Thursday, July 3, 2008

You Make Me Laugh

I love authors who can make me laugh, especially when I don't see it coming and I end up laughing out loud for five minutes, desperately trying not to snort the mouthful of Diet Coke I was in the act of drinking.

I still remember one scene from an early Stephanie Plum book (author - Janet Evanovitch) where Ms. Evanovitch gave me a one-two punch of physical comedy and dry wit that made me laugh so hard, I couldn't see the book through my tears. I reread the scene three times and laughed just as hard each time.

Humor is a significant element in my own writing. I like the effect of combining humor with dark urban fantasy as well as with romance. If I can keep you on the edge of your seat with my suspense and still surprise you into laughing, I've done my job.

I think humor is one of the hardest things to write. I've read many books where the author clearly tried to be funny but failed. Ouch. That's a fate best avoided.

Here are my tips for writing humor well:

1. Use your natural sense of humor. My sense of humor runs heavily toward sarcasm and quick retorts so I use those in my books. I rarely get puns or laugh at the kind of humor displayed in such theatrical travesties as Dumb & Dumber (really, the name says it all) so I don't ever attempt to use those devices in my writing.

2. Keep the humor within the Voice of your manuscript. If something doesn't fit your Voice, it can't be included without sounding forced. I've written lines for SHADOWING FATE that made me laugh until I cried but they aren't in the book because as much as I loved them, I just couldn't make them work within their scene and the humor needs to weave into the fabric of the story seamlessly.

3. Never explain the joke. Seriously. Weave the humor in - add a moment of physical comedy, toss in a one-liner, or do a quick back-and-forth between two characters and move on. Trust your readers to get the humor and you have a tightly-written, fast-paced book with the added benefit of making your readers laugh. Pause to explain the joke or belabor the point and you have an awkwardly written, clunky manuscript that shoots itself in the foot.

4. Do not, under any circumstances, tell your readers that something or someone is funny. I think this is worse than explaining the joke because it's risky and it's lazy.

Risky because what if you've just told your reader that the hero appreciates how funny the heroine is and your reader is rolling her eyes wondering what the poor addled hero smoked for breakfast because she (the reader) hasn't laughed once at anything the heroine said? I remember reading a book that did exactly that - gave me bland, useless dialogue between the hero and the heroine and had the hero laughing heartily and thinking about how funny this girl was. I literally rolled my eyes, snapped the book shut, and never opened it again.

This is lazy writing because this is "tell" instead of "show" and any writer worth her salt can do better than that with some effort. If you've truly woven humor into a character, you won't need to take out a billboard to advertise it.

5. Be willing to experiment. Insert humor when it's least expected. I do this often. Many of my scenes are combinations of dark suspense, difficult emotions, and laugh outloud one-liners. I have to pay careful attention to the depth of emotional turmoil my character is experiencing so that the one-liners match (or so that I know when one-liners would take away from what I'm building). Try different approaches to humor and see what fits your Voice and your character best.

READER QUESTION: Which authors make you laugh? Do you have additional tips for adding humor to your writing?


  1. I love your description of writing keep you on the edge of your seat suspense mixed with fall out of your chair humor--oh, wait I added that last bit. And the urban fantasy spin. I mean, it's a win win. And you, my dear pixie friend, are imbued with a natural wealth of humor. Anyone who knows you can attest to this. I love your bubbling over like a spring of bonhomie. :)

  2. Great tips from one who has made me laugh until tears streamed down my face. I marvel at your sense of humor. You have a gift.

  3. David Eddings makes me laugh for lines like this: "Can we skulk? I haven't skulked in years."

    "Skulk away, my friend."

    Simon Green makes me laugh at things I shouldn't laugh at - like someone getting blown up.

    And both of my CPs make me laugh on a regular basis. :D


  4. Great tips, CJ. And all from a master (mistress?) of written humor.

  5. Oh I love David Eddings, also Terry Pratchett is a master! My favourite character is Nanny Ogg, she's just great, but Ook also gets a few great lines in there...


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