Ten Tips on How to be a Funny Writer
Do you want to be a funny writer? Here are ten tips to improve your humorous writing.
We All Want to be Funny
Being funny requires wit and confidence. The class clown always gets the most attention. Having a good sense of humor is usually considered attractive. Humorous writing can draw your readers into your story like nothing else. The nice thing about writing is that we do not have to come up with witty one-liners on the fly.
Why Your Book Should be Funny
Think Pride and Prejudice. At its heart Pride and Prejudice is a romance that is characterized by its witty and often humorous writing style. When the sparks between Darcy and Elizabeth fly, they fly because Jane Austin carefully crafted each line of dialogue as witty, ironic, sarcastic, or generally situationally hilarious. Pride and Prejudice is a cult classic not because it is a story focused on humor, but because humor and wit add so much to the story.
Humor can also make your characters feel more real. Most of the humor in fiction will come through the guise of an especially funny character. Most stories have a comical relief character for a reason.
Humor can also give your readers a breath of fresh air if your book deals with heavy topics.
How To Write Humor
Just because humor is necessary to a story doesn’t make it easy to write. Humorous writing is difficult and depends on the author and the situation.
When you compare humor in fiction to humor in real life there are some things to consider. Humor hinges on its audience. The reaction elevates or denigrates the actual humor that is put forward. Humor is subjective and sometimes a joke can land flat or not resonate with the audience.
In fiction, you control the audience. You control the reaction. Use this control over the characters and fictional world to influence your reader. How will your reader react?
Ten Tips to Make Your Reader Laugh
Here are ten tips on how to write hilarious dialogue, characters, or situations.
- Set up the joke properly. If readers do not understand why the characters are laughing the author is simply telling a joke to herself.
- Make use of irony. Irony is a wonderful tool that can add humor to a story. The possibilities are endless.
- Dramatic irony is when the reader knows something the characters don’t. Remember The Truman Show? That is a perfect example.
- Situational irony is when an outcome is unexpected. For example, when it is revealed that the wizard in Oz is an ordinary man.
- Verbal irony is when a character says something they don’t mean. A little-known equivalent is called sarcasm.
- Know your characters. What will your characters find funny? Why is this funny? Often humorous dialogue and situations stem from strong characters. Sometimes blunt characters can be the ones who say the quiet part out loud and be unintentionally hilarious in the process. Often children take on this role. With no filters or awareness, children can be honest and observational about facts that the rest of the characters would rather not talk about.
- Be mindful of the location and of your audience. Different locations will have an influence on one’s sense of humor. This applies to not only your characters but your readers. For example, two characters, one from South Carolina and one from New York could exchange friendly jabs at the other’s accent. For the audience, a humorous political comment could appeal to a reader in Texas but not in California.
- Know your era. Some kinds of humor are timeless. Others are based around political or historical situations. I see some serious potential for a humorous story centered around The Boston Tea Party and the tea they threw in the harbor. Humor will vary based upon the time your story is set in. Researching will give you some good ideas about what the people in that time period would find humorous.
- Be aware of tonal shifts. If the situation is dire, perhaps your characters are facing death, a deliberately placed joke could help break the tension and give the characters (and by extension the readers) a brief sense of respite. However, if a joke is ill timed or ill worded it may seem like poor writing. It could undermine the tension or worse, break the reader’s suspension of disbelief. The goal to make the characters seem like they are making the best of a dark situation.
- Be organic. Humor is completely subjective to the situation. In real life, a witty comment is a spur of the moment remark. The trick with writing is to make something you slaved over feel like a throw away bit of dialogue. Humor and dialogue should imitate real life.
- Don’t pressure yourself. Humor (like writing) is subjective. What is funny to one person might be uninteresting to another. The goal of a humorous line is not to make everyone laugh. It is to make some people laugh. As long as you find it funny, there are bound to be readers that share your sense of humor.
- Error on the side of caution. Humor can often be taken the wrong way. The last thing the author wants to do is insert a joke about a sensitive topic and chase away their reader[SN1] . Comedy is often said to have no limits, but as Christians and good writers we should be aware that comedy in general should be subject to our morality. Jokes that stray into the inappropriate degrade the integrity of that character. Jokes that are demeaning and insulting will often leave the reader feeling bullied along with the characters. Humor is a powerful tool that should be used responsibly.
- Keep it simple. The final key to humorous writing is simplicity. If you have to explain the punch line, it is no longer a joke. Overanalyzing or explanation of a joke is likely to kill the humor. If a joke won’t land without explanation, consider ways to simplify it. Alternatively, low stakes humor rarely fails. For example, someone tripping with bad timing is always funny. Once I saw my cat run past me and smack into a wall. This was hilarious though admittedly low brow humor. Much successful humor lies in simplicity for within simplicity is relatability and understanding.
Being successful in humorous writing is so much more then inserting a knock-knock joke. It requires an intricate understanding of your setting and characters. Some people are naturally funny. Others take seminars on the topic. No matter what category you belong to, everyone could use a little more practice at this thing called humor.
About the Author
Rebecca Lawrence is an English student currently completing an internship with Christian Indie Publishing Association and plans to pursue a career as a literary agent after she graduates in December.