10 Best Tips for Writing Humor
Today we're talking about the bane of every writer's existence, and that's humor! Humor can be one of those things that's difficult for people to discuss, because for a lot of people, it's unconscious. Humor comes naturally. For others, it's an enigma. They have no idea how to even approach humor because it escapes them.
That's where I come in! I'm breaking down my 10 tips for writing humor based on my own personal experience as well as reading and critiquing other people's work. I covered this topic a million years ago, but I think I only gave five tips then. So, you know, we're expanding.
Let’s talk about making people laugh!
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Number 1: Understand the Different Types of Humor
Physical humor is when a person's body is manipulated in order to make people laugh. This can include falling, tripping, or hurting themselves in some way.
Observational humor is humor based on the everyday aspects of life. It's finding humor in the ordinary and mundane.
Satire is a form of humor where vices and social elements are held up to criticism in a comedic manner. Shortcomings in people, government, corporations, and so on are ridiculed for the reader's pleasure.
Dark humor is exactly what it sounds like; it's humor based on the darker aspects of life, like death or torment.
I could go on. There are a million different types of humor and a million different styles of humor. While I don't expect you to be an expert on all of these kinds of humors, I do expect you to be familiar with them so you have an idea of what fits into your writing. For example, I write dark fantasy so dark humor segues into my work pretty nicely. Figure out the style of humor that works best for your genre and your voice, and see if you can make it happen.
Number 2: Don’t Copy
This is easily the biggest mistake I see among writers who are trying desperately to be funny–and I do mean desperately. They see something funny that someone else did and they try to replicate it. The thing is, first of all, everyone knows what you're doing because they already saw the original thing. Second, humor is one of those things that is best served authentically. It's not funny when the person delivering the joke doesn't even believe in themselves, and we know you don't believe in yourself because you didn't believe in yourself enough to create your own joke.
This is the case for so many aspects of writing. For example, I will see writers trying to duplicate the romantic climax of some other popular piece of fiction. “You had me at hello!” Gee, where have I heard that before?
Don't do this with humor. Yes, everything has been done before, so there may be some overlap. But tell the kind of jokes you want to tell, that are authentic to you and your story. Don't just replicate what someone else did just because it was effective for them.
Number 3: The Rule of Three
You can't really talk about writing comedy without mentioning the rule of three. The rule of three is something that a lot of writers do unconsciously, including myself. Once I learned about the rule of three, I realized I'd already been doing it for years and that's because it just makes sense.
The rule of three is essentially a list of three elements. The first two are logical and make sense, the last one is a curveball. The first two fit the pattern, the last one throws the reader for a loop. For example, “She was beautiful, statuesque, and a pain in the ass.” The first two traits are physical compliments, the last one is a curt insult.
Another example, “So why exactly are you here? Work, pleasure, or just to be a dick?”
The rule of three is a very subtle kind of humor. It's rarely going to create a laugh out loud moment, but that's not the goal. The intention is to throw readers off and keep them on their toes, which is exactly what humor does.
Number 4: Just ‘Cause Your Characters Think It’s Funny…
Just because the characters are laughing doesn't mean readers are. A lot of writers, particularly newbies, believe that if their characters are laughing about something that readers are somehow in on the joke. Sometimes this is the case, other times not so much.
Remember, the world you're writing may have its own unique customs or social expectations. Something outlandish in that world may be kinda meaningless in our world. I once read a scene where two characters had a miscommunication; one was talking about magic, but the way they worded it made the other character think they were talking about boners. Boners are funny and writers tend to assume that if you make a boner joke, you're gonna make readers laugh. But the wording was awkward and chaste, and even though the characters were laughing, I was cringing. It wasn't funny, it was embarrassing.
All that to say, you can't rely on your characters laughing to make your readers laugh. I know you wish you could magically conjure up humor, but that ain't how it works!
Number 5: Hyperbole is Your Friend
Exaggeration goes a long way when you want to make readers chuckle. What's great about hyperbole is not only will it make your readers laugh, but it also provides personality, which is exactly what humor is supposed to do.
Say, for example, your character is stuck with someone who is super talkative and super boring. Instead of simply saying, “He was boring,” you could use hyperbole to your advantage and say, “He spoke for the next 5,000 years.” It's cute and silly. It conveys the boredom your character is feeling while also making your reader crack a smile.
