How to Use Humor in Your Writing

 A man walks into a bookstore. “Where’s the self-help section?” he asks the clerk. She shrugs and replies, “If I tell you, won’t that defeat the purpose?” —Anonymous

JanbookJan Elder is my guest today. She shares tips with us about a subject I’d like to master. Humor in our writing. Be sure to learn more about Jan’s new book, Manila Marriage App, at the end of her post.

Jan: I’m not a funny person. I hate drawing attention to myself and I love lurking in corners, watching as the world goes by. I never remember the punch line of a joke, and the courage of the class clown fascinates me. But when I write, I do like to inject a little humor into the story from time to time to lighten the mood, up the tension, or release tension once it’s peaked.

The following are a few tips on using humor in your writing:

1.  Sprinkle in the humor. Unless your book is inherently funny, be judicious with witty comments and repartee. You want your purpose to be comic relief rather than comic clubbing. Give your reader some credit and don’t hit them over the head. Your goal is to make them smile and…read on.

2.  Keep your storyline at the forefront. Can you use humor in a hospital scene or when something tragic happens? Sure, but only if it feels like something that would happen in real life. Are the words or body language totally in character? Don’t distract or demean. If you’re unsure if something “works”, ask your beta readers (not your mother.)

3.  Be unexpected. Try one of these devises:

  • JanCatExaggeration: Humor that intensifies some aspect of a character or a condition. It relies not so much on incongruity for its effect as on distortion. Writers look for a distinctive physical trait, a behavior, a manner of speech, and then exaggerate it so that the distortion makes us laugh, i.e. My cat is so lazy she hires other cats to nap for her.


  • JanHideReversals: A standard element of many jokes, the reversal takes a recognizable character type or situation, gives the audience just enough to set up expectations, and then violates those expectations with a contradictory conclusion, i.e. “I told my psychiatrist that everyone hates me. He said I was being ridiculous—everyone hasn’t met me yet.” —Rodney Dangerfield
  • Misdirection: Similar to reversal, misdirection involves deliberately misleading the reader into thinking a sentence or paragraph is heading in one direction, and then quickly changing direction to surprise the reader, i.e. He was tall, dark, and dumb.

Take some time to play around with different kinds of humor in your books – your readers will thank you.

Job 8:21—He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.

Try these tips on using humor in your writing. Click to tweet.

Thank you, Jan, for the great tips. 

Readers, do you have other tips for putting splashes of humor into your writing?


Manila Marriage App. It all began as a lark. Shay Callahan’s life was just fine, thank you, but when her sister points out Timothy Flynn’s advertisement for a wife in a Christian magazine, she decides to give it a whirl and sends in the five-page application. Why not? After all, she isn’t currently seeing anyone, and this seemingly misogynistic missionary needs to be taught a lesson.

Finding out she’s Dr. Flynn’s “pick of the litter,” Shay hops on a plane and flies to The Philippines. Her strategy is to jet in, enjoy an exciting two-week vacation, and jet out again, all at his expense. But her plan backfires. The handsome missionary is not what he appears to be, and the foreign land has far more to offer than she ever imagined.

Embark on a tropical adventure with Shay as she learns the true meaning of love and faith.

JanJan Elder is a Christian romance writer with a zeal for telling stories. She strives to write the kind of book that will strengthen the reader’s faith, while also providing an entertaining and engrossing love story. Besides writing romance, she enjoys the occasional hazelnut cappuccino while watching Turner Classic Movies. Always an avid reader, she devours books voraciously, both Christian and secular. She was born a cat-lover and all future books will, no doubt, feature a feline in some way or another.

 Happily married for eleven years to loving (and supportive) husband, Steve, the two live in central Maryland along with Jamie (a tuxedo cat), and Shu-Shu (a tortoiseshell cat). On the weekends, Jan and Steve comb the nearby countryside in search of the perfect ice cream flavor.

 Visit Jan on her website for more info on Manila Marriage App!








Create Great Characters Using What You (or Your Spouse) Know

“You write about what you know, and you write about what you want to know.” —Joyce Maynard

Image courtesy of njaj at
Image courtesy of njaj at

I wrote Calculated Risk mostly from what I, or my husband, know.

With curiosity and research, we can learn much about a subject. But often:

It’s easier to create a character when we know personally his job, personality & interests. Click to tweet.

The main characters in Calculated Risk are good examples. They’re extreme opposites. Nick is an analytical actuary, and Cisney is an expressive marketing rep.






 Why I could make my characters believable in their jobs.



  • As a retired health actuary, I know actuaries evaluate the financial risks of insurance companies.
  • I worked twenty-five years with male actuaries. I observed many are intelligent, analytical, introverted, private, poor communicators, and a bit weird.
  • My husband, John, is a retired actuary. I know he’s smart, wants to be right, and is decisive.


