Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Including Humor in your Writing

You don’t have to be Mr. /Mrs. Happiness, a clown, or a comedian to inject some humor into your writing. Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, a dose of humor can be a breather in some of the more serious or sad scenes/chapters. In my previous posts, I talked about finding inspiration in pain and difficult situations. What about funny situations? For instance, Kathryn Stockett’s, The Help, offers great comic relief in some of the chapters that were loaded with controversy. How often do you use humor? Can you think of other books that use comic relief?

I don’t recall the source of these tips; however, they’re right on target.
1. BE STRATEGIC. Don’t scatter jokes willy-nilly; instead, think of humor as parenthetical information. Many nonfiction writers find the best places to integrate humor are in titles, sidebars, visual illustrations or cartoons, and anecdotes to illustrate their points. For a great example of the use of visual humor, see Roizen and Oz’s You Staying Young.

2. USE IT SPARINGLY. Unless you’re writing about an inherently funny topic, you should limit the humor you use to selective references. Its purpose is to grab the reader’s attention and help you make points in creative ways. Don’t confuse the reader by coming across as a comedian.

3. KEEP YOUR FOCUS IN MIND. Be sure your use of humor doesn’t distract from or demean the true purpose of your project. Have someone read your manuscript and then give you a candid critique with this in mind.
4. LET YOUR READERS KNOW YOU’RE LAUGHING. When using humor in writing about a difficult subject—your own illness, for example—your first responsibility is to give your readers permission to laugh. Find subtle ways to let them know that not only is it OK to laugh, but you want them to.

5. STEER CLEAR OF SARCASM. This humor style may work in some arenas, but many readers find it hurtful and mean, and because it often relies on tone, it can be especially hard to pull off in writing. Sarcasm is a tool most of us pick up at a young age as a way of feeling better about ourselves by putting others down. I recommend leaving it there.
As writers, it’s up to us to use everything we can to make sure we lasso our readers and keep them in the corral. Don’t let fear of being funny on the page hold you back. Remember the old saying: “If you can get them to open their mouths to laugh, you can get them to open their hearts to learn.” And that makes for effective writing.

27 comments:

  1. Oh, I always try to use humour! I believe any work of art is incomplete without humour. All great actors use humour even in tragedies or tragic events!
    About books, how about Van Helsing's reaction to the death of Lucy Westenra in Bram Stoker's "Dracula"? They're in the carriage and he bursts out laughing and talking silly about the tragic events of the previous hours, to the point where Jonathan Harker has to call him back to being more composed.
    Great post, Claudia!

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  2. I agree, Claudia, humour doesn't have to be at someone else's expense. It's better when we can laugh at ourselves, too. Kids teach us that we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously!

    Enjoyed your post.

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  3. My most effective funny writing is when I'm at my most self-deprecating best - I think where I'm laughing with my character or with situations and never at! Yay! But overall - it's a skill I know I'm yet to master! It's HARD because I want it to sound - or rather "read" - spontaneous and never contrived! Take care
    x

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  4. Great tips for writing humour. I can't seem to do well if I think about it too much because it often becomes stilted. I guess I need to work on it some more. ;)

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  5. Great tips! And they also work well during verbal communication...
    And I like no.4. The ability to laugh at yourself will draw people to you and win them over...
    And no.5 can work in your favour if the sarcasm is self-directed and not putting others down...

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  6. Interesting. I have no rules for humour. I think it's a matter of 'being in the zone' and at one with the character. Usually then the 'humour' if it emerges does so organically. And yes, in editing, you may have to give your character the dreaded 'snip' and excise it, but not often.

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  7. All of my stories, or at least most, have a little bit of humor in them. I try to limit it to a few sentences here or there, without having it overpower the whole story. The way I see it is real people are capable of laughing and crying, so fictional characters should too.

    Eventually, I do plan on writing comical romances, so those will have a lot more humor then my current pieces.

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  8. Hi Jay,
    Yes, I can see how humor also applies to theatre and film. Regarding your reference to "Dracula", I saw that movie but I don't recall that specific scene :(
    Thank you for sharing this, Jay.

    Hi D.G.,
    Glad you enjoyed this post ;) Thank you for sharing your thoughts on humor.

    Hi Jennifer,
    Yes, I know what you mean. My humor does not come across as comedic but more like dark or sarcastic (well, actually my character's voice not the narrator). If it sounds contrived, I make sure I don't include it.

    Hi Lynda,
    We're in the same boat. I am still mastering this. Therefore, I try to stay away from it because I want it to sound genuine. A friend of mine is great at writing funny scenes effortlessly. She's a natural. ;)

    Hi Mish,
    Yes, I admire people who are able to laugh at themselves. And, I commend those who avoid excessive profanity or use none. Some use swear words as a crutch.

    Hi Mike,
    Eureka! "Being in the zone" that's one way to put it. You cannot force it. That's for sure. :)

    Hi Angelina,
    Yep! Too much of one thing can ruin your story. Like you said, your characters have to be as real as you and me, and that includes their moods. ;)

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  9. Forgot to mention that I love the cat with the glasses. Since I'm not a H. Potter devotee, I saw John Lennon. Great photo!

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  10. LOL! I concur. This cat looks too serious to be Harry Potter.

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  11. Hi, Claudia! I'm getting back to you from Lynda's BBQ. Nice to meet you! I'm now following you as well.
    As for humor, I appreciate wry humor, especially in a character's voice.

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    1. Hi Emily,
      Thank you for dropping by! Hmmmm I don't see your pic in my list of followers :( I wonder if there's a glitch.
      Hope to see you around!

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  12. Self-deprecating humour can be quite interesting as long as it is not overdone. Your tips are very sound. To me, a great literary device is wry humour in an adversarial or calamitous situation.
    This valuable post waqs very interesting.
    Thank You.

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    1. Hi Anthony,
      Yes, wry humor can be witty (I guess it depends on the genre). Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

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  13. Hi Claudia,
    Your last point regarding sarcasm is so true. I didn't realize it before, but when I pick up a piece of non-fiction that relies on sarcasm, I almost immediately put it down. Now I know why!

    That said, I can appreciate sarcasm in fiction when it's appropriate for certain characters.

    Thanks for the post!

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    1. Hi Raquel,
      When using sarcasm, we have to be very careful. I think we get more leeway when writing fiction, that is, if one of your character's personality is meant to be sarcastic.

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  14. stopping by from Lynda's blog. Nice to meet you!!

    Very good advice! I needed that. Thanks :)

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    1. Hi Jess,
      Thank you so much for stopping by. Nice to meet you, too! :)

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  15. I always have a hard time putting humor into my writing. I write a lot of serious stuff and it never seems like the right time to put it in. But some of my favorite scenes in my favorite books and movies are those of comic relief. It's always nice to have a good laugh right in the middle of a good cry.

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    1. Hi Susan,
      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your comment ;)
      Hope to see you soon!

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  16. Excellent tips on humor. Good think I'm following your guidelines really close (need to work on the sarcasm bits).

    I gave you a Shout-Out on my blog today! :)

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    1. Hi David,
      Thank you for the shout-out. I saw it ;)
      And thank you for joining my blog.
      See you around!

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  17. You hit the nail on the head - a little humor goes a long way. And sarcasm can get old. I love Lemony Snicket, but only for short snippits.

    I just started The Help. :)

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    1. Hi Michelle,
      You'll love "The Help", I know it.
      Happy reading!

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  18. Even though I write pretty much only humor, I try to keep it about me. I use myself as a clueless, bumbling vehicle.

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    Replies
    1. That's very humble of you, Dan. Not a lot of people can make fun of themselves. Kudos to you!

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