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?

Amazon Link

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.

How Can Readers Know Information Unless I Tell Them?

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When information and explanations

interrupt,

slow the story’s pace, or

bore or frustrate readers

writers need to hear, “Much information and explanations

aren’t necessary,

shouldn’t be told through author intrusion,

can be fed in a little at a time,

can be given without head hopping, and

should be shown through actions and dialogue.

Here’s an example.

Information and Explanation Overkill

“How are you today, Todd?” CNA Cassie, her title meaning Certified Nursing Assistant, said to nursing home resident, Todd, a thirty-year-old man who’d been in Serenity Nursing Home since his car accident a month ago.

“No worse than yesterday.” Todd hoped Cassie would deliver his breakfast and leave. He didn’t feel like talking.

image by dfbailey

Todd was missing one leg below the knee and the opposite hand. After he’d seen his girlfriend enter a restaurant with his business rival, he’d texted her while driving. The rescue squad had to cut him out of his wrecked car.

Todd’s therapist would arrive soon. Danny had become his friend and watched TV with him after his shift.

CNA Cassie set his tray on his roll table, the kind all nursing home rooms had. “Todd, you need to eat more.” She’d checked with the nurse and learned he’d lost ten pounds because he ate less.

She was drawn to Todd and had enjoyed bantering with him until he’d stopped about a week ago. She’d thought he liked her more than a CNA or a friend.

She removed his comb from his bedside table drawer, but when she tried to comb his hair Todd stopped her with the arm that still had a hand.

Why’d Cassie always have to do things for him? She knew he could comb his hair with his right hand.

Cassie, downcast, but wanting to show she didn’t care he’d pushed her away, grabbed his laundry bag and left the room.

image by OpenClipart-Vectors

Analysis

  • Choose only Cassie’s point of view because the scene’s main purpose is to show Cassie’s feelings for Todd.
  • Save how Todd lost his limbs for a later scene to add suspense and boost a sagging story middle.
  • See below. I’ve deleted unnecessary information and explanations and worked other information into Cassie’s thoughts and dialogue to get the story moving.

Improved Scene

Certified Nursing Assistant Cassie carried a breakfast tray into Carl’s room and smiled. “How are you today, Carl?”

“No worse than yesterday,” Carl mumbled.

Cassie rolled her eyes. Every day for the last week, he’d been grumpier than the day before. If only Carl understood missing a hand and a leg below the knee didn’t make him a freak.

He thumbed the bed control device and raised himself to a sitting position. His arm stub nudged the TV remote aside on the roll table.

Cassie set the tray in front of him and opened his milk carton. “Your therapist is scheduled for ten.”

“Don’t you think I know that? Danny’s the only one I can stand around here.”

Cassie forced her smile to remain as she unsheathed his straw. “Try to eat more this morning.” She inserted the straw into the carton. “You need to gain your weight back.”

Carl grunted.

Why wouldn’t he look at her? In the first weeks, their banter had been fun. For a good-looking guy of thirty, he could have an enjoyable life. When Serenity Nursing Home released him, she’d gladly date him.

image by waldryao

“During my afternoon break, would you like me to wheel you around the garden?”

He stabbed a sausage link. “No.”

“I thought you enjoyed the walks. Would you go if someone else took you outside?”

He met her gaze as he bit off the end of the sausage. “It’s not you. I just prefer my own company.”

Her heartbeats fluttered. She wasn’t his problem. Maybe with time …

She glanced at his unruly dark curls. How she’d love to touch them. She removed his comb from the bedside table. “Let’s make you presentable for your own company.”

He pointed the fork at her. “Don’t. I can comb my own hair.” He directed the fork toward the door. “Just go.”

A knot formed in Cassie’s throat. No way would she let him see he’d hurt her. She grabbed his laundry bag and left.

How to handle explanations and relay information in your story. Click to tweet.

Look at one of your scenes. How did you relay information?

COOKING UP KISSES – has earned an Amazon #1 bestseller ribbon in two categories!

Five scrumptious e-book romance novellas, all for $0.99 or free on KindleUnlimited. Here’s the link.  Here are the blurbs:

 

 

 

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN IN A RED DRESS BY ZOE M. McCARTHY

Candace Parks lives a passionless life in Richmond. The computer programmer returns to the empty family home in the Blue Ridge Mountains solely to evaluate her job, faith, and boyfriend. Her high school crush, Trigg Alderman, who barely remembers her, visits his Gram next door. Sorting her life out? How about nothing of the sort!

 

LOVE ON A DARE BY MARY MANNERS

Alana Mulvaney’s life is in a holding pattern. Consumed by day-to-day operations of the family business, Alana has no time for fun or romance. But a little fun and a whole lot of romance is just what Alana’s sisters have in mind when they learn childhood friend Donovan O’Reilly has returned to town.
Donovan O’Reilly has loved Alana Mulvaney since he moved in next door to her at the age of five. But he broke her heart when he was forced to leave town, and now that he’s returned home to Winding Ridge he has a second chance to prove himself. But is it too late to earn her trust…and her love…again?

HUMMINGBIRD KISSES BY DELIA LATHAM

Toni Littlebird believes that when she meets the man God created for her, she’ll know—and she’ll love him in that very moment.
But then Dax Hendrick roars into Hummingbird Hollow on a noisy, crippled Harley, stinking up the air and chasing away her beloved hummingbirds. One look into the intruder’s eyes and her heart sinks. He’s “The One.” She’d been right ab

What a Writer Can Learn From Reading Book Reviews

On the premise we can learn about an author’s audience from reading book reviews, I studied reviews for a Christian contemporary romance I had read. I became more intrigued by the relationship between reviewers’ issues and their star-ratings than the author’s audience.

