Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Shevi Arnold - Speculative Fiction Writer

I'm thrilled to introduce this week's Speculative Fiction Writer, Shevi Arnold. She's discussing something that maybe we all need a little more of in our fiction and daily lives - comedy.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future

By Shevi Arnold

All science fiction starts by asking two words within the realm of the scientifically possible: “What if?”

It’s kind of like a fictional mathematical proof. It says that if this is scientifically possible, and this other thing is scientifically possible, then sometime in the future or on another planet it’s scientifically possible that . . .

For example, it’s scientifically possible for intelligent life to develop on a planet like ours, and there are many other planets in the universe that are like ours, so it’s scientifically possible that intelligent life has developed on those planets. Presto, you have E.T..

And it’s scientifically possible for wars to exist between countries, so if we believe it’s possible that intelligent life exists on those planets, it’s scientifically possible that beings from other planets may be at war with one another. Presto, you have Star Wars.

We also know it’s scientifically possible for guys on our planet to find girls in gold bikinis hot, and it’s possible that there are guy aliens on those other planets, so . . 

Yeah, that’s the best explanation I have for why Jabba the Hutt would make Princess Leia wear a gold bikini. I mean, you’d think a guy who looks like something Clifford the Big Red Dog left on the living-room carpet wouldn’t give a fig about what a human girl is wearing, so what other explanation could there possibly be?

But I digress. 

I love science fiction intellectually. I love thinking about “What if?”

But my heart belongs to comedy. It’s my favorite genre.

In a way, comedy also asks, “What if?” In a way, every form of fiction does. But the way each genre asks it is different. Science Fiction asks, “What if?” in the realm of the scientifically possible. Comedy asks, “What if?” by first looking at the likely or expected and then giving us something unlikely and unexpected: a surprise.

Comedy goes great with other genres—all genres, not just science fiction. That’s because most genres have clichés, and those clichés can get pretty boring after a while. Comedy, though, adds an element of surprise, which shakes things up. It keeps the audience on their toes. Nothing can be taken for granted. Nothing is what you expect. That’s kind of the beauty of comedy.

Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the director of The Avengers, once said, ““Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.”

I know many writers who would like to add funny scenes to their writing, but they don’t know how. They sometimes sound like Edmund Kean who is quoted as saying, “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.”

But comedy really isn’t that hard.

All you have to do is find a cliché in your chosen genre and then go in a different direction, a surprising direction. Take anything that’s been done a million times one way, and do it a different way. It’s as simple as that.

For example, if people think that vampire slayers should be big tough guys with names like Van Helsing, you make a vampire slayer who is a teenage cheerleader named Buffy. Only don’t do that, because Joss Whedon already has. A joke is only funny the first time a person hears it. That’s because once you’ve heard it, the surprise is gone. So you’re going to have to come up with something people haven’t heard before.

My upcoming novel, Why My Love Life Sucks, book one in The Legend of Gilbert the Fixer, tries to do just that. 

It’s a funny, YA science fantasy. It starts with a “What if?” and continues with a surprise. What if vampires existed, and what if a vampire girl turned some guy into a vampire? You probably already have certain expectations. You know the clichés. The girl must be in love with the guy, and he must be hot. You’d be wrong on both accounts. Surprise! She wants to be his platonic best friend forever, and she informs him pretty quickly that he isn’t her type at all.

You might have also guessed that getting turned into an irresistible chick magnet is a dream come true for our hero, but surprise again! It’s not. Our hero is a super geek, and girls and relationships terrify him. Girls throwing themselves at him is pretty much his worst nightmare.

Okay, so you might get that this is funny, but you might be wondering why I call this science-fantasy. I mean, hello, vampires are paranormal or urban fantasy, there’s nothing scientific about them, right?

That’s the thing: there are clichés that fit science fiction, and vampires aren’t among them. That means sticking vampires into a science fiction story can be pretty funny. But it also still has to make sense. After all, it’s not really science fiction if there isn’t a certain degree of scientific logic.

And Why My Love Life Sucks is, in many ways, a science-fiction story. Gilbert Garfinkle has more in common with Doctor Frankenstein—the main character of the first science fiction novel ever written—and Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy than he does with Dracula. Like Doctor Frankenstein, Gilbert is a scientist. He invents things. He’s even working on artificial intelligence, which is sort of like a modern version of trying to create life. He fixes things, and he dreams of someday inventing something that will fix the world. Like Arthur Dent, the universe seems to be conspiring to make things as difficult for him as possible. 

