Thanks to ProWritingAid’s Crime Writers’ Week conference, I can check panel moderator off the list of things I’ve never done. I hosted a Thriller Panel Discussion with Karin Slaughter, Jennifer Hillier, Lisa Gardner, Ian Rankin, and Steve Berry. Was I nervous? Heck, yeah. Should I have been? Nope. All of the panelists were charming and witty and graceful, and a fabulous time was had by all.
It’s a funny story
I’d forgotten how funny crime novelists are. A sense of humor helps when you spend a large part of your time thinking of inventive ways to kill (fictional) people. Most of the panelists were old friends so the jokes flowed fast, the way they do when friends who haven’t seen each other in a while get together again. (Karin Slaughter does this great thing where she keeps changing her screen name to a different pun, based on the conversation topic. If you’ve never seen it, sign up for a virtual conference featuring her as a panelist. She’s my new Zoom hero.)
A spoonful of humor
A dose of humor eases nervousness, just like a bit of sugar gets rid of bitterness. I was so busy laughing at the panelists’ jokes that I forgot to be afraid. Of course, it helped that they gave thoughtful answers and really leaned into the idea of sharing their wisdom with writers early on the path to becoming crime fiction novelists. But the funny bits were what kept things moving. And, judging by audience comments, they were the most memorable.
Lighten up a (teeny) bit
Soothing the nerves of a first-time panel moderator isn’t the only use for humor. A well-placed witticism can help lighten up an otherwise grim story. It can also give the readers or viewer a welcome respite from horror or sadness. It’s called “comic relief” for a reason. Think of the books you read and the shows you watch. Even the noirest of noir includes one or two characters who fire off a one-liner when faced with grave danger. Isn’t horror fiction easier to stomach when it includes a funny moment, however brief? Dark humor is still humor.
Can you think of some funny moments in a work that, otherwise, isn’t funny? (Let’s face it, crime isn’t actually amusing.) What books (or movies or TV shows) provided a moment or two of levity to help you make it through to “the end”? One of my favorites is “Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” the 1974-75 TV series (based on the 1972/73 made-for-TV movies, “The Night Stalker” and “The Night Strangler”) starring Darren McGavin as the titular protagonist. As a frayed-around-the-edges tabloid reporter, Carl Kolchak flings some great one-liners as he tries to convince his editor, and the public, that a variety of supernatural creatures is responsible for grisly crimes on Chicago’s mean streets. Share your favorites funny moments, or share some ways that humor helps you deal with situations, here, on Facebook, or on Twitter.