How to Add Humor to Writing When You’re Not Funny 

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Humor in writing can be difficult because when it’s done wrong, it’s cringe-inducing. So, how can you learn to add humor to your writing? Bringing true comedy to your writing takes practice and skill. This post will not help you attain that skill. It will teach you how to paint rhinos. 

The First Rule to Follow if You Want To Fail at Being Funny:
Go with the expected.

When I wrote my first main character, I made her a stay-at-home mom who was new to the area. I read it to my husband and he shrugged and said, meh. My response, I know, right? My main character was boring, pedestrian, and mundane–i.e. expected.

Something needed to change, so I decided to turn up the absurdity factor to eleven. My main character became a disheveled, funeral director mother who was a functioning alcoholic. Instantly, she was more interesting because she was flawed and ridiculous. Absurdity is everything.

Look at Facebook. Everyone is showing the highlight reel of their life. This is what we expect. You don’t laugh at that, it’s far from absurd. But the second you see a cat fail video, you can’t help but smile. You laugh at the failure because it’s closer to reality and not what’s expected. Think about it, there’s a reason why Netflix’s Nailed It! is such a hit–most of us suck at baking.

The Second Rule to Follow if You Want To Fail at Being Funny:
Use inside jokes in your novel. 

Inside jokes are only funny to insiders. If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you want your writing to be read by outsiders. Inside jokes need to stay indoors and out of your writing. If you and your best friend had some experience that you thought was absolutely hilarious, chances are that story is now an expiring location joke–only funny at the time and place that it happened.

But I could be wrong. The only that way you’ll prove me wrong is to practice telling that hilarious story to others. If with little effort, they see the humor in your story, go with it. However, if you have to over-explain the background, it’s not funny. Therefore, leave it out of your novel. Which brings me to …

The Third Rule to Follow if You Want To Fail at Being Funny:
Over-explain your joke.

In my life, there are older people that I call at regular intervals. All I can say is this, there aren’t many times in my life that I wish for spontaneous combustion. However, when I have to listen to certain individuals tell me every ingredient and every detail about the last three meals they had, bursting into flames becomes a highly desirable notion. 

In short, overexplaining things will kill anyone’s mood. So please, don’t do it. 

The Fourth Rule to Follow if You Want To Fail at Being Funny:
Ignore everyone around you and write in a vacuum.

Humor is all around us. If you want to succeed in being funny, study it. At age eleven, I struggled with talking to other kids my age and felt excluded a lot. After careful observations of the world around me, I noticed that humorous individuals found themselves surrounded by other people, which is what I wanted. 

Here’s where I show my age … my parents had recorded Saturday Night Live on VHS. Robin Williams and Paul Simon hosted and I watched it until the tape wore out, memorizing every line that I found funny. Soon, I was repeating the skits, acting them out in front of family and friends. To my great surprise, they fell over laughing. I knew I was on to something. Fascinated by my newfound ability, I took note of timing and pace to ensure the best delivery and subsequent laugh. 

My point is this, pay attention to what makes people laugh and use it in your writing. Watch people’s faces when you read your work out loud. If the joke fails, tweak it. Don’t give up. 

Did you know that Elizabeth Strout studied stand-up to help her writing? She felt that stand-up would help unlock what was holding her back from telling truths. So maybe there’s something more to this funny business than we see on the surface …

In conclusion, now that you can successfully paint a rhino, read more on comedic writing right here on Inkitt.  

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


About Author

Heather Rigney is a fiction writer, blogger, journalist, and art teacher based in Rhode Island. Author of The Merrow Trilogy--a dark, historical fantasy novel that deals with homicidal mermaids, the colonial suppression of women, and a present-day alcoholic funeral director trying to make sense of it all. Her writing has been featured in Motif Magazine and Stone Crowns Magazine. By day she teaches art at an all-girls Quaker school and at night she tries to be creative while avoiding too many sweets. You can read more about Ms. Rigney on her website:

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