5 Tips for Including Humor in Your Story

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You want to write humor into your story, but it’s funny only in your head. Keep trying, because all genres benefit from some humor.

Sometimes humor isn’t well done and poor reviews are valid. But other times, the problem is some readers don’t have funny bones. Ignore their reviews. However, we must continue to hone our humor. I’ll share what I’ve observed.

Humor: What Works and What Drags

1. Every moment doesn’t have to be funny. While reading my favorite humorous author aloud to my husband, I noticed the funny character was beginning to repeat the same types of humorous actions, dialogue, and internal thoughts. I no longer found them as funny as I did at first. I stopped experiencing the element of surprise. Her techniques are good, but she overused them in the first half of the book to the harm of the second half.

2. Forced humor never works well. If the humor is too much like slapstick, fewer readers will like it. If you’re determined to make a situation funny, it probably won’t be.

3. Try subtle humor. Subtle humor goes a long way for many readers. For example, take an introverted hero overburdened with responsibilities. Use small actions that he does while alone that produce smiles and are endearing. He’s determined to meet his obligations. What he says and does in public aren’t strange to him but are to the heroine and others. Then occasionally, he unwittingly becomes the straight man for a family member to exhibit her dry humor.

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4. Keep humorous activities original with all the elements of a serious scene. The humorous scenes should have conflict and engaging dialogue. For example, in my novel, Gift of the Magpie, Amanda’s fingers and toes become almost frostbitten while she and Cam build an igloo. He makes her come to his house where he searches the Internet on his phone for how to thaw appendages. To Amanda’s chagrin, the exercises require large leg-swinging and arm-revolving exercises to force blood to her fingers and toes. She demands to see his phone to make sure he’s not having her perform unnecessary, embarrassing motions. Her running commentary on the exercises not working and her preference to put her frozen feet and hands on Cam’s bare back and sides flips the situation to Cam’s discomfort and his voiced opinions.

5. Banter must be lively but not inane. Go for clever remarks and zingers. Don’t do this:

Brad pinched Gilda’s arm. “Behave.

“Ouch, that hurts.” She rubbed her arm.

“I meant it to.”

“Maybe I’ll pinch you.”

“Better not.”

Here’s banter from my Book Calculated Risk, after Cisney has shown actuary Nick how far up the tub of popcorn he should stop eating and give the bucket to her. We start with Nick’s comment.

“The movie hasn’t started yet, you don’t have to whisper.”

“In movies, my family never talked above a whisper, if at all, or Daddy wouldn’t bring us again for a long time.” Her beautiful eyes widened. “You don’t talk during the movie, do you?”

“No.” He held up the popcorn container, glad they agreed on one thing. “You do know the bucket is somewhat cone-shaped and half the popcorn is about here.” He moved his finger up the bucket from where she’d drawn her line.

“Shame on you, Risk Man. You didn’t take into consideration that they were chintzy on popcorn. The kernels reach a half-inch short of the top. And you didn’t take into account that I’m smaller than you and don’t eat as much.”

He chuckled. Risk Man?

She put her finger to her puckered lips. “Shh.”

Humor in novels – what works and what drags. Click to tweet.

What tip can you add in writing humor?

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Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.

Malapropism: A Sneaky Soundalike in Writing—Humor or Error

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Malapropism is using a word that sounds similar to the right word the writer intended to use. The word comes from the French expression mal a propos, which means inappropriate.

Malapropism can be unintentional or intentional.

To add humor to a story, writers sometimes create characters who repeatedly use malapropisms. The best way to avoid accidental malapropisms is to consult your word processor’s thesaurus or dictionary often.

Below I list common unplanned malapropisms, and then for fun, I give some that could add humor to a character’s dialogue or personality.

Likely Unintentional Malapropisms

He clenched the deal. (clinched)

“Choose Agent Moss for the job. His photogenic memory will come in handy. (photographic)

Alice got the votes because of her great statue. (stature)

The pyramids have been unparalyzed in world history. (unparalleled)

“Supposively, I’m the next up for promotion.” (supposedly)

“Supposably, I have Lyme disease.” (supposedly)

For all intensive purposes, he was a blue-collar worker. (intents and)

She waved. “Au reservoir.” (au revoir)

I was saddened that so many children were illiteral. (illiterate)

“If you want to keep this job, you must be punctuate. (punctual)

Her ailment weekend her strength. (weakened)

Fortuitously, she brought in the garments on the clothesline before it rained. (fortunately)

He traveled the torturous road with its hairpin curves. (tortuous)

