced to put it aside because my schedule got busy. And I’m glad I went months without bringing it out because it opened my eyes a SH*T ton!!! I was in love with it the moment i finished draft one and thought my baby was spectacular, but I made various changes and my editing got serious. I then put it aside again for months. Basically I did that for two years. I am currently on draft four or five and I know I have like two or three left. I cannot wait to see the end result, though. I am sure I will love it even more. And I’ll be much happier cause of the changes I made.

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