Monday, April 20, 2009

How To Write Humor

"People say I'm a horrible person, but that's not true. I have the heart of a young boy.

I keep it in a jar on my desk."

-Stephen King
True confessions: I suck rocks when it comes to humor. I have friends, including this one to whom the medium comes naturally. I have to study and work at it a bit. Even then, it's a shaky endeavor. Anyway, as part of my recent study on this topic, I came across some fantastic notes I took at a SCBWI conference a few years back. Bruce Hale was the presenter and I thought I would share my notes from his session:

7 Rules for Writing Humor by Bruce Hale
1- Know your audience:
a. make the humor suit the tone of the story

2- Humor comes from character:
a. your character does not think they are funny -- they must be serious (or it is ruined).
b. create contrast between your characters and their world
c. take flaws to an extreme
d. humor thrives on conflict...create conflict between your characters

3 - Write for the set up NOT the punch line:
a. set up is everything
b. after your set up - delay payoff as long as you can

4 - Spring a surprise: (this is where Mr. Hale gave the Stephen King quote above)

5- Use the three point method:
a. establish the situation, create an expectation, pull a reversal

6- Good humor is good writing:
a. try different variations until you hit the right one....craft you humor carefully

7- If all else fails, tell the truth:
a. pointing out the obvious using one of the lines above can set up a beautifully funny moment in your manuscript.
I believe even the most serious or suspenseful read requires an occasional emotional break (i.e. laugh) What have you learned in your studies or experience about writing humor? I need serious help in this department and would greatly appreciate any insights!


Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

Awww...thanks! :)
I guess if I have any advice to pass along, it would be that irony and sarcasm can take you a long way. And generally, things are funnier if your character is the only one not laughing.

Windsong said...

Great information. I agree. I think there's a fine balance between the tension and the release.

A great book to check out would be Spunk and Bite. It's a style book written by an editor and a lot of fun to read. I believe one of the first sections of the book talks about the different types of humor an author can use and dissects them. Not in huge detail, but enough to convey understanding.

Liana Brooks said...

Humor is something that tends to slip in with my characters. I have a few who work to make other people laugh, they're rather pathetic. And I have others who can deliver a one-liner without noticing that everyone else is rolling on the floor laughing.

Characters are just people, when all is said and done. As long as they have three dimensions and seem interesting they should make you laugh, cry, yell, and cheer during the course of any story.

Tess said...

I'm loving these comments! Excellent, helpful stuff.

Amy - I wish I could link over to your site for Libby Jean (I can't wait 'till that is a will be, you know)

Windsong - thanks for the book suggestion. I'm going to B&N tomorrow and will see if it's there.

Liana - oh, if I were so lucky to have humor come that naturally. Your comment makes me want to read your writing (I bet it is funny!)Characters are just people, it's true...but mine too often tend to be brooding,thoughtful,serious....ugh.

more help out there????????

Lady Glamis said...

I really, really SUCK at humor, but I've found that if I just stick with my own stupid sense of humor and let my characters make mistakes, be sarcastic, and have fun, silly things come out in the writing that actually make people laugh. Amazing. Sometimes I'm scared to do it, but I'm finding if I just brave it out I get some okay stuff.

Good luck! I love that list.

Cindy said...

What a great post. Thanks for the insights. I always, always try to add a little humor in the story. I love to entertain. I always try to make it true to the characters and write with the audience in mind.

LexiconLuvr said...

I'm not funny at all. I wish I could help you but then I'd have to kill you. J/K.

Wendy said...

I think some of the best humor I've read results from 2a.

Otherwise...I believe people are naturally funny. So much of writing is the study of people...don't you agree?
~ Wendy

lotusgirl said...

Humor can be tricky. I'm not very good at it in real life because I'm not quick, but in writing it's so great to be able to come back even weeks later and have your character say something funny or do something that makes readers laugh.

Lynnette Labelle said...

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Lynnette Labelle

Michelle McLean said...

great post! I have a hard time when it comes to humor too. I seem to do okay in real life (so I've been told) but when I try and get it on paper....not so much :) And I totally agree with you that most, if not all, books need some comedic relief. So it's something I try and work on :)

Tess said...

Great ideas here...thanks, friends!

I love the reminder that we can go back and thread comedy into the book (great idea lotusgirl). In real life, I often come up with the perfect comeback three days after the I guess I can do the same w/ my writing and it will look as if I was witty and funny all along.

And, I like the idea of staying true to your own brand of humor...good point, Glam.

And I really want Wendy to tell me what 2a is...does anyone else know what that means??