It's also easy to make hyperbole crass and audacious, which goes a long way in adding to humor. For example, “His cock was roughly a bajillion miles long.” This is unexpected. It creates a funny image in your reader's mind and it's a really simple way to make ‘em laugh.
Number 6: Cliches are Also Your Friend
People talk a lot of shit about cliches, but they absolutely have their place, especially when it comes to humor. Cliches are perfect for humor because cliches are funny! They've been overdone to the point where you can't take ‘em seriously, and what's the opposite of seriousness? Comedy.
So take a cliche–for example, the damsel in distress–and dig into it with full force. Really milk it for all it's worth. Make her as damsel-y and distressed as possible! There should be a fainting couch in every scene waiting for her. She shouldn't be able to make a single decision on her own, and she should state that explicitly. Self-aware cliches are funny! It lets the reader know that everyone is in on the joke.
Number 7: Comparison
“BLANK was like a BLANK.” That's it. That's the formula for creating a funny comparison. It's essentially a metaphor for comedic effect and it works even better if you compare two things that seem to have nothing in common or are complete opposites.
“His kiss was like a starved coyote gnawing at a carcass.”
In The Savior's Sister, I say Tobias and Leila are as subtle as two cocks flopping about the room. In my current work in progress, The Savior's Army, I describe men having sex as pigs grunting in the mud. Wanna know the lines every single beta reader has laughed at? Take a guess! Comparison may seem simple, but it's very effective.
Number 8: Get to the Point
If it takes you paragraphs upon paragraphs to tell a joke, it's not fuckin’ funny! This is one of the biggest mistakes I see. Newbie writers will write their joke, ask if it's funny, and it's a page long! No one's gonna read that shit, bitch!
Humor relies on quickness and sharpness. It relies on catching the reader's attention, and that is even truer when it comes to books. You may see stand-up comedy where a joke is the equivalent of several paragraphs, but comedians have other assets at their disposal like visuals, facial expressions, and tone of voice. We only got words, so we gotta make ‘em count!
From my experience, the funniest lines are usually one line. Sure, you can write ‘em longer than that, but if you're going over five lines, you're pushing it. It ain't funny anymore!
From my experience, the funniest lines are usually one line.
Number 9: Find the Right Places
This is an issue that shouldn't be an issue, but alas...it's an issue. It's not funny if you're putting the funny in places that are not funny. If you're writing a scene with the intention of making it completely serious and you interrupt it with a joke, it's not gonna land.
That's not to say serious moments can't have humor. There's humor in sadness. There's humor in anger. There's humor in sex! I mean, genitals are involved, and genitals are extremely hilarious. But there's a difference between a serious situation and a serious intention. You can write a scene that revolves around a serious situation, but still has light-hearted moments. It's also hilarious to write a scene that comes off as very serious, but then the tension is broken with a joke, or a fart.
But if your intention is for the scene to be taken gravely seriously–if you're talking about something that is under NO situation funny, like child abuse–this is not the time to crack a joke! Read the room and add the funnies where they make sense.
Number 10: What the Fuck do YOU Find Funny?
This is the most obvious tip on the list, but I saved it for last because it's the one most writers overlook. When I used to critique manuscripts and I'd read jokes that didn't quite land, I'd ask the writer, “Is this funny to you?” And they'd say, “Well, no, but I've seen stuff like this in books.” Bitch, if it's not funny to you, how do you expect it to be funny to somebody else?
Even if it's a brand of humor that other people enjoy but you don't, how do you expect to execute it well if you don't like it yourself? Humor is subjective like all facets of writing, and if you're going to include it in your work, maybe include the kind of stuff that appeals to you. For starters, it'll be a lot easier to write. It'll also be a lot easier to tell if it's actually funny, because if you're laughing, that's probably a good sign. I include a lot of sexual humor in my writing because I think genitals are funny and allosexuals are strange.
And lastly, you'll know if there's an audience for it because you like it. Stop trying to emulate what other people are doing and reading too far into something that's supposed to be authentic and natural. Humor is about connection; you shouldn't have to abandon your sense of self to make it work.
So that's all I've got for you today!
If you’ve been looking for ways to write humor in your current work in progress, hopefully these tips have shined a little light on the subject! Remember, humor is supposed to flow. Don’t force it and remember to trust your gut. If you find something funny, it’s very likely your readers will find it funny, as well.
What’s one joke that you’ve read that has stuck with you over time? I can think of way too many! Let me know yours in the comments below!
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