Q&A

How Do I Add Humor to My Writing?

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Hi Mythcreants,

I was wondering how to make sure you convey humor efficiently in a writing medium like novels?

I know how it is done in comics and animation/movies, but even after reading many books with funny parts, I have a hard time finding a way to put humor in my writing without it looking… kinda bland. Like words struggle to convey fun (or at least the “witty” ones…).

Are there guidelines to make sure your jokes are well communicated?

Thanks in advance.

-Thomas

Hi Thomas,

That’s an interesting question. I think narrated works tend to rely more on witty remarks in the dialogue or narration, whereas it’s probably more common in visual storytelling to have things happen that are funny – using visual reveals to show when characters are wrong, etc. And because novels are so long, I think they are less likely to lean on humor to make the plot reveals worthwhile. Things just don’t remain super funny for the entire length of a novel, so it makes more sense to have a meaningful reveal with humor as icing on top.

However, the banter you see in many visual works should work for novels. For instance, the humor Joss Whedon is known for is compatible with novels. I have an article listing ten of these types of jokes.

There’s no secret recipe to being witty. If you’re used to non-narrated mediums, perhaps you simply need more practice with narrating body language and expressive dialogue. Regardless of how funny the joke is, it will be harder for you to pull it off if you’re still learning how to narrate social interactions. If you’re used to relying on visuals to convey emotion, it may take time to adjust. You also might consider whether your characters make it easy to poke fun. Generally, that means they have really distinct personalities that you can exaggerate a bit or make fun of. Giving them some level of chemistry – often a little disagreement or tension – can also make it easier to create fun interactions.

Otherwise, you could go the route of Terry Pratchett or Douglass Adams and try omniscient narration, so your narrator is making fun of the characters and events of the story. That’s probably harder, however.

Generally, when I’m writing humor into a story, I aim to rely on the humor not working. That means making sure all the witty lines also have a storytelling purpose and aren’t just there as jokes. If you do that, then it’s okay if it doesn’t come off as funny as you were hoping. You can keep practicing without worrying about getting it wrong.

Best wishes,

Chris

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Comments

  1. Dave L

    I would suggest that you don’t “add” humor

    Set up the situations, characters, etc., so that humor comes naturally

    Han Solo was a cynical pilot who thought he’d seen everything, but now he had to deal w/ Jedi. He was falling for Leia, but at first wouldn’t admit it. Chewbacca and he were comfortable enough to tease each other

    C-3PO was completely out of his depth, scared, and blamed himself when things when wrong. He was friends w/ R2D2, but they were completely different personalities

    When you try to “add” humor, you get Jar-Jar Binks

    Casablanca is a great example of serious drama w/ touches of humor:
    “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!”
    “Your winnings, sir.”

    Also, visual humor, slapstick, etc. rarely-to-never work in prose

    Keep in mind that if the joke itself is not funny, no amount of expressiveness will make it funny. Also remember the difference between relieving tension w/ humor and devolving into silliness

    • Cay Reet

      I agree.

      Situational humour can happen just as easily in a written story, but slapstick and visual humour only work in visual media.

      You can get a lot of funny situations out of a story (provided it’s not too grimdark) and there’s a lot you can do in your writing to make your audience smile or chuckle or laugh as they read.

  2. ben_

    Thanks for bringing this up. After listening to the First Law (and subsequent Novels) for the third time, I realised that the way Joe Abercrombie give humor to his characters is key to the attraction of his writing, at least for me. And I still wonder how he did it …

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