Writing Humor: Part Two

Writing Humor: Part Two

Kathryn Helstrom

In Part 1, we talked about why humor in your writing is important and a little bit of how to incorporate it into your story. Let’s dig a little deeper.

When you are writing, you should have already identified your audience. It is important to know what works for your readers. A funny line to an elderly gentleman might not be funny to a ninth-grader. Keep this in mind when you are crafting the scene or dialog. Check out the social media of your audience and
find out what memes and videos are getting the laughing emoji. Ask your critique partners (if they are of the same demographic as your intended readers) if they think it is amusing.

Witty dialog is a good vehicle for introducing humor into the story. Cops use some dark, even morbid, humor in their daily lives to compensate for the awful things they have to witness and endure. Romantic banter can illustrate the styles of humor of the two characters; it can also be a source of conflict if one says something in jest and the other takes it as an insult. Or, in any dialog, a joke may unintentionally trigger a deep emotional hurt. This works when one character purposely wants to hurt or provoke
someone—others may think it’s funny, but the perpetrator knows exactly how this humiliates or taunts
their intended victim.

Running gags, mentioned in Part One, add a light tone. There are some obvious examples: in Star Wars, “I have a bad feeling about this,” in The Dark Knight trilogy, “It comes in black,” and in The Blues Brothers, “We’re on a mission from God!” These repeating statements add little weights to your story, anchoring them to previous scenes. However, you don’t want to overdo them. Three is enough.

Speaking of threes, the Rule of Three is the pattern for a joke: normal item, normal item, punchline. Or, three things that get ridiculously more outrageous as they progress. For example, from “President of the Galactic Republic” to “2-term Congressperson” to “night janitor at the local high school.” Note that it progresses from important to insignificant. You can do the opposite as well, going from small to large. These are only a couple of the many ways to use the Rule of Three in humor. Check out some websites
and articles that give instructions on how to use this time-honored system and add this to your humor

As in stand-up comedy, timing is everything. Think through the details carefully. A well-placed joke can relieve tension when needed, but an ill-timed one can deflate the whole scene. Let your readers in on the joke, but don’t make them the butt of it.

You can layer in the humor. Introduce a small, seemingly unrelated detail, and use it for humor later. Just don’t do it 15 chapters later. Your readers have probably forgotten about it by then. Make the joke meaningful if possible. Each of the running gag examples above contributes to the theme of the story.
And don’t forget body language. The actions or reactions of your characters can be the funny part altogether. Or, their individual reactions to a humorous situation can show the depth of the different personalities.

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