As a scientist, Gilbert has a hard time accepting the possible existence of vampires, and a big part of the book involves Gilbert trying to make sense of things that don’t make sense: vampires, how strange his undead life has become, and this crazy little thing called love.  

Like any good science-fiction story, Why My Love Life Sucks starts with “What if?” What if vampires really did exist? How could that be scientifically possible? Like any good comedy, it continues with a surprise. What if a teenage super geek was turned into one? And then it and continues with life’s ultimate question: Why Me?

Shevi Arnold is many things–a writer, cartoonist, humor expert, and geek goddess–but above all, she is a storyteller. She has indie published three books: Dan Quixote Boy of Nuevo Jersey is a humorous middle-grade novel about individuality and friendship overcoming bullying; Toren the Teller’s Tale is a YA fantasy about the magic of storytelling, and one young woman’s struggle to accept that magic in herself; and Ride of Your Life is a romantic YA ghost story about a 17-year-old girl who meets the love of her life 30 years after her own death. They are available in paperback, on Kindle and Nook, and from the Apple iBookstore. The YA comedy science-fantasy novel, Why My Love Life Sucks, book one in The Legend of Gilbert the Fixer is set to be released in the beginning of 2013. You can find Shevi on, Facebook and Twitter, and you can follow her blog at

Thank you, Shevi. I love the Joss Whedon quote; you've reminded me as to why I enjoyed Buffy the Vampire Slayer so much - the humour. And I'm intrigued by the way you've broken those tired and over-used science fiction cliches. I can't wait to read Why My Love Life Sucks.


  1. Your book sounds funny, Shevi.
    Don't care why Jabba wanted Leia in a hot bikini, just glad that he did.
    Whedon also mastered comedy with Firefly, especially with the dialogue. And that's probably where I show the most humor in my books.
    Excellent stuff and nice to meet you, Shevi.

  2. Why My Love Life Sucks sounds charming.

    I also like the "what if's" related to sci-fi.

  3. Loved this post! Very funny.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  4. Wow! Humourous sci-fi is HARD for me to even try and write so yay for you, Shevi!! There is so much fun to be had with "what ifs"!! All the best, take care

  5. Sound like an interesting idea and a good premise to create fun reading. I like it when ideas are looked at in a ‘what if’ way, a lot of good SF comes from that. As for golden bikinis, in her collection of short stories, Ten Thousand Light Years from Home, James Tiptree jr, did a ‘what if’ short on why aliens like Jabba the hut would fancy Leia, look out for it, it is worth reading.
    I shall be looking out for Gilbert the Fixer as soon as he appears. Good post.

  6. i love everything about this! nonsense that is forced to make sense = hilarity! will keep a robotic eye out for gilbert!

  7. Sounds like a very interesting book, Shevi. I love humor. Joss is right, all dark without a joke is hard to take. Nice to meet you. Waving at Ellie.

  8. The book sounds like fun! But I still think humor is hard.:)

  9. Excellent post. I love the quote,“Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” So true.

    I don't know if there's any explanation for that bikini.

  10. Great post. I would totally agree about the humor. It's exhausting to go through a book or film where it's tense and dark without the relief of some humor. Gimli saved The Two Towers for that reason. One of the things I love about the Monster Hunter International series is that the MC will come up with hilarious, snarky comments at really intense moment.

  11. Humour is all that keeps us sane sometimes! Great post and the book sounds fab too :)

  12. I need saving, please show me your fangs...

  13. Wow, I'd never thought of it that way before. It needs to be logical in the most ludicrous way. If we don't believe it could actually happen, then it stops being funny, I think!

  14. Fantastic post! Humour totally does go with any genre! (And SHOULD go with every genre.) I love dark stories that have humour. Firefly is a perfect example. Joss Whedon is a perfect example. You are awesome for quoting him.

    Allison (Geek Banter)

  15. I love the Joss Whedon quote. I also try to put some humor in my writing, although I leave it open for interpretation, since my novels quite serious.

  16. So, so true. Lots of genres have "what ifs" attached to them. I love when authors use cliches to make something comical. The book sounds great!

  17. "What If?" questions drive my writing, too. I guess that's what it means to speculate... =]


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