Want to become a novel comic? Then you’re at the right place! January is Humor Writing Month for genre fiction writers at WritingNovelsThatSell.com
This month’s series of three blog posts include two self-paced, online writing workshops. These workshops are samples from the How to Write Novels that Sell online course, taught by yours truly.
Throughout my novel writing career, I’ve had more than one student say to me, “Your books are so funny! How do you make readers laugh?”
And I usually say something witty and succinct like, “Uh…”
Because the truth is, I never took a class on humor writing. I learned the hard way, by stumbling into my own style. (Which proves there’s hope for everybody!)
Gobs of books have been written on humor for novel writing. Search Amazon.com’s book section on “how to write humor,” and you’ll see what I mean. In the meantime, I’ll provide some quick, hands-on tips for genre fiction writers to get you started.
Study Your Favorite Authors
Secretly hoping to become a novel comic?
To hone your own humor writing skills, drag out novels with scenes that you thought were particularly funny and analyze why you laughed. Was the humor dry? Exaggerated? Situational? Chances are, your own written humor will be similar to the style of your favorite authors. My favorite humorists are Mark Twain, James Thurber, and Dave Barry. You’ll probably recognize touches of “Barry-esque” humor in my blog, especially in The Muse Made Me Do It category.
Less is More in Humor Writing
In the world of novel writing, less humor is more. The more you try to flag humorous passages for your reader (example: “Bob laughed uproariously”), the faster you’ll fall on your rear in your novel writing. Watch how a veteran comic, like Jay Leno, sets up a situation and delivers the punch line. Do the same thing in your humor writing. If your reader doesn’t get your sense of humor — and believe me, some won’t — shoving it down her throat isn’t going to make her think your scene is any funnier.
Timing is Crucial in Humor Writing
In novel writing, comedy is about timing. There’s a certain “rhythm” or “cadence” to humorous passages in genre fiction. With too many words, you bury the laugh; with too few words, your humor writing may lack the necessary tension or sense of anticipation that precedes a laugh.
How do I, personally, know that I’ve achieved the end-goal (humor) when I’m sitting alone, at my desk, with no one to read my genre fiction over my shoulder?
My rule of thumb goes like this: if I can still laugh — or at least smile — at a gag two weeks after I’ve written it into my genre fiction, the gag is probably funny. But if the gag doesn’t make me smile two weeks later, I’ll shorten the passages that precede the punchline. That usually takes care of the problem.
Don’t Try so Hard as a Comic
Don’t try to be funny in your genre fiction. Let your characters be funny. Get out of their way. Let their personalities write through you. (See excerpts from DarkWind and Texas Wildcat in the “Workshop Section” of this series.) The minute you try to be funny in your novel writing, you won’t be.
Milk the Situation
Humor can be situational. In genre fiction, humor can also come through euphemism, hyperbole (ie, exaggeration), understatement, sarcasm, and misdirected dialogue. Having a “straight man” helps in humor writing.
Unlike stand-up comedy, written humor in genre fiction is often subtle. Most people won’t laugh out loud when they’re reading. A stand-up comic has a huge advantage over writers because a comic can incorporate facial expressions, body language, gestures, and vocal inflections to compound the humor of a monologue. Writers only have wit, words, and the rhythm of the language.
So if you can make the reader smile with such a handicap, you’re doing a bang up job!
Part II in this humor writing series consists of a self-paced, online workshop to help you gauge the giggle factor in your genre fiction. Stay posted!