Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Deer on a Bicycle: Excursions into the Writing of Humor by Pat McManus

    Patrick McManus has long been one of my favorite writers.  His style and ability are what I hope to emulate in my own writing.  To all aspiring writers’ good fortune, he has written a book guiding the rest of us into the realm of humor writing.

     The Deer on A Bicycle: Excursions into the writing of Humor has probably been the most beneficial of the entire how-to write books I’ve read so far.  Of course it helps that I’ve read most of McManus' books and so already have a great deal of respect for him.  It’s so much more convincing to receive advice from someone who’s sold millions of copies of books that I enjoy than from someone whom I’ve never heard of.

      For years McManus wrote articles for Field and Stream about camping, hunting and fishing- activities, aside from camping, that I couldn’t be less interested in.  His humor, however, had me falling out of my chair, bursting a gut.  He’s not just funny, he’s hilarious.  His can use graphic imagery in a way that plants absurd thoughts into your head that is practically unrivaled.

      I say all that to say that if you’re someone who would like to know how to construct a funny story and hopefully sell it to a publisher or magazine, you will want to read this book.  It is not only informative but, true to form, very funny.  Reading this book was as fun as reading any of Mcmanus' other humor pieces. 

     The book is written in a question and answer format where he has one of his characters, Newton, ask a question about writing which he then answers.  Here’s an example:

    Newton:  Pat, what do you mean by “indirection” in a story? 

Pat:  I’m sorry you brought that one up, Newt.  Let’s see. Hmm.

   Well, indirection is where you don’t write about what you intend to write about but write about something else that in some way reveals what it was you actually wanted to write about.  All clear about that?  (pg. 19)

      Believe it or not, he does make clear what he means by that later in that section.  It’s one of the best writing techniques to develop.

 Here’s another example:

Newton:  What do you believe is the ultimate in a prose style, Pat?

  Pat:  It is a style in which the words vanish for the reader.  Anytime writing draws attention to itself as writing it detracts from the desired effect, which is to create an uninterrupted flow of thoughts, emotions images, ideas and information through, the mind of the reader. (pg. 66)

      This is excellent advice and is my goal as a writer. 

 McManus also shares  his own background.  He describes how he got started by selling works first to magazines and then to publishers.  He gives some  good advice on how to query and write proposals, but mostly he focuses on how to write.

     The best advice I got from his book was where he said he decided he was going to write for two hours every day.  Not think about writing or plan on writing, just write.  He found that, like magic, his writing got better and better and also easier.  After a while, the words just flowed.  Another thing he made himself do was send off everything he wrote.  Hmm. I’m not up to that yet, but I’m sure it improves the odds of getting your material published.

       He gives solid and well-needed advice about needing  thick skin and getting rejected.  It was encouraging to know that, as great a writer as he is; he still got rejected over and over again (even after his work was published in magazines!) by publishers.

      The final section of the book contains some of his funniest short stories followed by a commentary as to how he came up with the idea and developed it.

    All in all, I highly recommend this book. 

All the proceeds of this book go toward a scholarship fund for creative writing and journalism students at Eastern Washington University where McManus was a Writing Professor for twenty-three years.

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  1. Excellent post, I'll certainly be on the lookout for this book. Good writers can make anything interesting... even fishing :)

    1. You should read all his books. They are hilarious!


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