Sociologists, anthropologists, and biologists believe that the ability of humans to laugh serves two essential life functions: to lessen tension and anxiety, and to help us bond with others. Both of these are compelling reasons to incorporate humor into your writing. As writers, one of our primary goals is to make an emotional connection with our readers, and the effective use of humor can go a long way toward accomplishing this. Studies have proved that laughter helps a reader focus on a story and remember it afterward.
So how do we add humor to our stories? One way is by using literary devices.
Take a popular cliché and twist it to surprise your readers. Cliché jokes can work with any widely known catchphrase, title, or lyric. For example, Lyla Blake Ward’s book How to Succeed at Aging Without Really Dying, is a play on the well-known musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds. Children’s tongue twisters are good examples: Rubber baby buggy bumpers; Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers; She sells seashells by the seashore. Author Terry Pratchett used alliteration to create humorous and/or memorable character names like Fester Fanggut and William de Worde, as does J.K. Rowling with names like Severus Snape, Minerva McGonagall, Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin.
I’m sure everyone remembers Onomatopoeia from school. The word itself is fun to say. Onomatopoeia is the use of a word that imitates or suggests the source of the sound it describes. Examples include bark, plop, grunt, bang, clang, swoosh, hiss, etc.
Many writers also look to screenwriters and the three-act structure to plot books, and we can also learn a lot about incorporating humor into our writing from screenwriters, sitcom writers, and stand-up comedians. Word choice and placement are of the utmost importance when writing humor. The following examples are some tips and tricks to help make the most of each word you type.
How Words Sound
When you read, you hear the sound of the words in your mind, so if a word sounds funny when spoken, it will also sound funny when read silently. Try reading your writing aloud and listen to the sound of the words. Substitute one word for another and listen to see if it makes a difference.
Words with a Hard “K” or Hard “C” Sound are Funny
Ask any comedy writer and he’ll tell you that words with a hard “k” or hard “c” sound are funny. The K Rule is a useful tool for making word choices that will subconsciously or subtly amuse your readers. Have you ever heard of the town of Kalamazoo? I bet you have, but not because it’s a famous or populous place, but because it sounds funny. To further confirm the K Rule, watch any great comedy movie or sitcom and you’ll discover that many of the jokes utilize a word with these sounds.
Pick a Word that Breaks a Pattern
In any type of writing, varying sentence length and structure will enhance your work. When trying to add humor to your writing, the same theory applies to words. Oftentimes mixing the length or placement of the words you’re using can add humor to a sentence. For example, “My dog’s favorite foods are bones, bacon, and furniture.” This is a silly sentence, but note how the word “furniture” breaks the pattern of short words and edible foods.
The tips in this article come from lessons in my workshop, Incorporating Humor into Your Writing. I hope to see you there!