Mischief is one of my favorite things in the whole world. I love mischievous characters. (Amelie is one of my favorite movies for this reason among many.) Mischief, in my definition, is when a person throws a bit of harmless havoc on the world, shakes things up a bit, in good fun. Woody Guthrie, who I sometimes call St. Woody, has mischief all over his music. For instance, this line from his most famous song, THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND, that my elementary school music teacher (conveniently) left out when we sang it in her class:
As I was walking, I saw a sign there/and on that sign it said, NO TRESPASSING./ But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing./ That side was made for you and me.
As famous actor, Joel Mitchell would say: It’s funny because it’s true.
Mischief is funny because it’s surprising, and that surprise brings out in us a deep sense of truth while we’re caught off guard. This, ultimately, is why I think mischief is good for stories. We want our characters to surprise us while they are on the path to their MacGuffins. One way to make that happen is to give them a mischievous streak. This is why Huck Finn is one of the greatest characters of all time, in case you were wondering.
My friend Bethany used to (don’t know if she does any more) have a magnet on her fridge from Thailand that read: Make yourself laugh once a day. Or something like that. Super Jane Austen Scholar, Susan Morgan, recommended that we (her students) try to pull off a joke within each of our academic articles–one of the greatest and most fascinating pieces of advice I ever heard. (I think about the things Dr. Morgan said in her class at least twice a week. She definitely has a streak of healthy mischief in her pedagogy). I am crazy about both of these tips (Dr. Morgan’s & the magnet’s) because I think they foster a certain amount of healthy mischievousness.
Also, from my understanding, there is a fine line between mischievousness and curiosity. Writers need to stay curious all of the time. If we don’t, our work becomes unbearable. Also, people who aren’t that curious are pretty unbearable, amiright? Without curiosity, we have no fascination, and without fascination–in people, in our work, in the enormous floppy ears of our dogs we named after mischievous folk singers… Without fascination, what is the point?