humor / writers tips

4 Tips for Writing Humor

humor

Credit: Inky Girl (click for attribution)

I really struggled with this title. The post isn’t about writing comedy. That’s a useful genre, but one not particularly suited to novels. I think of comedy writers as working for the Letterman Show or a politician as a speech writer. Maybe a motivational speaker’s assistant.

You think those are odd choices? Not really. Humor makes people stop and pay attention. We always want to feel better about our world, our circumstances, ourselves, and humor does that. It can be outright jokes like these from my efriend Elizabeth over at Mirth and Motivation:

One day a Pastor and a Brother took a visitor fishing by boat. Once in the middle of the lake, the Pastor said, “I seem to have forgotten my fishing pole, be right back,” and to the visitor’s amazement, he stepped out of the boat and walked on top of the water towards the shore. When he returned, the Brother said, “I need to use the restroom, be right back!” Again, the visitor watched in amazement. Once the Brother returned, not wanting to be outdone, the visitor said “I need to use the restroom too.” As soon as he stepped out of the boat, he sank. The Pastor nudged the Brother and said “We should have told him where the rocks were.”

…or funny phrases thrown into the mix of life:

  • as slow as a tortoise on Valium
  • more characters than the Chinese alphabet
  • last thing I read was a utility bill
  • talking to her was like bringing home a carney
  • difference between ‘involvement’ and ‘commitment’ is like an eggs-and-ham breakfast: the chicken was ‘involved’ – the pig was ‘committed’

It helps us accept truths that we otherwise might reject:

  • his imitation of someone being reasonable
  • patience and I aren’t normally on speaking terms
  • common sense isn’t common
  • my real prospects were slim, none, and you’re kidding

It diffuses tense situations:

  • Those days I only knew six words if you count m***** f***** as two
  • I thought about saying, I shall return’, and decided it had been used before so settled for walking out without a word and not closing the door
  • maybe I should get an unlisted address

In short, as a writer, it keeps your readers entertained, turning pages, and in love with your characters (who doesn’t like the guy with the clever cracks). Here are a four hints from Writer’s Digest that resonated with me:

  • words with K and G are the funniest. Who knew? Odd though it may sound, start using names like Kristy and George, doing stuff that starts with K and G (klutzy, gyroscoping, conversational cul-de-sac)
  • establish a pattern and misdirect readers with the last one:

I wish you happiness, wealth, and that you can get the lid off the mayo jar the next time you make a sandwich.

  • comparisons:
    • like saying Noah was a shipbuilder
    • like the difference between being thrown from the 15th and 16th floor–they both kill you
    • as stupid as a chocolate teapot
  • reworking an old cliche–start with the standard, but change the ending

A bird in hand is in danger of being crushed

You might have nine lives, but you’ve been going through them like a chain smoker

What are your tips for writing humor? Do you think it’s important in novels? Do you like stories better that include a light side?

More on humor:

Humorous and Inspiration Quotes–Part II

Inspirational and Humorous Quotes–Part I

How to be Funny if You’re Not–II

How to be Funny if You’re Not–Part I

PS–I had to throw in this video. Y’all know the Periodic Table? That’s for science scholars, right? Who would be able to–much less want to–remember every element it contained? These geeky guys. They even wrote a song about it:


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a weekly columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blog, IMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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20 thoughts on “4 Tips for Writing Humor

  1. Thanks Jacqui. Helpful for my kind of writing. Would never have guessed the K and G part.
    I’ve always felt that management, behaviour and other improvement suggestions given straight are an insult to the recipient’s intelligence. The message needs to be given obliquely for the recipient to feel the impact and work out the right choice himself. This is where I think satire works best.

  2. Humor, when used sparingly and naturally, can add a bit of zing to any story. But, it has to be natural or it falls flat. I use a bit of humor, usually some quip from one of the characters, in my mystery series, sometimes to break the tension, and sometimes to get a point across.

    • See, I think that puts the reader in a good mood as they read the story, encourages them to keep turning pages. I have to work at it, but it gets easier with practice.

  3. I would love to write humour, but every time i try it ends up being very dark. I think the only time humour would work for me is if I tried to write sex scenes in one of my novels ;)

  4. Love the article. So many terrific tips and reminders. I’ve always felt that humor, when effective in my writing, should be used as an enhancing embelishment. A bit like whipped cream on berries or sauce drizzled over a roast. The main ingredient must be worthy and substantial, because no amount of fancy frosting can fix a stodgy batter.

    • I agree with you. Nelson DeMille’s John Corey character has a biting wit, but almost too much. Every interchange includes humor of some sort–satire often.

      Not that I didn’t read every book he published.

  5. Im a big fan of humour in books yet find it one of the hardest things to convey in a natural way, where it does not seem forced it is a gift if you can do it. Terry Pratchett is the master.

    • I haven’t read Pratchett. Sci fi? I think his last book met with mixed reviews. I agree–very difficult to sound natural doing it. I love it when it falls into place.

  6. Very interesting indeed. I’ve never tried writing humour – but this was interesting to see it dissected like that.

    • Dissecting stuff is what I do–can’t stop myself. Truth, humor is better off-the-cuff, which explains why it’s not one of my strengths, like sleeping… or dog-walking.

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  8. Does humor matter in writing? If you want to get ahead in life you can be good looking, you can be smart, or you can be funny. Good looks don’t transcribe themselves well, and you’re either going to be smarter or dumber than your readers, which is a loss either way. . . so you better damned well be funny.

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