I think of my book The Naked Mole-Rat Letters as a serious book (it’s about a girl coping with her widowed father’s first romance) and yet fans write to me about how much they were drawn to the book because of its humor. Serious books need humor. Seriously.
I just finished revising my ninth book, Invisible Lines, which will be out in October 2009. It is a serious book about a seventh grade boy who is one step away from homelessness. My first draft was too depressing for anyone to want to read. I decided to give my main character, Trevor, a sense of humor, and that vein of humor that now runs through the story won over my editor, even though the draft she read had many plot problems. She says she “fell in love” with Trevor.
As soon as I decided that Trevor would take pleasure in being funny, I began to “hear” his voice more distinctly. Here it is in Chapter One: “If there’s one thing I’m good at it’s making my mom laugh because when I’m standing up I’m what you call a Stand-up Comedian and when I’m sitting down, I’m just plain funny.”
I often tell my students if they are struggling with a story that is dark, make sure to look for the light. Often simply giving one of your major characters a love of being playful or funny can be just what the story needs.