A Writer Walks into a Bar…

August 8, 2009 at 8:13 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

I am far from the funniest person in the world. In fact, if there was a standardized test for humor aptitude (the HAT?), I would be lucky to match the median score. But I am addicted to the emotional release of laughter, to the look on someone’s face when a clever comment has brightened their day (or at least their minute), so I am almost constantly making jokes in my writing. No one can give you a step-by-step guide on how to write with humor – the particulars depend more on your individual style and voice than anything else – but I can share some general tricks that have worked for me.

Stay true to your plot and characters. In my opinion, this is the most important thing to remember when weaving humor into your novel or story. It doesn’t matter how funny that joke you came up with in the shower is – if your main character wouldn’t say it, don’t try to force it into his or her mouth. Likewise, humor can help counterbalance a dark moment, but it would be unrealistic (most of the time) for someone to start cracking crude jokes minutes after their best friend’s death.

Keep it subtle. The best, smartest humor works because it sneaks up on readers. Corny jokes often fall flat because we can see the punchline coming a mile away – there’s no surprise, no lighthearted discovery. With understated humor, the absurdity of a comment or situation is enhanced by its mundane method of delivery. If you have to hit readers over the head with a joke in an obvious display of authorial intrusion for them to “get it,” you are probably better off leaving it out altogether.

Be confident. Readers, like feral dogs, can smell fear. When you are not one-hundred-percent invested in a humorous comment, they will know. If you ever feel uncomfortable reading a funny section in your manuscript to others, consider cutting it. At the same time, don’t be afraid to break with convention. Like anything else in writing, you should strive to come up with witty remarks that are fresh and new, not just copies of ideas that were successful in the past.

Tread carefully with humor at others’ expense. In particular, be careful when poking fun at yourself (or having your characters poke fun at themselves). While self-abasement can be funny and help readers connect with you, it is a fine line between playfully mocking yourself and making everyone uncomfortable by indulging deep feelings of true inadequacy.

Don’t be afraid to laugh at your own jokes. I love that there are parts of my novel that still make me laugh out loud when I read them (even when I have the manuscript mostly memorized). Remember, you can’t spell funny without “fun” (that’s the kind of joke you want to avoid, by the way), and if you are smiling, chances are others will, too.


Originally posted on DK’s personal blog.



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  1. :D I particularly enjoy the comment about readers being like feral dogs.

    Personally, I sometimes worry that all the humor in the book will be like my humor in life — sarcastic. So, I always get a kick when my alpha reader laughs, because it means something I did worked.

    My funniest character in my WIP is a character who isn’t funny. But her actions are very amusing. Her personality is basically that of a porcupine. She throws shoes at people. I love her.

  2. Great post, DK! Massive kudos for actually knowing HOW to write humour. I do it (sometimes) but when people laugh I have no idea how I actually managed to pull it off. I get a huge kick out of it though, since I always think I have a weird sense of humour and no one else is going to get it. XD

  3. Seriously, the best kind of humor is the kind that sneaks up on you as your writing. You’re just writing this paragraph and suddenly a witty comment sneaks out and you’re like… WHOA! Moral of the story, don’t try too hard, natural is best. :)

  4. Oh, I agree, Emilia! I probably think too hard about being funny – people often end up laughing at things that I didn’t necessarily intend to be humorous. So Elusive and Dominique, it’s a good thing your personalities and quirky senses of humor come through in your writing – that’s what really makes people laugh. ;)

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