By L.J. Sellers, author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mysteries. This essay was originally posted at Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog, but it's worth a repeat.
In my new novel, the future is bleak, my characters are flawed, and their quests are intensely personal. Writing this novel could have been depressing, but I set much of the story in an endurance contest called the Gauntlet, which provided some unusual and amusing research moments.
Of course, my husband walked in as I was crawling and said, “When does the barking start?”
It was the first laugh “til your belly hurts” moment I’d had in a long time.
In another phase of the contest, Lara enters a locked-room scenario, in which she must use the items on hand to find a MacGyver-type solution to get out. I admit, I sought help from my husband, who designs and builds things for a living. We came up with a plausible three-step solution, then decided to test the parts of it that we could. Not wanting to give away this scene in the story, let’s just say we headed down to the garage with a box of matches and some potentially combustible material. (It’s Oregon, and it was raining, so we had to stay inside.)
As we struck the matches and cheered for a flame, we remembered catching our three boys doing something similar when they were young. We imagined our kids walking in on us while we attempted to start a fire in the garage, and saying “What the hell?” We laughed until the tears rolled.
It’s good to experience little moments like that when you write gritty thrillers. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get sucked into a dark mode and forget that people and characters can find joy and humor even under stressful circumstances. I also managed to sneak a light moment into the story near the end. And even though The Arranger is set in a bleak world thirteen years from now, the overall theme is an affirmation of the human desire to improve oneself and make a difference in the world around us.
Do you need humor in every novel? What weird/funny things have you done for research?