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How to Write Funny: Seven Tips

My books are funny (even the serious ones have funny parts). If you haven’t read them, you’re just going to have to trust me on this. I’ve been complimented on being able to write with humor by a number of authors, many of whom have told me that they can’t “write funny.” These conversations made me think about humor in writing: what makes something funny? And how can writers who want to incorporate humor into their work do so more easily? Below are seven tips for incorporating humor into writing:

1. Use humor like a spice: Too much will overpower your book. All you need are a few shakes here and there.

2. Find funny in ordinary people: People are funny. Maybe your character lives near a woman who knits sequined scarves for her dog. What if that woman gifts a scarf for your character’s dog? And keeps asking about why the dog is not wearing it! This woman does not have to be a big part of the book, but she’ll show your character’s compassion if he has the dog wear the scarf. And the idea of it might just make your readers laugh.

3. Go for the smile: You do not need your readers to laugh out loud. In the example above, I wouldn’t expect anyone to guffaw. I would expect a smile and a sense of connection. After all, we know someone who might knit a dog scarf. That connection adds levity and draws readers in.

4. Irritation can be funny: You read that right. Irritating your character can lead to a bit a humor. Maybe your character is a neat freak but has to share office space with slob. Or maybe she hates reptiles but gets roped into watching her neighbor’s iguana. The character’s internal reaction to these events can funny but, at the same time, makes them relatable. We all know a neat freak (or are one!). We’ve all been roped into doing things not of our choosing. I know I have!

5. Have fun with incongruity: Characters that are incongruous can lend a bit of humor. Imagine a self-described environmentalist who drives a giant truck or a health nut with a stash of Diet Coke. Closely related to incongruity is the surprise attribute: the librarian who takes hula lessons or the tough cop who rescues injured birds. While none of these characters traits are hysterical, they will lend a bit of lightness to the narrative while simultaneously giving your characters depth.

6. Timing is everything: All books can use a little humor (IMHO), but not all books are funny. If your book is on the serious side, you can have a character flash back to an earlier time when circumstances were easier or happier. These flashbacks can include a bit of humor without making light of your character’s current situation. In fact, the flashbacks can provide context, making the current situation even more poignant – things were not always this way. Another way to use timing is to create a few humorous moments before the point in the book where things take a turn for the worse.

7. Use side characters/situations: If your main character is going through a difficult time, it is unlikely that he or she will be funny. But there can be a funny friend or sibling or co-worker. Or a funny event.

I hope all reading this blog have found something of use. I think we could all use a bit a humor these days! Happy writing (and reading)!


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