Recently, I was thinking about how deadpan humor might be like fiction writing. As always, thinking is dangerous…
(I also have dragons too much on the brain.)
So, how would deadpan humor like fiction? According to most definitions, deadpan humor comes when someone relates something rather funny, or outrageously impossible, in a matter-of-fact, serious manner.
Perhaps you could contrast deadpan writers with those who do include a wink-wink signal in their story—something in tone that says…
“And wow—that’s when the dragon showed up! (Yes, I know there aren’t any such thing as dragons, but really I was just as surprised as you. Humor me, because I’m trying to tell a story.)”
Done right, it can be quite good indeed, though it’s not the style I usually use.
In fact, when I write, or tell a joke for that matter, I like to be serious about it. I might even be too serious—given the rough draft of a novel I’ve been rereading. I can also be a bit random, which is why I wrote this instead of actually working on my novel…
“Last Tuesday was a bad day for me. I spent the morning trying to clean out the garage—everything I’d thrown in there since last winter—and that took me almost until noon. Then, once it started to look like a reasonable place again, I remembered that shopping run.
I checked my watch—11:38. Just time to pick up a few groceries and be back for lunch.
I was driving down the long hill when something flashed by me. I felt a lurch, and a crash, and my car spun once. As I smashed the brakes, it skidded and flew like a brick into the ditch. It settled slightly, before nosing against a tree with a dark crunch.
I sat frozen, clutching the steering wheel.
In my peripheral vision, I saw the blue car disappearing around the bend, followed by another flash. Black-and-white—a police car. A second, third, fourth followed. Then another and another, sirens muted, but lights flashing crazily.
Then everything was still. I stared straight ahead, noticing how one of the tree branches mirrored the crack in my windshield.
“Great,” I said. “Just great.”
Slowly, the smell of hot oil roused me. I shook myself, looked around, and tried my door handle. It opened, and I stepped out.
As I stood staring at the car, a police car pulled up behind me. The officer got out, leaving his door ajar and hurrying toward me.
“Everyone okay?” he asked. “Were you the only one in the car?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Are you okay?” he repeated.
I shook myself and looked away from the car, meeting his eyes almost accidentally. “I’m fine. I just don’t know…” I looked back at my car, listing against the tree.
“It’s okay. I’ll call a tow truck. Do you remember what happened?”
I told him I was just driving to the store, when out of nowhere…
He had his notebook out, jotting in it quickly, but he raised one eyebrow. Somehow the gesture made me feel simultaneously that he wasn’t surprised by my story, and that he didn’t really believe it. I wondered if he'd been trained for that expression.
“There were I don’t know how many police cars. I’m glad you stopped,” I added.
“Yeah—let me call that tow truck,” he said.
He was back a couple minutes later, with another series of questions, and a form for me to fill out. The form had questions about my insurance company’s information, my personal information, my car’s personal information…
“You’ll need to fill that out and mail it in,” he said. “I’ll just ask you a couple questions right now.”
About twenty minutes later, he was still asking questions when I heard the truck engine grinding up the hill. We both looked up and watched as the tow truck lumbered around the bend and swung off onto the opposite shoulder.
The driver got out and waved to us, before heading around to the back of the truck. In another moment, he reappeared and headed across the road.
That’s when the dragon showed up.
[In the next chapter, which doesn’t exist, the tow truck driver explains that while dragons prefer coal, they can’t find any in this region, so they prefer motor oil…
“You should have seen our garage the last time one showed up—it was an inferno.”
“Oh,” I managed to say, as we peered over the logs. I cringed as a heavy crunch sounded through the overhanging branches. I know my car as already wrecked, but still…
“This one probably smelled the leakage from your car,” the driver added helpfully...]