Recently, an editor suggested I add more humor, even if it is slapstick, to help develop the characters. It’s an interesting thought and my immediate reaction was how?

I’ve often said and written that when I am writing or doing a major edit, I become the character. In doing so, I see events unfold through his her eyes, feel his/her emotions. Humor, has to come from within the character and can’t be artificially dropped into the manuscript.

Humor comes in all forms without telling jokes which are hard to carry off in a manuscript. There’s dark humor in which the characters make light of a dire situation. There’s humor when they kid each other. Both are and will continue to be in my published books. In several passages in Moscow Airlift, Soviet characters use proverbs to make their point.

In the book, I brought back Oleg Krasnovsky from Render Harmless which takes place in 1976 when he was a KGB colonel and liaison officer to the Stasi, the East German secret police. Moscow Airlift takes place in 1991 and in the ensuing fifteen years, Krasnovsky has been promoted to major general, is back in Moscow and nearing retirement worried about his country’s future.

By 1991, the wall in Germany had come down, the Warsaw Pact had fallen apart; his country’s foreign currency reserves were at an all time low; food was in short supply; high inflation had set in; the ruble was devalued and the list goes on. In short, rather than cure the woes of the Soviet economy, Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika (Russian for listen and was meant to imply the government would listen to the people) and glasnost (word used to reference the transparency and openness in government activities) shined a spotlight on the country’s problems. In some cases, perestroika and glasnost made them worse because they raised expectations that life in the Soviet Union would get better soon.

On several occasions Krasnovsky makes his point using Russian folk sayings. For example, in a discussion about a possible sequence of events, he uses the proverb “A spoon is valuable only at dinner.’ In other words, things are best in their respective time or proper timing is everything.  Obviously, the context of the passage is important, but it works as a way to provide depth of the character and make a reader think.

While I was researching Russian proverbs, I came across this link There you get the actual Russian, the translation, literal meaning and how it translates into English. Besides being very helpful, it was fascinating reading and I probably spent more time reading Russian proverbs than needed.

Blizok lokotok, da ne ukusish. Literal translation – Your elbow is close, yet you can’t bite it. Meaning – It only seems easy!

Marc Liebman

November 2017