WRITING WITH HUMOR
Of course, if you don’t tend to see humor in any of your life experiences, you should probably stick with the serious stuff. Not all novels allow for humor, and that’s fine. It’s been years since I read The Silence of the Lambs, but I’m still willing to guess there wasn’t much room for yuks in that one. Still, many of us would like to punch up our novels, even our serious ones, with a bit of humor here and there. Some of us want most of our novel to make our readers laugh. But how?
I don’t have room here to share as much as I would like, but let me list a few pointers that might help, overall.
Get Yourself in the Mood
Gear yourself to hear “funny” when it happens in real life. So much happens and is said around us that is hilarious. But we don’t notice the humor until an observant writer or performer points it out, as do observational humorists like Dave Barry, George Carlin, and Jerry Seinfeld. Now that I know I want to capture real-life humor for my books, I’ll enjoy an observation or an exchange with someone that made me laugh, and then a few seconds later, I’ll say, “I have to put that in a book.” And out comes the notepad. You know about keeping a notepad handy, right? Don’t trust your memory with humorous moments. Like swordfish and guacamole, funny moments are always best when they’re fresh.
Read funny novels and watch well-written comedy films and television shows, especially right before you start writing. Just as the fragrance of tasty food makes your mouth water, reading or watching humor makes your creative juices flow. (Yes, I am writing this at lunchtime, so I’m a little preoccupied with food.) What you’re inspired to write will differ from whatever you read, see, or hear. But you’ll be drawn into the mood and frame of mind necessary to be a funny author.
Use Humor to Develop Your Characters and Plot
Allow your secondary characters to have funny lines, too. Would you rather watch a tennis pro practice against a wall or play a match with another player? The back-and-forth is what it’s all about. If you’ve developed your novel’s characters fully enough, each of them will end up with his or her own style of humor, just as people do in real life. The verbal volleys will enhance entire scenes, not just your heroine’s image. And you’ll add a realism to your dialogue that can’t exist if your heroine is the only witty character in the story.
Humor can bring poignancy to painful scenes, if your character uses humor to try to defuse a situation, mask real emotion, or hide weaknesses too difficult to admit head on. This is especially effective if the reader knows the real score, but the novel’s characters are somewhat in the dark.
Beware the Wrong Use of Humor
Jokes are for the opening of your pastor’s sermon or Uncle Bud’s grand entrance at the family reunion. They don’t work in novels. A few years ago I read a novel in which the author used amusing church-marquee announcements to pull laughter from the reader. Not only did the writing read like an oft-forwarded email, it fell flatter than Charlie Sheen’s television career. The same blah effect comes from characters who tell actual jokes, rather than characters who say funny things about what they’re experiencing, because of how they think.
Even though my March release, Unforgettable (Summerside Press/Guideposts), focuses on romance, betrayal, insecurities, and political corruption, a reader would be hard pressed to read it and not feel they had just read a humor novel.
If you bear in mind the pointers above, you can add the spice of humor to many different plotlines and provide an enriched experience for your reader.
What example of literary humor have you experienced in your reading, writing, or even film viewing? (Movie scripts are written, too!) I’ll send a signed copy of Unforgettable to someone who answers below.
Bio: Award-winning novelist Trish Perry has written eight inspirational romances for Harvest House Publishers, Summerside Press, and Barbour Publishing, as well as two devotionals for Summerside Press. She has served as a columnist and as a newsletter editor over the years, as well as a 1980s stockbroker and a board member of the Capital Christian Writers organization in Washington, D.C. She holds a degree in Psychology.
Trish’s novel, Unforgettable, released in March, and Tea for Two released in April. She invites you to visit her at http://www.trishperry.com/