Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What's So Funny?

Award winning mystery author Rhys Bowen of the Molly Malone, Even Evens, and Royal Spyness cozy mystery series-es writes hysterical historicals. If I could pick any writer in the world to spend a weekend with, it would be her. I’d tie her to a chair and force feed her tea and crumpets until she taught me speak fluent British flapper slang. But if she is as keen as I imagine her to be, she has had a google alert of this post by now and is off to secure a restraining order against me as we speak. So I suppose I have to turn to her books to learn what I can and eat all of the crumpets myself.

What do I love best about Bowen’s books? From page one to the denouement, they have me in stitches. Humor is a surprisingly formulaic art with several tricks to secure a laugh. I could be tempted to tell you all of them, with enough chocolate and coffee, but for now, you’ll have to settle for two tricks, and examples from Bowen to illustrate them.

 #1 Specificity.

 “He choked on his dessert and died,” is kind of sad. “He choked on the last bite of the last bacon-maple long john that Voo-Doo Donuts ever sold. Mayor Felix Honeyworth the III attempted to administer the Heimlich maneuver but the exertion was too much and he had a heart attack. They both died,” is much funnier.


Because of all the detail. How does Bowen use this trick?

In the first few pages of the first book of the Royal Spyness series, Georgie, the amateur sleuth, describes her future like this: “I am constantly being reminded that it is my duty to make a good match with some half-lunatic, bucktoothed, chinless, spineless, and utterly awful European royal, thus cementing ties with a potential enemy.”

Bowen could have had her character say, “I am constantly being reminded that it is my duty to make a good match,” but frankly you might as well cut that line. Georgie is a minor royal. We all know she needs to make a good match. Instead she gave us an overly detailed and specific description of who Georgie is expected to marry. The description tells us as much about Georgie’s personality as it does about what her future holds. Plus, it’s funny so the editor would never cut it out.

#2 Subverted Expectations.

You expect me to say, “It was a dark and stormy night.” You don’t expect me to say, “It was a dark and stormy nightclub.”

Subtle changes that surprise are much funnier than the same-old same old.

Bowen begins the second chapter of Her Royal Spyness with a delightfully subverted expectation. Georgie, the peeress-sleuth, muses, “I wonder how many people have had life-changing experiences while on the loo?”

Were you expecting that? I wasn’t.

I wouldn’t have been surprised by life-changing experiences on a moonlit night, or life-changing experiences over breakfast. But on the toilet? The surprise and the contrast between the serious and the vulgar are my kind of potty humor.

Well, that’s it. That’s all you’ll get from me without the afore-mentioned chocolate and coffee. (Preferably a grande Americana with three creams and a glazed chocolate cake donut. (The cafĂ© it comes from is less important than the coffee being hot and the donut being in my hands.) But it's enough to get you started, if you (like me) are hungry to make your writing funnier.


Traci Tyne Hilton is a mom, Sunday School teacher, novelist, and award winning playwright from Portland, Oregon. She is madly working on her next mystery series which has finaled in the Books of Hope Contest at Write Integrity Press and has an impending deadline.

Traci earned a degree in History from
Portland State University and lives in the rainiest part of the Pacific Northwest with her husband the mandolin playing funeral director from Kansas, their two daughters, and their dog, Dr. Watson.

More of Traci's work can be found at

Her cozy mystery series, The Mitzy Neuhaus Mysteries, can be found here: http://amzn.to/Mitzycol 

Review by author A. S. Anand:  "Foreclosed is a thoroughly entertaining and superbly plotted debut novel from Traci Hilton. The book approaches the genre of mystery from an unusual but extremely engaging setting: the world of real estate.

And alongside the book's delightful protagonist Mitzy Neuhaus, the reader loses himself in the grandeur and enigmatic qualities of the stunning mansion that the author so authoritatively conveys.

The chemistry between Alonzo and Mitzy is apparent from their first encounter and adds a layer of tantalizing romance to the book; their chemistry is electric and their battle of wills really brings the book's main plot to life.

But it is Mitzy who deserves the greatest plaudits. She is an emotionally engaging character with an incredible amount of depth; resourceful, polite, entrepreneurial and caring, she is the book's main attraction and could quite easily sustain a lengthy series of mysteries that the book's many readers would enjoy.

Finally, the author's writing must receive its deserved praise. Often with light reads such as Foreclosed, the writing can be suspect. But Traci Hilton displays effortless control and command of language. A highly recommended read. "


  1. Great post Traci! Don't forget my notes on humor.

    Debbie Malone
    "Death in Dahlonega"

  2. Humor is what most cozy mystery readers enjoy most, I think. I never will forget Agatha Christie describing a character as "having the face of a fish!" Sigh...now back to writing, keeping this valuable tool in mind.

    Great post, Traci.

    ~Nancy Jill Thames
    "The Jillian Bradley Mystery Series"

  3. Thanks Nancy and Deb! Hmmm...perhaps I will reveal a few more humor notes on a document on my facebook author page...like the page, get the secrets! : )

  4. That would be nice! I love your author photo, by the way. You look like you just heard something funny you can't wait to share!

    ~Nancy Jill Thames
    "The Jillian Bradley Mystery Series"

  5. Thank you! I was very blessed by my talented cousin. The photo shoot was so successful that I have several good ones and have a hard time picking which one to use!


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