As my good friend Cheryl St.John is fond of saying, “A story is feeling.” One of the most overlooked emotions is laughter (joy). Humor is as much of a trigger as anger, sadness and fear. Authors tend to go for the sad punch to invoke a response in the reader, but don’t forget that joy can have an impact as well. Laughter engages the reader, brings your characters together and gives them a common bond. For non-fiction writers, studies have shown that humor enhances how well people enjoy what they’re reading and assists them in recalling what they’ve read.
|The Empire Strikes Back|
Humor adds depth and dimension to your characters. What would Star Wars be without Han Solo? Or the Avengers without Iron Man?
First, let’s dispel a few myths about adding humor to your writing:
Myth #1: I’m just not funny. Nonsense. If you can laugh at a joke, you can tell a joke.
Myth #2: Humor has no place in serious books. C’mon. Who saw Steel Magnolias?
Laughter through tears is a wonderful emotion.
Myth #3: Nobody ever gets my jokes. Stop trying so hard.
Myth #4: I don’t tell jokes. Of course you don’t – writers show, they don’t tell.
With that out of the way, let’s get to Ten Commandments of Writing:
When in doubt, the ‘rule of threes’ is an easy way to add humor in writing. Pair two common inferences with one uncommon reference. For example:Thou Shalt Use the Rule of Threes
Losing weight is simple: Eat less, exercise more and pay NASA to let you live in an anti-gravity chamber. (Leigh Anne Jasheway)
I have everything I need to write this article: my computer, my notes and my water bottle filled with vodka.
No! There’s no vodka in my water bottle. It’s simply the juxtaposition of a very un-business like example next to business-like examples.
Sarcasm is a great way to show your reader the personality of your character. With heroes and heroines, use sarcasm with great caution. Sarcasm can render a character unlikeable—which makes sarcasm a great tool when fleshing out a villain. As Dawn Ford pointed out to me, different genres (such as YA) may have a higher level of tolerance for sarcasm.Thou Shalt Use Sarcasm Strategically
Some characters are built around sarcasm (Stephanie Plum, for example). Generally, likeable, sarcastic characters are given a fair amount of self-deprecating humor for balance. Which makes self-inflicted sarcasm the exception. When in doubt, only use sarcasm strategically for effect.
Aside from your face, do you have any other jokes?
Let Your Character “Be” the Joke
I hate housework. You make the beds, you do the dishes, and six months later; you have to start all over again.
This quote gives us the rhythm of the ‘rule of threes’, along with self-deprecating humor. No character is perfect. If you’re making perfect characters, your readers will hate them. Your readers must be able to relate to your characters, and self-deprecating humor is a wonderful way to make you characters more approachable and ‘real’.
Thou Shalt Take Advantage of Similes and Metaphors
“Arthur Dent was grappling with his consciousness the way one grapples with a lost bar of soap in the bath.” Douglas Adams
He was as happy as a slinky on an escalator.
He was as happy as a mosquito in a nudist colony.
Thou Shalt Use Humor Sparingly
Unless you’re going for all-out, slapstick, Janet Evanovich storytelling, use humor sparingly. Humor is the garlic in your sauce. Too much, and that’s all anyone can taste.
VIThou Shalt Embrace the Cliché
We’re always told to face our fears. But what if your greatest fear is whatever is behind you?
“Take life one day at a time,” sounds like the affirmation of a serial killer.
No one ever wakes up and says, “I think I under drank last night.”
Turning a cliché inside out is a great way to add humor to your writing, whether you’re working on a fiction or a non-fiction project.
Thou Shalt Embrace the Mundane
Thou Shalt Steal From Thy Own Life
Thou Shalt Use Humor as a Decoy
There was no way to get MayLynne out of her downward spiral. She was angry, and she had every right to be. The writer cleverly added humor to the situation, diffusing the tension.
There’s a great scene in “The Firm” where the main character is coming perilously close to realizing he’s gotten tangled with some very shady characters. It’s too soon in the plot for our hero to find out this particular reveal, so the writer added a joke. The tension is diffused, and the characters shrug their shoulders and move on.
If you need to distract your reader from a tense scene or a big reveal, use humor.
Thou Shalt Get a Second Opinion
Last, but certainly not least, study from the greats. Read books and watch movies that make you laugh. Study the mechanisms, and learn from the masters.
How about you? Can you recall a scene from a book or a movie (not necessarily a comedy) that made you *actually* laugh out loud?
Sherri Shackelford is an award-winning author of inspirational, Christian romance novels for Harlequin/HarperCollins Publishers.
A wife and mother of three, Sherri’s hobbies include collecting mismatched socks, discovering new ways to avoid cleaning, and standing in the middle of the room while thinking, “Why did I just come in here?” A reformed pessimist and recent hopeful romantic, Sherri has a passion for writing. She doesn't live on the prairie, but she can see the plains from her house. Her books are fun and fast-paced, with plenty of heart and soul.
Special Delivery Baby, Book 2 in the Cowboy Creek series
An abandoned baby is the last thing town founder Will Canfield expects on his doorstep. He's not the father—and the mother's unknown. But the precious little girl needs a protector. And Will never backs down from a challenge, even if it means caring for a newborn…or dealing with spitfire cattle driver Tomasina Stone.
With her father gone, Tomasina's trail life has ended. Yet becoming a polished city lady feels far out of her reach. All she wants is a place where she'll be appreciated, respected…maybe loved. And the more time she spends helping Will care for the baby, the more she wonders if she's found it. She's never wanted to settle down…but Cowboy Creek—by Will's side—might finally give her heart a lasting home.
Cowboy Creek: Bringing mail-order brides, and new beginnings, to a Kansas boomtown.
Leave a comment today to get your name in the baby basket for a chance to win one of three copies of Special Delivery Baby. Thank you to Sherri, for this generous opportunity. Winners announced in the Weekend Edition.
Congrats to Sherri for her NRCA final with The Rancher's Christmas Proposal. She's giving away a copy to celebrate.