If you ever get a chance to hear Sid Fleischman speak, grab it! He’s a joy to listen to. I heard him speak in Los Angeles a few years ago and I was thrilled that Connie brought him to Iowa for our conference last weekend.
I didn’t end up taking a lot of notes during his session – I just sat back and listened. He’s got one of those soft, soothing voices that’s just really nice to listen to. But what I did get out of his talk was this:
To create humor you need to make connections. (Personally, I think you need to make connections no matter what you write.) Use irony, surprise and exaggeration (though the exaggeration must be grounded in reality, otherwise it’s just nonsense).
What he got out of college: “Nothing is wasted but the paper.” (That’s what I got out of writing my first three novels…and even though I wrote them all on the computer, believe me, I still generated REAMS of paper)
I was especially interested in hearing about his writing process. He doesn’t outline at all. He just “jumps in and swims” (like E.B. White, Henry James, Mark Twain). He talked about how when he sat down to write his first book, he started with a dead body and a detective. He didn’t know who did it. He just kept writing. When the tension started to drag, he killed someone else off…then he kept going. When he had lots of pages written, he could make a case for any of the remaining characters being the murderer. So he picked one. Then he wrote “the end.” And he sold it! He wrote his next book the same way. (And one of the reasons I like writing mysteries is I think they teach me plotting!)
He ended by listing some famous Mark Twain quotes:
“A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out.”
“Gross stupidity should not be played upon the reader.”
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightning and lightning bug.” (Which is probably why it takes me forever to write a chapter sometimes…I’m never satisfied with “almost there,” I want the chapter to be there!)