The book had 262 reviews with a 4.7-star average.

  • 5 stars = 202
  • 4 stars = 42
  • 2 to 3 stars = 18
image by mcmurryjulie

Gabriela Pereira advises us to read 3- and 4-star reviews only (“Alpha-Blog Soup” Writer’s Digest May/June 2018). Pereira says, “5-star reviews are often too glowing to be useful, and people who leave 1- or 2-star reviews have an axe to grind.” She thought seven was the “magic number” of reviews to read to know an author’s audience.

I read sixteen 4-star reviews, breezing through story descriptions and slowing to a sloth’s-pace when the reviewer gave opinions about anything.

I’ve compiled stats below of what reviewers said about different aspects. Remember, these sixteen reviewers rated the book as “very good.” I believe the reviewers genuinely explored the story in honest reviews.

About the Author

  • Writes good banter, humor, and dialogue
  • Willing to introduce risky subjects

About the Reviewers

  • Loyalty to series/author. Regardless of whether they had problems with the story, twelve reviewers (75%) said they’d read the first book in the series, one or more of the author’s other books, and/or planned to read the next book in the series.

Opinions About the Story

 

image by mohamed_hassan

 Theme. Seven reviewers (44%) mentioned a theme. Five went with Theme 1 and two chose Theme 2.

 Plot. Eight (50%) shared their opinions on the plot. Four labeled the plot, and they gave the same plot name. Four mentioned they liked the fresh story twists; three weren’t impressed with the plot, and one gave no opinion on her plot feelings.

 Authenticity. Six (38%) said they were pleased situations and characters were realistic.

 Morality. Seven (44%) voiced concerns over moral issues in the story.

Lessons learned. Six (38%) remarked they appreciated learning from the situations.

Spiritual thread. Ten (63%) mentioned this aspect and gave positive opinions.

 Opinions About the Characters

 

Likeability of Main Characters. Eight (50%) cited problems with liking them. Some warmed up to them later in the story, and two said they enjoyed the story in spite of not caring for the main characters.

Secondary Characters. Seven (44%) mentioned liking the secondary characters. For one secondary character, three loved him and one disliked him.

Character arcs. Seven (44%) mentioned seeing the growth in the main characters.

What struck me was that seven reviewers respectfully voiced their concerns with moral issues, three disliked the plot, and eight had problems liking the hero and heroine, yet they gave the book four stars. These opinions came from ten reviewers (63%), some having concerns in more than one of these three categories.

My exercise showed at least 75% of the sixteen reviewers were loyal to the author/series. And 63% said they were happy with the spiritual thread. This may suggest the importance of

  • authors gaining loyal readers in their genre and receiving a loyalty “mulligan” when one book disappoints, and
  • writing series.

Try reading several 4-star reviews for a book and learn from the commonalities. Click to tweet.

What thoughts can you add to this exercise?

COOKING UP KISSES – has earned an Amazon #1 bestseller ribbon in two categories!

Five scrumptious e-book romance novellas, all for $0.99 or free on KindleUnlimited. Here’s the link.  Here are the blurbs:

 

 

 

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN IN A RED DRESS BY ZOE M. McCARTHY

Candace Parks lives a passionless life in Richmond. The computer programmer returns to the empty family home in the Blue Ridge Mountains solely to evaluate her job, faith, and boyfriend. Her high school crush, Trigg Alderman, who barely remembers her, visits his Gram next door. Sorting her life out? How about nothing of the sort!

 

LOVE ON A DARE BY MARY MANNERS

Alana Mulvaney’s life is in a holding pattern. Consumed by day-to-day operations of the family business, Alana has no time for fun or romance. But a little fun and a whole lot of romance is just what Alana’s sisters have in mind when they learn childhood friend Donovan O’Reilly has returned to town.
Donovan O’Reilly has loved Alana Mulvaney since he moved in next door to her at the age of five. But he broke her heart when he was forced to leave town, and now that he’s returned home to Winding Ridge he has a second chance to prove himself. But is it too late to earn her trust…and her love…again?

HUMMINGBIRD KISSES BY DELIA LATHAM

Toni Littlebird believes that when she meets the man God created for her, she’ll know—and she’ll love him in that very moment.
But then Dax Hendrick roars into Hummingbird Hollow on a noisy, crippled Harley, stinking up the air and chasing away her beloved hummingbirds. One look into the intruder’s eyes and her heart sinks. He’s “The One.” She’d been right about knowing, but wrong about something far more important: She will never love this man!

HEARTS ON THE HARBOR BY ROBIN BAYNE

Cara Peyton is content with her life, her trendy Baltimore bookshop is perfect for her. But when her ex turns up to remodel the store, asking for a second chance, she’s torn and unsure about risking her heart again. Can he convince her to trust him, and God, before the job is finished?

 

 

HIS VALENTINE PROMISE BY DORA HIERS

Another Valentine’s Day and Quinn Randolph prefers to spend it with her sweet rescue lab. Who needs men and their broken promises? Especially Pierce Karson’s! Years ago, his desertion shattered her. Now he’s trying to steal the property she targeted to expand her florist shop! Pierce only wants to belong…and for Quinn to choose him. His Valentine Promise…