Author Esther Friesner, well known for her comic touch, and author/editor Teri Smith joined humor master Robert Asprin, author/editor Bill Fawcett, and author Richard White for a lively discussion about writing humor in science fiction and fantasy.
Lawrence Barker made a brave attempt to moderate the Friday night fray, but it soon became apparent that conflicting ideas were flying through the air like so many carrier pigeons on cross-current missions. Even the usually innocuous question, “is humor harder to write than other fiction?” drew opposing opinions from panelists.
Friesner captured the bemused audience when she asserted that humor was easy for her to write because “I was very badly raised,” citing her father’s early readings of the Pogo books, the inimitable work of comic legend Walt Kelly.
Fawcett kept the laughter rolling when he added that humor is a convenient cover for lack of plot and characterization, but that the form can become very hard to sustain. Asprin quoted horror writer Stephen King as saying that “horror done badly is funny and humor done badly is horrible.” Asprin also noted that it is difficult to do comedy on cue, that he was “about as funny as a turd in a punchbowl” when asked to be humorous spontaneously.
Fawcett said that comic authors so abuse their subjects that it’s easy for the reader to feel sorry for the victim, and then the humor degenerates into pathos.
Asprin interjected that it is important for the author to let the reader know that the scene is supposed to be funny, Fawcett noting that this should occur in the very first line of the story. Asprin concluded the panel with tips on pacing, recommending that the humor develop in arcs, giving room for other elements of the story to progress and the reader a chance to rest between the comic bits.