Writing Humor: Making Your Audience Laugh
A little laughter goes a long way when your characters and readers are stressing about an impending war. Almost every genre can do with a little bit of humor to lighten the reading experience, even if you’re not a comedian. But, when you do add humor into your story, how do you know those little jokes and ironic scenes are actually funny?
This post talks about finding inspiration for humor, ways to convey humor in a story, and things to keep in mind to make sure your jokes don’t fall flat.
Draw from your own experience. As Will Rogers said, “Everything is funny when it happens to something else.” Your life may seem stressful or boring or unrelatable to you, but you may discover that some events can make great stories or subplots when exaggerated upon. It can be helpful to maintain a diary or journal and keep track of things that happen to you. When you look back on these later, you just might find something worth laughing about. And the best part is, nobody can say the story is unrealistic if it actually happened to you.
Read. Watch. Consume. As always, the best way to get inspiration is to see what others have done. Consume other forms of media, including books, movies, and TV shows, and see what makes you laugh. Were there any clichés or failures you want to make a point of avoiding?
Mediums for Humor
Irony. Not everything has to be a laugh-out-loud joke. Having a joke extend over a long period of time can create a more memorable comedic situation. Dramatic and situational irony, in which something unexpected happens, can make your readers crack a smile as they think about how the situation could be prevented.
Character dynamics. Don’t you just love characters that make you smile every time they interact? Banter, body language, and reactions from characters outside the relationship can make a book—no matter how dark—a fun and lively read. Of course, make sure their relationship is well-developed and their dynamic is natural.
Comic relief character. This is a really common cliché and easy way to get around writing natural humor. Basically, in a world and plot of darkness and danger, a single character always seems to make everything lighter. They crack jokes in the middle of battles and make the distant goal seem a whole lot closer. Olaf from Frozen is a good example of this. The problem with this cliché arises when you don’t develop this character well enough. It’s important to explain why a character cracks jokes so often and make sure they have a role in the story other than comic relief. A comic relief character works in many cases because not everyone has a strong sense of humor or the ability to randomly crack jokes. However, having a cast of characters that are each funny in their own way can change things up and make your story more unique.
Keep In Mind
Keep it natural. Don’t overdo humor. Readers will see right through unnatural jokes and after some time, repetitive humor and comedic situations will make it seem like you just wrote everything that came to mind. Also, think about who your characters are and where they grew up. Obviously, a medieval knight isn’t going to talk about modern pop culture. Similarly, an honest politician probably isn’t going to laugh about bribery. Make sure your characters match their jokes.
Save the best for the end. If a sentence contains a major joke, the funny part should be at the end. This gives your reader time to understand it. If a joke is in the middle of a sentence, your reader will no longer be as interested or appealed by it when they actually have a chance to breathe at the end of the sentence. Additionally, if your story has a somewhat recurrent comedic theme, you want to make sure the laughter doesn’t die out halfway through. Moderate your use of jokes and irony so you have enough to span the entire story. That is unless you want to depict a major shift of theme following a turning point, such as a death.
Ask someone else. What’s funny to you may not be funny to everyone else. Sometimes, a scene draws a laugh from us because of a personal experience few others can relate to. It’s important to ask friends, family members, or beta readers for their feedback on ironic scenes to make sure it doesn’t come off as cheesy or overdone. Also, remember that one person’s opinion isn’t law. If you disagree with someone’s feedback, ask someone else. Of course, if multiple people have the same opinion, you should probably reconsider.
Even though it seems to come naturally to some authors, it can be hard to successfully make your readers laugh (or even smile). It—like many parts of writing—takes grit and practice. Unfortunately, sometimes not as many smiles are involved in the creation of a scene as in the consumption, but it’s always worth it in the end.