The Richard Whiteley Effect

Well, a nice sur­prise in my inbox this week: my story ‘Coming Home’ has been pub­lished in Issue 6 of ThisIsIt magazine, a bewil­der­ingly-designed online mag full of inter­est­ing stor­ies and art­work. I note that the edit­or, recount­ing the sub­mis­sions pro­cess, laments that home and death seem to be closely related for many writers: the major­ity of her sub­mis­sions under the theme ‘home’ were about char­ac­ters pop­ping their clogs. Surely she can’t be talk­ing about my little story? Well, yes, she can. My girl­friend has often asked me why so many of my stor­ies end in sui­cide. Er, pass. (As long as it isn’t the last resort of a des­per­ate writer tyr­ing to con­jure a twist from thin air, I don’t mind.)

On the theme of ‘the light­er side of life’ — and, inter­est­ingly, ‘home’ too — work con­tin­ues apace on my new nov­el (work­ing title: ‘Proper Job’). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: writ­ing humour is the Devil’s own work (and this is me speak­ing as a sci­ence fic­tion author, not a humor­ous author yet, at least not by track record). When I wrote parts of Déjà Vu, it was clear that I had cer­tain freedoms in writ­ing scenes: as long as the scene cli­maxed in a par­tic­u­lar way (i.e. an inter­est­ing one!), there were dozens of paths I might have trod to reach that cli­max. Writing humour is a fishy kettle of a dif­fer­ent per­sua­sion. If there are twenty ways to express a joke, one is funny and nine­teen are not. The way I write, I can count on writ­ing some­thing funny appear­ing about one time in five. I often know there is a good gag in there some­where (I write a note to myself in the mar­gin say­ing as much), but it could take draft after draft, work­ing like an archae­olo­gist, to dig the bug­ger up. That’s before the nor­mal con­straints of story are applied: keep the char­ac­ters devel­op­ing, keep them in con­flict, etc. All the time there exists the nag that what you’re writ­ing is simply not funny.

Oh the hil­ar­ity.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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