  • I worked with marketing reps. They tend to be expressive and friendly.
  • I observed marketing reps with clients. In their desire to please clients, they sometimes agree to things they’re unsure they can deliver.
  • I saw how actuaries and marketing reps get along.
Image courtesy of kasahasa at
Image courtesy of kasahasa at


  • While many actuaries are poor communicators, many marketing reps only think they’re good communicators. I played up this observation between Cisney and Nick.
  • I recalled actuaries’ and marketing reps’ odd behaviors and wrote similar incidences.

These were fodder for humor.

Why I could make Nick and Cisney believable in their personalities.


  • One personality test labeled me an expressive analytical. An oxymoron. Very distracting for me. I knew these traits would be distracting for Nick and Cisney. So I coined, opposites distract.
  • As an expressive analytical, I could get inside Nick’s analytical mind and into Cisney’s expressive nature.
  • Plus, analytical introvert John was the role model for Nick.


  • Nick dislikes his mom relating stories or people asking questions about his private life. Cisney eats up drawing answers from him and hearing stories about him.
  • An actuary at work often thought so long, I’d almost burst to fill the silence. His eventual answers were excellent. Nick has long but productive thinking moments that drive Cisney crazy.
  • As an expressive, I sometimes speak before I think. This was perfect for Cisney, causing her problems with Nick.
  • Sticky notes pepper my office. Cisney lives by them. This quirk amuses Nick.



Why I could make Nick and Cisney believable in their interests.


  • John listens to 70s tunes. He likes chess and thinking games.
  • Besides charts and numbers, I love to be creative and make people laugh.
  • I’ve studied the Bible for years.
Image courtesy of Supertrooper at
Image courtesy of Supertrooper at


  • Cisney calls Nick’s 70s music doo-wap songs. He’d like to correct her that “doo-wap” is a 50’s or 60’s term.
  • Cisney prefers classical music. On Nck’s family’s grand piano, she plays “Flight of the Bumble Bee,” the piece my German flute teacher flaunted.
  • After she’s jilted, Nick’s biblical knowledge gives Cisney a new perspective.
  • Cisney likes eliciting laughs from Nick to enjoy his dimple.
  • The chess game John helped me write prods Cisney to see Nick in a new way. You’ll have to read Calculated Risk to find out how.

Calculated Risk by Zoe M. McCarthy

How have you used what you KNOW in creating characters?

Does Your Secondary Character Undermine Another Character’s Role?

“The glory of the protagonist is always paid for by a lot of secondary characters.” —Tony Hoagland


Most fiction writers have heard that the purpose of secondary characters is to support a main character. One of their jobs is to help flesh out a main character’s identify. Another of their tasks is to move the story along. Another is to give the main character someone to talk to, instead of the character constantly reflecting internally.

Recently, I learned in a mentoring session that one of my minor characters undermined the purpose of a secondary character.

The Set Up:

A young widow has had a special relationship with her mother-in-law. The mother-in-law considers the widow her daughter. In the widow’s grief she’s been pulling away from her in-laws.

My Problem:

The widow deals with some ugly information about her deceased husband. I needed her to relocate for a while.

My Solution:

Image courtesy of photostock at
Image courtesy of photostock at

I have the widow’s mother call and ask the widow to come home and help with her father’s illness. So, the widow goes home to help her mother. 

The Problem with My Solution:

The widow’s mother-in-law is a major secondary character, whereas the widow’s mother has a short-lived appearance. The widow already has a nurturing character for support: her mother-in-law. The widow’s real mother, a nurturer, downplays the mother-in-law’s purpose, and to some extent makes her unnecessary. The reader’s emotions may be split between the two nurturers, watering down the reader’s connection to either mother figure.

A Better Solution:

  • My mentor in the session suggested the widow’s mother be out of the picture (deceased or unavailable).
  • She also thought the widow should visit someone on a more equal basis with her such as a sister or friend.
  • And finally, she proposed the widow make the visit because, in dealing with her grief and the ugly information about her husband, she needs to get away. A more character driven motive.
by DuBoix
by DuBoix

My Reaction:

  • I liked the suggestions. Now I don’t need to mess with the widow’s caretaking back home, which doesn’t move the story along.
  • The widow’s strong relationship with her mother-in-law motivates the widow to visit her in-laws, which puts her together with her brother-in-law, the hero.
  • Her departure because she’s overwhelmed ups this reserved and no-nonsense widow’s likeability.
  • And her sister can play the part I needed her mother to play for a short time. The sister’s purpose is to move the story along. The mother-in-law’s purpose is to nurture, mentor, and move the story along.

What you can do when a secondary character horns in on another’s role. Click to tweet.

What tips do you have for creating secondary characters?