There are three involuntary reactions all authors crave from readers. We want readers to laugh, cry, and stop reading when it gets dark. Of these three things, getting readers to laugh is one of the hardest. How can you make people laugh out loud as they read, or least chuckle as they turn the page? We can’t write your jokes for you, but here are a few ways to help them land on their feet.
Surprise Is Funny
The best jokes are the ones you don’t see coming. When you laugh at a stand-up comedian’s line or giggle at a movie scene, it’s typically because you weren’t expecting the punchline. Creating surprise in your novel’s humor relies a lot on writing style. Don’t telegraph your humor with obvious hints or clues ahead of time. Pay attention to exactly what you’re saying so you can preserve the surprise, that includes both dialogue and descriptive elements.
Write Characters with a Sense of Humor
Everything in your novel should come from your character’s point of view. If you want humor in your story, you really need a character who generates and/or appreciates funny things. Maybe your character is a prankster. Maybe they just know how to enjoy the moment or recognize a funny scenario when it strikes them. Even their thoughts, views, and reasonings may be amusing. Funny POV characters open many doors for comedic relief.
Draw Readers into Character Relationships
Even a basic knock-knock joke needs two people. The most memorable comedy often plays on your inter-character development. Rivals, friends, coworkers, and other characters with an established relationship make ideal comedy-fuel. Think of how much you laugh when you spend time with your buddies. The same principle applies to fiction.
Just look at The Office. Although individual characters are funny, we love to see them play against each other, and that’s where the show truly shines. Holmes’ and Watson’s interactions in Sherlock elevate the show from a run of the mill murder mystery to an intensely thrilling and often funny series.
Subverting expectations ties into comedic surprise. Think of it as a rollercoaster for your readers. Set them on a straight path, lead them to expect a certain kind of ride, then flip the track. Laughter is a very similar reaction to the surprised screams rollercoaster riders release, which is why every once in a while you’ll meet someone who laughs instead of screaming on rollercoasters.
Subvert expectations through more than just jokes in dialogue. This technique works exceptionally well for situational humor. The dwarf is better at romancing and distracting the guards than the bard. After a long set-up to prepare one character for an event, mistaken identity leads someone else to assume the role. Point out the confusion, the mortification, and the helplessness of your character in these unexpected circumstances.
Your humor may not make everyone laugh, but that’s okay. Start with conjuring a smile. With more practice, you’ll find the right timing for your unique writing style. How do you know it’s working, though? Give the scene to a beta reader and lurk around the corner.