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As writers we all struggle to find ways to strengthen our stories. I’m going to talk today about something that I think is a powerful but overlooked tool in our writer’s toolkit – humor. Now, I know that there are people out there who think writing humor is somehow ‘less’ than writing drama. And to them I stick out my tongue and say nah-nah-nah. I would argue that, as in life, humor has its place in driving home the story. And it should not be taken lightly. So how can ‘funny ha-ha’, do this?
Before we get to that, let’s talk about the various types of humor and how they can be used in a story. The most obvious and (in my opinion) most difficult to write are the physical gaffes, pitfalls – think The Three Stooges but not so over the top. This type of humor’s strength is in the visual aspect of it, so it lends itself to movies, TV, and theatre. The danger of physical humor in writing is in the description itself. If it takes a long time to describe the bumble, the comedic timing can sometimes fall flat. So simple is more powerful. If the heroine is in a parade, sitting in the back of a Cadillac convertible and is knocked out of the car (accidentally of course) by the American Legion float into the arms of a hunky firefighter, then don’t spend three pages describing the fall. Get to the funny! And get her into the arms of that firefighter because that’s where your readers want her to be.
Of course there is also verbal comedy through sarcastic comments and banter which provide humor for the reader. This, if delivered well, can strengthen a story and a character. Innuendos can play a big part in many romances. There is also humor in mistaken identifies. The list can go on and on.
At its core, humor is about the laugh, or at least the grin. And it is not taking the easy way out either. Ask anyone, writing ‘funny’ is a very hard thing to do. And the adage less is more should also be used in relation to humor. Think of it this way. The first time you hear a joke, you may laugh. The next time, it may cause you to giggle, the next, a grin. And the one after that? Do you get the idea? Don’t beat the reader over the head with the same thing again and again. The best humor is varied in its delivery.
So let’s get down to it. How can all of this guffawing make our stories better?
Humor can attach the reader to a character. In life, don’t we like to befriend funny people? Someone who is witty can liven up a party or make you laugh after a really crappy day. The same holds for funny characters. As readers, we glom onto these characters. And when a reader likes a character, they in turn like the story. So consider having a character with a sense of humor. If you don’t think it’s appropriate for the hero or heroine, then by all means have a secondary character deliver the hee-hee’s. If your main characters play off the humor, all the better.
Humor can be a wonderful foil to heartbreak and drama. Even in some of the best dramas, funny emerges. As people we find and need ways to laugh. It is a stress-reliever. Why should that be any different in writing? Conflict is at the crux of most of our stories and emotionally we crave escape from the nail-biting or weepy moments. Find ways to intersperse small (emphasis on the word ‘small’) bits of humor in an emotionally-charged scene. It will make the drama all the more poignant.
Humor can make the reader feel more a part of the story. This especially is the case when secrets are involved. When the reader and one of the main characters knows something that the other characters don’t this packs a punch. An example of this would be if the heroine disguises herself as a man (I have read several good historical books that have used this trope). This can be great fodder for embarrassing and funny situations that the heroine and the reader enjoy together. And when the reader is in on the joke it can be powerful way to hook them.
Humor can move the story along. As writers we know at the end of a scene or chapter we are supposed to give our readers a hook. Keep them reading and turning those pages, right? Well we don’t always have to end on a cliff-hanger, nor should we. If everything is a crisis, then it loses its impact. I call if the-boy-who-called-wolf-syndrome. But if we end scenes or chapters with humor it breaks up this syndrome and keeps the reader engaged. And that is what we want.
Humor can also move the dialogue forward and break up the monotony. This is very helpful in group scenes where different voices are weaving throughout the story.
Humor can be its own form of drama. Depending on the situation, humor can be more emotionally charged than the drama enfolding around them. Think about the funny character who tells really bad jokes. What if partway through the story you found out that this same character was dying? Powerful, right? “If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry” holds true in storytelling as well.
Humor can make your story memorable. Let’s face it. People remember funny and they like to recount it to others. People tell jokes and funny anecdotes that they have heard or read. And if there is funny in your book, how great is it to have readers spread the word? Look at it this way, funny can be the leader of your grass-roots marketing campaign!
Those are just a few examples of the power of humor. Don’t underestimate it in your writing.
And I’ll stop here, although I could go on and on and on. No, really I could. Instead I’ll leave you with the quote that someone extremely important said a long time ago. “Laughter is the best medicine.” Which holds true in our stories as well.
Now it’s your turn. Can you share an example of the power of humor, whether in your own writing or someone else’s?
Growing up a TV junkie, award winning author AE Jones oftentimes rewrote endings of episodes in her head when she didn’t like the outcome. She immersed herself in sci-fi and soap operas. But when Buffy hit the little screen she knew her true love was paranormal. Now she spends her nights weaving stories about all variation of supernatural—their angst and their humor. After all life is about both…whether you sport fangs or not.
AE lives in Ohio with her eclectic family and friends who in no way resembles any characters in her books. Honest. Now her two cats are another story altogether.
Kyle was born with the ability to erase memories, and the inability to keep her opinions to herself. She and her teammates – a vampire who looks like a sexy pirate with fangs, and a Shamat demon with a penchant for Italian pastries – provide supernatural damage control when humans see too much. Today’s problem? A sword-wielding angel and a demon had a supernatural smackdown during happy hour in a Cleveland bar, leaving behind a headless vampire and a dozen human witnesses.
This latest supernatural slip-up is attracting all kinds of attention. So much attention that the police step in, and Kyle has to deal with Joe Dalton, a know-it-all human with the sexiest turquoise eyes she has ever seen. Kyle has no room in her life for yet another human who will treat her like a freak. However, Dalton definitely makes her naughty parts sit up and take notice, and it’s more than mutual. But before they can act on their attraction, they must join forces to solve a dangerous puzzle. And when they uncover the truth, the apocalyptic ripple effect forces Kyle to make a choice. Learn to trust again, or risk losing everyone she cares about, including Dalton.