I haven’t written very many purely humor pieces, but humor is an important part of pretty much any story. Life has its funny moments, so even the most dramatic or tragic stories often have moments of levity. No one is serious all of the time, and similarly, no story can carry through on a singular tone, especially when that tone is very intense.
These are the six factors I keep in mind when writing humor scenes:
This is likely the most important part of writing a humor piece, or even just a humorous scene or dialogue exchange. You have to make sure that you are using the right words for the scene. You can’t come up with a funny situation and then deliver it like a thriller scene. Your voice, as the narrator, and the voices of your characters should match the circumstances.
This is probably the biggest trick to writing good humor. Giving the reader the sense that you are going one way and then going another. The gap between the expected and the result is what generates the laugh. Surprise the audience. You can do this with the way a scene unfolds in terms of its action or dialogue, or you can do it through the way you describe things.
3.) Metaphors and Similes
Metaphors and similes are always important, and no one wants to use the ones that are cliche, but in humor you have to be even more creative and outlandish with the ones that you choose to use. You want to make strange comparisons, things your audience isn’t expecting, descriptions that are over the top. Utilizing metaphors and similes correctly is largely a form of misdirection. Make the comparisons no one has thought of yet. The disconnect is where you will find the laughter.
4.) Write What You Know
Humor is subjective, more so than other elements in storytelling, and what you find funny might not resonate with others, so make sure to stick with humor that you find funny. Don’t try to copy the style of someone else who’s popular or who you think the general audience will find more appealing. Stay within your niche and master the style of comedy that fits you best.
5.) Remember to Tell a Story
Even if the reader isn’t picking up on or appreciating every bit of humor you put into a story, if you have a strong narrative, you can still captivate your audience. As I said in the previous point, humor is subjective, and if you are overly reliant on your jokes to make the story enjoyable, you aren’t going to get very far. Telling a good story is always the most foremost thing, so make sure you have that part of the work done before you start tinkering with trying to make the humor sing.
6.) Don’t Punch Down
Obviously I had to fit a diversity point in here somewhere, am I right? But making racist, sexist, homophobic, or any other kind of jokes at the expense of the disenfranchised isn’t funny, especially in a print format that a lot of different people will have access to. It’s one thing to share some off-color humor with friends, but it’s entirely different to include something like that in a piece of fiction or any other kind of widely circulated material. Many won’t find it funny, and you’re likely to end up making yourself look bad.
Generally humor works best when you’re attacking those in power or going for jokes that are more neutral. Have you ever wondered why there aren’t conservative equivalents to The Daily Show? It’s largely because conservatives defend the status quo, which is one of the easiest targets to attack without really offending anyone. If you want to write the type of humor that can appeal to a large audience, focus on things that are more neutral (like dialogue quips, for instance) or make fun of things that most people find annoying.
So those are my basic tips for writing humor. Do you think that I missed anything? What other approaches to do you use when tackling a humor scene? Share your thoughts in the comments so that we all can learn. Thanks for reading!