That’s Funny! Writing Humor That’s No Joke

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Humor is a delicate art that won’t land if it’s too forced. Instead, think about what you personally find funny in a given book. Are you a sucker for badly timed face-plants in front of the main character’s crush? Or are you a card-holding member of the clever double-entendre joke club? As always, these answers will (and should) vary. But knowing what you like in a book involving a humorous tone is a useful place to start. 

In my latest book, I tapped into a variety of exaggerated versions of real people that I knew. The result is a story populated by different larger-than-life personas that are too hilariously weird not to laugh at. The book itself, though, isn’t marketed as a humorous novel at all. It’s actually a time-travel coming-of-age novel with a heavy dose of diary-entry realizations. But the humorous elements add a lot of added layers that make even the heavier moments tasteful and balanced. Even if you don’t particularly like writing humor, I would highly recommend the following points to help you. Readers love the ebbs and flows of the ups, and the downs – and adding humorous tones and moments is a great way to accommodate that trend. To check out the book I’ve mentioned, you can find it HERE.

Evaluate character personalities.

Know your characters well enough to know how much you can shift and morph their personalities. Maybe your tough-as-nails biker character has a soft spot for anything involving My Little Pony. Or maybe your stodgy stuck-up neighbor-next-door character secretly has a weakness for heavy metal music. There is comic gold in opposites, and capitalizing on quirks like these adds plenty of opportunities to develop humorous conversations and events.

If it can go wrong, the joke will (and should) go wrong.

This is a great place to input your klutz moments. Spilled food in unfortunate places, mortifying injuries, and romantic gestures gone wonky are only a few of my favorites. And most importantly, how your characters react to their misfortune will reveal a lot about who they are. Do they stomp off in a hissy fit, or laugh at themselves along with everyone else?

Cater to the sense of humor most loved by your target demographic.

This tip is simple, but crucial. And what I mean by this is, save the innuendos for your young adult crowd and up (in varying degrees, of course). Middle-grade readers will relate much more to a childish bathroom joke and slapstick-characters who are fearlessly themselves. Of course, it’s always a good idea to use surveys to get a better idea of what jokes might hit just the right notes. Don’t be afraid to ask around.

Capitalize on the surprise factor.

Sometimes the most hilarious moments are populated by events that the reader would never expect. This is closely related to the first point, but now I’m speaking more about plot. If a given character has mentioned a certain goal or big dream, and then they end up reaching that goal differently than expected – that can be funny. Not just in a fuzzy, feel-good way; I’m saying it can be hilariously out of left field, but still really good. This trope works especially well in coming-of-age stories, but you can really adapt it for any genre. 

Timing is everything for jokes.

Just like your favorite sitcom or slapstick movie (Paul Blart: Mall Cop, I’m looking at you), your comedic timing must be on point. Functionally, this is probably best done through short, quick, snappy dialogue. Hold off on the dramatic sensory descriptions. For a joke to feel fast, pithy, and clever, stick to quick rhythms and shorter ideas. The back-and-forth structure is also a great place to insert some awkward flirting as well. For more help writing good romance in your book, read this article HERE.

Humor is a great tool to make your readers laugh while providing some much-needed levity. Use it only when feels natural though, or else even your best lines will fall to the wayside and get lost in the sauce. Think of your jokes like seasoning for your steak: a little bit, well placed, goes a long way, while too much just makes everything taste like salt. 

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