Janice Hanna Thompson

Janice Hanna Thompson—a south Texas native—is the author of over sixty novels and non-fiction books for the Christian market. She supplements her fiction habit by writing magazine articles, devotions, write-for-hire books and more. One of the chief joys of Janice’s life is training writers to earn a living with the written word. Check out Janice’s “Becoming a Successful Freelance Writer,” course at www.freelancewritingcourses.com. The ten lessons in this course were developed to strategically train freelance writers to earn top dollar. Each lesson includes an audio file (mp3 for download), a corresponding audio script, a downloadable worksheet, a power point video, a bonus feature, and full access to the site’s forum. Email Janice at booksbyjanice[at]aol[dot]com to learn more, or visit her website at www.janicehannathompson.com.

Writing With Humor

The “Situation”

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months talking about the “situation.” No, not the guy on Jersey Shore . . . the situation that inspires authors to write comedies. All great comedic pieces (movies, television and books) are built on situations beyond the primary character’s control, and most have an easy-to-follow ten-step formula. To clarify how this formula works, I’m going to share a real “situation” that occurred in my life a few weeks back.

1. The Setup/Stacking the Deck
My story begins on a weekday afternoon. A friend called me on my cell phone just as I pulled up to a local grocery store. We were talking diets—specifically, about healthy eating, nutritional supplements, etc. I got out of my car, used the remote on my key ring to lock the car, tossed my keys into my purse, and headed to the front of the store. When I reached the front door, I grabbed a basket, tossed my purse inside, and then stepped into the produce department, ready to buy all sorts of healthy goodies. I kept talking to my friend. Though distracted—have I mentioned I have ADD?—I started adding things to my basket: strawberries, blackberries, and so on. I caught a glimpse of the fresh green beans in the distance and pondered how I might go about loading a produce bag with them while still on the phone. Common sense would dictate that I end the call and focus on shopping. But I’ve never been known for my common sense. Pushing thoughts of green beans aside, I eyed the organic carrots. Yum. I needed some of those and could easily grab them while chatting with my friend.

2. The Faux Pas/Error in Judgment
I turned away from my basket to walk toward the carrots. In the meantime, the phone conversation grew livelier by the minute. I glanced down, nabbed the carrots, turned back toward my basket, tossed them inside, and then looked down at the spot where I’d placed my purse. W-w-what? No purse? You had to be kidding me!

3. The Knee-Jerk Reaction/Panic Phase
I went into an immediate panic. Told my friend my purse had been stolen. Shoved my phone into my pocket. Where else could I put it, really? Raced toward the door, convinced I must’ve left my purse in my SUV. Only one problem. I clearly remembered locking the SUV. How could I have done that without my remote? Still, I had to check the car, just in case.

4. The Complication/The Twist
I sprinted out of the store and headed toward my vehicle. About halfway there, I realized I was pushing the cart! Oh no! The cart was loaded with produce . . . produce I hadn’t paid for! I stopped in the middle of the parking lot and pondered what this must look like on the security camera. Frantic woman races from store toward her car with groceries she has not paid for. Oh, help! If they called the police, I couldn’t even prove my identity. After all, my identification was now MIA.

5. The I-Can-Fix-This Phase/The Would-Be Solution
I looked back and forth between the front door of the store and my vehicle, just yards away. My instinct told me to go to the SUV to check for the purse and then go back inside the store to explain. Unfortunately, my vehicle—as I’d suspected—was locked tight. I peered through the windows, hoping to see my purse on the front seat. Nope. No purse. If I tried the old-fashioned “stick a coat hanger down through the window” technique, I would be accused of not only stealing fruits and vegetables but an SUV, as well! So, I turned back to the store, my thoughts in a whirlwind.

6. The Moment of Relief/The Catch-Your-Breath Phase
As I approached the store—no police in sight—I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew what must’ve happened! Surely, when I’d arrived at the store in the first place, I must’ve slung my purse into one basket and grabbed another. Why, sure. I would look in the basket area for my purse and then I’d laugh about it when I went to customer service to explain why I’d accidentally “almost” stolen the fruits and veggies.

7. The Twist/The Diversion Tactic
Only one problem. My purse wasn’t in the basket area. In fact, as I took a step inside the store, I truly had no idea how I could possibly fix this problem. I would simply have to put all of the food back and call someone to drive me home. What a mess!

8. Gotcha!/The Punchline
As I stepped inside the store, a woman—probably in her early thirties—stopped me. “Ma’am! I believe you’ve taken my basket!”

“W-w-w-what?” I stared down at the basket, this time paying closer attention to its contents, and realized the fruits and veggies weren’t exactly what I’d tossed inside. Close, but not exact.

The woman pointed toward the green beans. “There’s a basket over there with a purse inside.”

I looked that way and, lo and behold . . . my purse! Oh, praise the Lord! Hallelujah!

The woman shook her head and, in a motherly voice, said, “Ma’am, you really shouldn’t leave your purse in a basket like that. It could be stolen!”

9. The Scramble/Playing the Fool
I felt like a fool, as you might imagine! Profuse apologies followed as I gave the woman her basket. Several people gave me funny looks as I sprinted toward the correct basket, but no one said a word—except the woman, who continued to tell me that I needed to calm down. Calm down? I’d lost my purse, stolen fresh produce, and played the role of a cart thief, all within a five-minute span! How could I possibly calm down? Instead, I raced through the store on the world’s fastest shopping extravaganza, then got the heck out of Dodge, determined never to shop in that store again!

10. Obtaining Perspective/The Takeaway
As I drove away, I replayed the situation in my mind. Laughter followed. Lots of it. In that moment, I came to an important conclusion: people with ADD shouldn’t drink ’n’ drive—er, talk on the phone and load a shopping cart. We simply don’t have the wherewithal to do both at the same time.

So, there you have it, my friends. A real-life “situation” broken down into the same ten steps that are used in nearly every sitcom, comedic book, or hilarious movie. The next time you’re in a wacky/embarrassing “situation,” take some time after-the-fact to replay it scene by scene. You might just discover those ten formulaic “steps” lined up in a perfect row.