In the Land of Not Landing

It's important to me that, in the Wilfair books, not every joke lands.

When a joke lands, it should deliver a kick to the pants or an airtight punchline or something surprising. But that isn't life, as we all know. Life is messy and unstructured and what we say is often met by crickets chirping, golf claps, or worse, silence.

An example of this would be near the start of "Wilfair" when Fair Finley is at the motel for the first time. She does her go-to mastodon claws, a nervous habit, then quickly explains to the Overbove cousins that she's a prehistoric mastodon.

Her joke didn't land. Or perhaps she didn't have enough confidence to wait out their reactions to her hand claws. Once she's in the mastodon pose, she senses she has made a mistake.

In this spirit, I've gone back and rewritten Fair and Gomery conversations that seemed to "click" a little too well to my ear. I like a realer, messier charm that sneaks up. I prefer a looser, rangier, up-and-down conversation, not an exchange where every perfectly polished statement falls immediately into the space cut specifically for it, like a child's toy block might fit a corresponding hole.

And while The Wilfair exists in a heightened magical realism world, I want the people to be like us. Fallible, prone to raising mastodon claws and then lowering them, embarrassed, and sometimes running out of things to say.

Two more examples: Fair loses her train of thought while chewing out Thurs Mathers in "Stay Awhile" and admits it. And earlier in the book, Monty starts a saucy joke but determines his punchline stinks, so he drops it with a shrug.

I will say Monty is permitted to land more jokes than most of the characters, but even he is unhappy when he feels the reaction he expected is paltry. "That's gold!" he complains to Fair after she tsks him, post-joke.

None of this is to say that I sit at my desk with a funny-o-meter that tells me if some humorous bits work and some do not. If only. But if I get a sense that everything is flowing a little too efficiently, especially the private moments of Ms. Finley and Montgomery X. Overbove, I return to the conversation with my blunt-edged kindergarten scissors and do some gentle, slightly mischievous snipping.

cr: Steven Depolo



5 comments:

Nikki said...

I love this: "And while The Wilfair exists in a heightened magical realism world, I want the people to be like us. Fallible, prone to raising mastodon claws and then lowering them, embarrassed, and sometimes running out of things to say." A thousand yeses! Fair's awkwardness is exactly what I have connected with the most. It's this sort of realism that makes a great juxtaposition to the magical, too.

do dah said...

i miss kindergarten scissors. even though they always made me mad.

Wilfair Book said...

Nikki: Thank you. I like talking awkwardness, and I believe it is a human trait we all share. Some people can manage it, but it doesn't mean they don't have it. Sometimes I believe someone with lots of savoir faire and poise is merely tamping down all of those awkward impulses. Tamping down well. Hmm. Here's a question: Can one be awkward and confident? I think so.

do dah: Do tell. Why did they make you mad? Now I'm picturing you at like age 5, sighing over a craft project.

Kelly said...

Yay for realistic awkwardness and jokes that don't land! Like Nikki, Fair's awkwardness is one of the things that drew me in to the Wilfair world.

Characters who are constantly witty, quote things flawlessly, make their point eloquently, and always deliver the perfect put down at the perfect moment can be very compelling, but aren't very true to life.

It's not something that grates on me when it's there, but It's definitely a bonus when that movieland perfection is stripped out of the dialogue and things are allowed to be a little messier around the edges.

do dah said...

they were never sharp enough, and i often wanted to do complicated things like cut out just the middle of a piece of paper. because i am reasonable. my mother ultimately decided it was less dangerous to let me have the pointy grown-up scissors, because fewer tantrums.

and i do love the awkwardness as well. it feels real, but not quiiiiiiite so real that it's also mortifying for you to witness. most of the time :)

 
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