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.
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.”
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?
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.