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.