Laughter is a universal coping skill and it translates into visceral storytelling in your writing.
Whether you write drama or comedy, humor adds depth to the character’s emotional range. As humans, we don’t confine ourselves to one emotion at a time. We layer ourselves with several, which makes each of us dynamic, interesting, lovable beings. Feeling anger toward our dog for barking when we come home at the end of the day is diffused by our love for little Spot’s devotion for having waited by the door until we returned. When Spot stretches his tiny legs, we have adoration and a touch of concern over whether he’s too vulnerable to spend the winter evening without his sweater.
Think about the times you’ve been embarrassed, the times you were scared, the moments you received bad news. Most likely, in spite of it all, you laughed. In the grips of trauma, of tragedy, of sorrow, you reached outside your experience to find something that would make you feel the opposite. As a matter of fact, feeling such intensity emphasizes the opposite emotions.
When we write, we want to connect with the reader.
The act of putting a story into written form is an effort to emote a common response from the reader. Writing is oftentimes considered to be a lonely business. It’s not as if someone can get inside your head and live the roles of your characters. Laughter is an act of sharing. You, the writer, are sharing a way to feel happier with the reader. This common ground forms a bond between your reader and you, which instills trust.
By giving the reader a chance to smile, you are prompting his endorphins to release, and for his mind to relax. He lets down his guard. He feels safe with your words, exploring your world. It is by your ability to release the tension that you have the opportunity to build anticipation for a higher level of tension.
Adding funny to your story elevates the tension on the page.
Humor draws the reader into the scene on a profound level by leading them down a path with an unexpected outcome. A sense of surprise is created by using unconventional language that is taken out of context, and by making references to ironic symbolisms.
Think about the biggest moments of your life.
Which situations are most memorable? When you are with old friends, what do they recall happened between the two of you? Most likely, some of your strongest impressions were the times that made you laugh. By putting a smile on the reader’s face, you create a lasting impression in their experience with your story. They are more likely to recall the specifics of your story because the humorous moments are easier to envision than the drama we tend to avoid.
People like happiness.
Therefore, they like stories that make them happy. Not only do readers prefer to feel joy, but you, the writer, are prone to linger in the uplifting moments of your day. You are more likely to exert additional time and energy into things that make you feel good, which means you will put forth added effort in your story building where you come out of it feeling better than you do outside your story.
Adding funny to your romance invites you to be creative in your storytelling skills. The gift of laughter takes the intelligence to be clever, the ability to understand the joke, and creativity to setup the punchline.
With the style of using shorter sentence structures, emojis and symbols to cue the reader on when to laugh and when to be serious are critical. Where you follow a joke with a smiley sign, you signal the reader to relax and release. However, when writing a novel, the build up and punchline method of joke telling are essential tools.
Humor can be sarcastic, but not where you alienate your audience.
The trend for laughter now steers away from hurting another’s feelings. Sarcasm can alienate a portion of your audience. Any time you write something that offends or puts off a reader, you have failed to connect with him. You have isolated yourself, and made them feel unwelcome in the world you created. This is where you might have a playful statement that reminds the reader of an unpleasant experience from his life or that he witnessed happening to another. It could even trigger a reaction in the reader based on what his parents or peers taught him to defend. This is where sarcasm can be offensive in today’s market. But what can you do to add that funny element?
Comedy is a method for layering characterization not only to your personalities in the story, but also to the craft of presenting the plot. It requires a sensitivity to pacing and word smithing. Humor revolves around tone and delivery of dialogue. The language and wording of the story increases humor. Think back to the last time you were with youngsters who were laughing their heads off. Most likely, it started when one child said something that sounded funny even though it wasn’t intended to be taken that way.
Why would a nonchalant statement give the readers stitches in their sides?
Because some words sound funny. Most often, these words have guttural sounds to them. Many such words have been dubbed as inappropriate for mixed company, and yet, why did some words become taboo while others with similar meanings are acceptable?
Coocoocachoo, and goo goo. Any k sound will do, as well as any hard g sound. On a subconscious level, the reader is laughing.
The buildup comes in threes.
Setup a joke three times, and then take the reader to a different outcome with an ironic punchline. Having the similar situation arise three times already has the reader shaking his head, but to pull in an anecdote or previously unexplored conclusion has the reader smiling at how cleverly you threw him for a loop. The pattern of threes is the setup. Also, you can have two similar ideas, and then have the third idea be unrelated but with the same theme. For instance, your hero could be wearing a coat and tie and flip-flops.
Let’s not judge is a mainstream rule of thumb, but then again, don’t we all laugh when our friends point out a comparison? Basically, comparisons are metaphors gone awry. This can be done by using two concepts that are similar physically but have different emotional meanings. Such as, instead of saying, driving a car is as easy as riding a bike, you might say, driving an Jaguar SUV is as easy as riding a bike on a tight wire.
It’s the “yes but no” aspect that can be hysterical.
You can get a laugh by comparing apples to oranges. The reader associates a humorous visual image in his mind, which gives him the joy of having an unexpected outcome. It is in your being clever enough to find a commonality between two objects that typically aren’t identified as being alike that creates the joke. Consider the study guides for standardized tests where you are expected to find which word doesn’t compare with the others. A roof is to dog, just as black is to a) house, b) garbage c) shirt, d) cat.
Remember those illogical test questions? They force the test taker to think outside the box. It is the unusual thinking that makes it funny.
Cliches have a bad rap, but they are sure-fire topics for bringing a smile to your readers. Using a phrase the reader recognizes creates a connection and develops that critically necessary level of trust. The trust is a hook. Once the reader feels familiar with your writing, you can end the cliche with different wording for a unique play on words. You could apply the meaning of the phrase to a circumstance that is out of context from how it was originally intended. Cliches include well-known poems, hot commercial jingles, popular songs, and classic films.
If you listened to what the people around you find funny throughout your day, most often the source will be a day-in and day-out occurrences. Laughter begins with a story, a story about a common situation, based on truth. Why would someone laugh when you tell them you took out the trash and saw a cat last night? Because of how you exaggerate the elements of the story. It is in your emphasizing the aspects of your experience that create an ironic visual image that the reader releases his tension. Humor is a method of processing the unexpected without fear, and builds a strong level of trust in your ability to share. And as much as we sit down alone to write, it is the connection with readers that makes the process fun.
Check out Jan’s class starting soon at SavvyAuthors!