It may be a case of being too close to the source material, but I haven’t been thinking of Galaxy Games as a humor book. It’s been primarily science fiction and sports with lots of funny bits thrown in. I also didn’t think of Penguins of Doom as a humor book, but as a contemporary fantasy with humorous events told in a humorous voice. If it’s not acknowledged as a humor book, I told myself, I get to be funny only when I want rather than having an obligation to toss out punchlines on a regular basis.
Now, however, may be the time for me to reassess my writing in general as well as in the specific case, to take hold of the virtual podium, and to proclaim: “I’m Greg R. Fishbone and I write funny books for kids. And teens. And penguins.”
Feedback from my editor at Publisher-I’m-Still-Not-Daring-To-Name-In-Public: “Some members of the acquisitions committee didn’t get the book because they only read the first three chapters, which weren’t punchy, hooky, or funny enough.” Except she probably didn’t use the words “punchy” or “hooky” because that’s just me cribbing from my notes of our conversation. Now that I’ve had a week to think about it, I’m sure the committee was right on and I’m the one who didn’t get the book–because the middle and end parts are pretty damn funny if I do say so myself. Hence a violation of the Promise Principle of novel writing:
The Promise Principle:
The first chapter of a book (along with the title and jacket copy) should set up a reasonable expectation of style, genre, character, and plot. The rest of the book must fulfill the promises made, or otherwise leave the reader feeling satisfied rather than cheated.
If you fail to do this, the best you can hope for in reader reaction is the Positive Bait and Switch.
The Positive Bait and Switch:
“That wasn’t at all the book I thought it was going to be, but I liked it anyway.”
But just as often you’ll get a Bait and Switch Off.
The Bait and Switch Off:
“Someone told me the book would be funny, but I stopped reading after three chapters of not laughing.”
A humor book has to front-load some of the humor, which is difficult because the nature of humor is to require a setup and punchline, or better yet, multiple punchlines. Since I wasn’t thinking of Galaxy Games (still in search of a title, by the way) as a humor book, I was spending three or four chapters on mostly setup before dropping several loads of punchlines.
The challenge with a humor book is providing punchlines at the beginning that require little or no explicit setup and yet blend seamlessly into the funny stuff that happens later on. If I can do this successfully, the book will head back to the committee and there will be thunder. Ka-pow!