Monday, 4 August 2008

Sad Books Should Make You Laugh - Sally Nicholls

I’m wary of promoting creative writing ‘rules’. I’m wary of telling you how to write your book (if you’re writing one). I’m sure there are many wonderful sad books out there which aren’t funny. But if you are writing a sad book for children, please at least think about what I’m about to say.
Sad books should make you laugh.
Sad books should make you laugh. Macbeth and Hamlet have comedy scenes. Lolita is heartbreakingly bleak and incredibly funny. Even Michael Rosen’s Sad Book has jokes about his cat. Real life is generally hilarious. Why should fiction – realistic fiction – be any different?
People in bad fiction respond to tragedy by wailing and crying. People in real life respond by laughing at it. You have to. You’d go mad otherwise. Laughing at something reduces the terrifying into something containable. It says to fear and death, ‘You aren’t so hard. I can beat you.’
Reading Marjane Satrapi’s wonderful Persepolis with a book group, we all agreed that the humour made the book – if anything – more moving. We felt as though we were reading about real people, living in a real world. People like our parents and grandparents, who were just trying to live an ordinary life in the middle of unimaginable suffering. We cared for these sparky, quirky people in a way that it’s hard to do for someone with a VICTIM sign pinned to their head. And when sad things happened to them, we minded.


bookwitch said...

After my dear aunt died, my daughter (aged 10) wrote a poem at school about her last days. I was very touched. It was so sweet.

It was also incredibly funny, because she had used an "interesting" turn of phrase, and the rest of the family fell on the floor laughing after we'd read it. She was a bit upset about this, but I pointed out that to have both such a lovely poem, and to have such a good laugh, made everything so much better.

She's still not convinced.

Sally Nicholls said...

I think laughing in the middle of sadness is a perfectly acceptable way of dealing with stress. My experience of comforting grieving friends is that you start out weeping and end up giggling over what Autie Agnes said at the funeral.

Your poor daughter though!

bookwitch said...

Yes, I'm a bad mother. The next thing we laughed at, was her description of how to find the tennis club where her birthday part was being held. If she could only do it at the drop of a hat, she'd have a great future in comedy.

Sorry Sally, I'm ruining your sad blog post.