How to Use Humor in Your Writing

by | Writing | 6 comments

 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!








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  1. Jane Foard Thompson

    My challenge is thinking up those tidbits. They don’t come naturally, that is for certain. I can see places where a bit of humor would be good, but have no idea how to do it! I hope you will bring more on this subject.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Jane, you’re not alone. I think Jan has addressed how hard it is to add genuine humor. I think it’s better to avoid trying to be funny. For me, the humor comes through my characters being themselves.

  2. Jan Elder

    Zoe, that was the perfect answer. Let your characters be themselves and let their personality shine!

  3. Jane Foard Thompson

    I’ll have to make a point of inviting a character with a sense of humor into my next project.

    • Jan Elder (@JanElderAuthor)

      I have a critique partner with a killer sense of humor. She always makes me smile and she’s a big help!

      • Zoe M. McCarthy

        What would we do without our critique partners that we trust.

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