Very few stories, articles, and books aim to make people do nothing but laugh. That takes enormous talent and decades of practice (usually on unfortunate relatives). Just about every novel needs a pinch of humor, though. It’s a natural part of life, and taking yourself too seriously usually ends up in unintentional giggles. So, how do you add humor, where do you put it, and what does it look like?
Humor in Plotting
You don’t always need to crack a joke or sneak in an aside to make your reader smile. When you add humor to your plot, you can reverse humor’s usual role (cutting tension). Make it awkward. Inspire a face-palm. Keep it relevant.
This is also a marvelous way to subvert readers’ expectations. For example, if you’re writing a story with a hint of romance buried under false identities that get ripped away at the start of the second act, resist the urge for melodrama. Realistically, there’s a desperate humor to uncomfortable social situations, and since your audience is technically a third party to the unfolding mess, it’s easier for them to laugh at it all.
Feel free to use a little (keyword LITTLE) slapstick. Someone spills a drink, and then makes eye contact. Oh, no. It’s that woman from the bookstore who said she was a librarian. Why is she at this party? Why does her nametag have someone else’s name? Put yourself in the characters’ shoes and imagine how you’d stumble over your answers, look for escapes, and confirm the truth in every inconvenient way possible.
Humor Through Your Character’s Narration
Adding a touch of humor to your character’s internal dialogue is one of the easiest and most effective ways to introduce humor. This only works in certain styles, and the deeper readers live in your character’s head, the more authentic these tricks will feel.
A funny character is always a treat to write, and it’s easy to find new inspiration for their snark, sass, and off-kilter perspectives. You can use techniques bloggers, journalists, and autobiographers employ. Asides (secret little messages in parentheses like these that almost break the fourth wall) are a treat. Though they should usually be shorter than that example.
Let your character’s thoughts take center stage. Do they ramble? Do they twist similes? Does their mental canter trot, jerk to a stop, pause for a question, and then head somewhere else? These all make great, organic humor that blends into rather than standing out from your story.
Limited Third Person Tricks
Limited third has been king of novel perspectives for a long, long time. It lets readers get a feel for the primary characters thoughts without restricting them to a single view. The character’s perceptions flavor the narrative instead of controlling it, so some of the tricks that work so well in first person just don’t belong here.
That said, you can embrace the eccentricities of language to tickle the funny bone without going overboard. Use old, big, silly works. “The bustling ballroom devolved into bedlam” sounds more amusing than “The loud party got a little crazy.” Funnily enough, this trick is why so many experts suggest new writers steer clear of the thesaurus, because using big words for the sake of using big words make you sound like an enormous newb.
Find the funny little things in your life. Bring a dash of self-deprecating wit to your prose, and embrace the awkward moments. What is your favorite trick for adding humor to your stories?