The job was sedimentary. (sedentary)

“Get things set up, and then we’ll precede with a practice run.” (proceed)

Once we add installation, heat won’t seep out. (insulation)

The clues didn’t jive with the crime. (jibe)

“Stop portending you’re someone you’re not.” (pretending)


Malapropisms Favorable to Adding Humor

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The mayor announced the flooding was too dangerous and called residents to evaporate the area. (evacuate)

“That man is under the affluence of alcohol.” (influence)

“I’m fine. I don’t need a blood transmission. (transfusion)

“We’ve got to eradicate weapons of mass production for people today and our predecessors. (destruction) (progeny)

“Watch out for that wolf in cheap clothing.” (sheep’s)

“The newspaper said he broke the law of monotony and had two families.” (monogamy)

“Quick. Bring the fire distinquisher. (extinguisher)

“No one is going to use me as an escape goat.” (scapegoat)

The drill sergeant was so tough that dysentery rose in the barracks. (dissension)

“I’m going to fatten you up. You look emancipated. (emaciated)

“Let’s celebrate the end of the physical year.” (fiscal)

She grasped the pendulum hanging from her neck. (pendant)

“Man, goldenrod and ragweed kill the sciences.” (sinuses)

Write sentences in the positive form. Avoid contraptions like won’t and can’t. (contractions)

“I’m telling you, an intruder is a pigment of your imagination. (figment)

“As they say, ‘a rolling stone gathers no moths.’” (moss)

“Don’t pay the ransom. The thugs will just hold someone else’s daughter hostile.” (hostage)

“Well, my son outweighs yours as a suppository of knowledge.” (depository)

The tantrum bicycle juddered and wobbled. (tandem)

Malapropisms in writing can embarrass authors or add humor to a character. Click to tweet.

What are malapropisms you’ve read or heard?

Hyperbole in Description Piques Interest As High As Pike’s Peak

image by isabellaquintana
image by isabellaquintana

Definition of Hyperbole

Combining my research: Figurative language technique with visual impact that deliberately uses an extreme, fanciful, humorous, or ridiculous exaggeration (possibly applies a simile or metaphor) that makes a point about a real circumstance.

Common Examples of Hyperbole

  • Grandma is as old as Methuselah.
  • I’m dying to go.
  • I’ve told you a million times I don’t like mushrooms.
  • That’s the biggest cake of all time.
  • The cleanup took forever.
  • I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.

Fresh and Humorous Hyperbole

image by pgbsimon
image by pgbsimon

“I’d bungled everything. The planet didn’t produce enough Grecian Formula to stop this church youth director from turning prematurely gray. If I begged, would the senior pastor assign me to an easier job? Maybe I could singlehandedly build the new Family Life Center.”

  1. “At my wits end” wouldn’t produce a mind picture. The hyperbole describing the youth director at risk of prematurely turning gray does.
  2. The second use of hyperbole in which he wishes he could exchange his position for the job of constructing the Family Life Center, provides images of the young man alone, riveting steel, laying bricks, and putting up drywall.
  3. Through hyperbole, the youth director shows and makes the point that his job is extremely stressful and difficult.

Spend Time to Develop Hyperbole

image by Unsplash
image by Unsplash

“Maybe it was time to visit the unemployment office. What would I say when asked for my qualifications? I could share that, behind my back, the senior churchwomen, affectionately called me the youth director from Mars. I’d heard the Granny Girls had considered Venus, but that planet was too close. They’d awarded me the Mars moniker after I forgot to power up Miss Lily’s windows before unleashing the teens to hose down her Lincoln Town Car at the annual car wash. If that qualification failed to beguile an unemployment rep, maybe the Saturday night lock-in I’d arranged in the gym would. Cleverly, I’d planned the night to redeem myself after my car wash debacle. I stationed adult volunteers at the doors from the basement to the attic fan. Then at four in the morning, the senior pastor called. The police had arrested three of our teens wading in the town’s fountain, singing “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Who knew I’d need to enlist a hundred watchdogs to guard the windows. I counted my blessings, though. The Granny Girls hadn’t upped my home planet to Pluto.”

image by KERBSTONE
image by KERBSTONE

Examples of Hyperbole:

  • Time to visit the unemployment office.
  • Youth director from Mars.
  • Unleashing the teens
  • From the basement to the attic fan.
  • Enlist a hundred watchdogs.
  • Upped my home planet to Pluto.

Try adding hyperbole to give story description a fun facelift. Click to tweet.

How have you used hyperbole in your writing?