There are so many facets to creating great fiction. Here’s one that a lot of people don’t think of often when they’re plotting out their masterpieces, but if you stop and think about some of your favorite reading, it probably has humorous elements.
Of course, there’s comedy writing itself, but humor can make romance more fun or adventure more delightful. And even in a horror story, a little counterpoint of humor can make it more horrifying in contrast. Suspense can be that much more suspenseful in the midst of laughter. Even a clown can be terrifying, and that’s before Stephen King slaps us in the psyche with one.
So here’s a little perspective on that by funny bone tickler Dan Brotzel, who I ran across on Writer’s Digest as I was blithely skittering around the internet in search of wisdom. This suffices.
Peruse and use as you’re slaving away over a hot keyboard, and spice up your literary mélange with a little levity…it might be just what your manuscript needs to become that masterpiece.
15 Ways to Write Funnier Fiction
MAY 27, 2019
Short story writer and novelist Dan Brotzel dishes out 15 tips on how to use humor in fiction writing.
It’s amazing how often you hear aspiring writers say: ‘I can’t write humor. I’m not funny.’ While it’s undoubtedly true that some people come across as naturally funnier than others—though often this may be the product of unseen hard work as much as raw talent—I believe that everyone has the potential to be funny. After all, if you can laugh, you have a sense of humor.
The subject of how to find the funny in your writing is one I think about all the time. I’ve spent the last 25 years writing a variety of comic material designed to tickle people’s funny bones—sketches for BBC radio, humorous columns for magazines and newsletters, short stories, and now a comic novel. I was even Asda Christmas cracker joke-writing champion in 2004, a UK prize that’s roughly the equivalent of a comedy Pulitzer*, so I couldn’t really be more qualified.
If you’re interested in getting more humor into your fiction, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way…
Think of comedy as an ingredient, not a genre.
Try not to think of comedy as a genre in its own right that you have to write in all the time. When you think about it, comedy can be found in all sorts of stories and genres. Horror and sci-fi novels can have their funny moments, as can YA, romance, and literary fiction.
So think of humor as one of the tools in your writing toolkit, like tension or strong characterization or voice. It doesn’t have to color everything you do in the way that a true genre does, but it’s a great thing to pull out when the occasion demands.
Think of comedy as a craft, not an inspired gift.
Let go, too, of the idea of funny writers as people who have amazing flights of imagination and deliver great comic revelations from a perspective that you could never possibly emulate. Of course you need ideas and inspiration, but as we’ll see, writing comedy is as much about craft: selecting the right word, paying attention to rhythm and pace, replacing an obvious element of a story with a surprising one.
People who seem to be naturally funny are often actually people who spend their spare time quietly practicing routines and crafting material to themselves. No wonder it sounds so polished when you hear it …
Make yourself laugh first.
As a novelist, you have so many routes to humor. You can create characters with funny traits. You can set up situations that are funny because they’re so unbelievable (farce) or, on the other hand, make us laugh because they’re excruciatingly close to home. You can describe things in funny ways. (“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t”—Douglas Adams.) You can use humor as a satirical tool to make powerful points about politics and society.
Whatever route you choose, your attempts at being funny will have more chance of succeeding if they flow from own your own sense of humor. If you don’t make yourself laugh, how can you expect anyone else to find you funny?
Don’t see your fiction as a comedy routine.
What you don’t need to do is act like a stand-up. You don’t need to introduce a crashing boom-boom punchline every paragraph. Humor in fiction is more subtle than that. It arises from character and plot, from an interesting authorial voice, from a unique way of looking at the world.
So there’s no need to go for big belly laughs—aim to make your reader smile instead. Gags are crude, throwaway things; humor in fiction is slower-burning but packs more emotional power. As the comic novelist Muriel Spark once said: “I have a great desire to make people smile—not laugh, but smile. Laughter is too aggressive.”