Every story can benefit from some type of humour. Humour engages your readers, makes characters relatable, and imitates real life. It draws in the audience and creates emotional connections to the story. Studying what makes you laugh and inserting a little of that in to your writing will create a well-rounded and more believable characters and story.
But I’m Not Funny
What makes something funny? Not everyone agrees what funny is, but everyone enjoys a good laugh. Everyone has the potential to be funny and we all have funny moments in our lives to draw on. You don’t have to be a stand-up comedian to insert humour in your writing. You don’t even have to write comedies. If you think something is funny, someone, somewhere will think it’s funny too.
TIP: Don’t try to make your reader laugh. Make yourself laugh.
Study things you think are funny. Look at movies, TV shows, books, comics, YouTube videos, reels, and plays, or whatever tickles your funny bone. Make notes. Why is it funny to you? Ask yourself:
- What does this resonate with you?
- What is unique about the delivery?
- How can you use that same formula in your own writing?
Ways to Incorporate Humour in your Writing
- Stretch Reality: Take a situation or dialogue and make it so unrealistic it is absurd. Use hyperboles and extremes.
- Surprise: Catch the reader off guard with a surprising or illogical situation. Create a scenario where the reader doesn’t know what will come next (Monty Python is excellent at this). Another use of surprise is the rule of three. Make a list of three items. The first two are normal examples, the last one a surprise. For example, from The Dick Van Dyke Show, “Can I get you anything? Cup of coffee? Doughnut? Toupee?”
- Word Choice: Use alliterations (like tongue twisters), puns, or metaphors. Percussive consonants have proven to be funnier than other sounds, especially the letters K and G. Some words just sound funnier than others.
- Clichés and Tropes: Use an old cliché or trope but put a twist on it or exaggerate it. Make it obvious you know it’s a cliché and is poking fun. You can also poke fun at genres. To do this, you must first understand and love the genre and still treat it with respect while pointing out the silliness. Have the reader laugh with you, not hate you for making fun of their favourite genre.
- Dialogue: How a character speaks can bring humour to your manuscript. Accents, jokes, wit, sarcasm, wrong or misunderstood word or phrase choice, speech patterns can all be used comically. Humorous dialogue can also reveal character dynamics, change pace, and relieve tension. Funny dialogue can even sometimes heighten tension, especially if only one character is laughing.
Genre and Audience
Keep in mind your genre and intended audience. What is the age range of your reader? Will the joke go over the audience’s head? For example, a joke with a pop culture reference to the 80’s will not work in a children’s book.
Does the joke fit within the style and tone your reader is expecting? In a murder mystery or suspense book, it may not be the right moment for a joke when the villain is committing murder. But then, if that is your intent to make light of the genre, go ahead and make a slasher joke.
Let the Reader In On the Joke
Don’t joke at the reader’s expense. Instead, direct jokes towards characters. Create funny situations or have characters poke fun at themselves. A great way to introduce humour is to have a character self-analyze and then self-deprecate. Allow the character to notice how silly their foibles and imperfections are.
Editing the Humour In Your Writing
Have fun. Don’t be afraid to embrace the silly or absurd. Make the joke or situation as outrageous as you can think of and push the boundaries. Then, when editing if it is too much, tone it back. Often, when pushing a joke too far, you notice where the sweet spot is and what will bring out the laugh. Keep the sweet spot, remove the extraneous.
After reading your joke, or funny situation several times, and/or editing, it may not seem as funny to you anymore. Step away and come back to it later. Try to remember your initial response to the joke. Does it still make you laugh? Ask someone else to read it and notice their response.
If a joke isn’t working for you or goes against what your character would say or do, cut it.
Above all, write what is funny to you. A little humour in your story will go a long way.