By Chad Morris
I love to laugh, and I love it when a book makes me laugh.
Humor is like the frosting on the cake, or the bacon on . . . whatever. It isn’t necessary, but it sure makes it a LOT better. C’mon. Who likes cake without frosting? And . . . Oh wait. Check that. Maybe humor isn’t like bacon. I’m not sure that bacon is optional.
There are many ways to try to weave humor into your story. One of the easiest and best is to give us a good glimpse into your main character’s thoughts as they move through your story. The more we are in their interesting head, the more likely it is that something is going to be strange or funny. What does a girl think when boys try to show off? How does a boy feel about chick flicks?
For example, in one of my manuscripts a 14-year-old boy is going to have to discuss a musical in class. You can see the potential from a mile away:
Mrs. Finlinson turned her attention to the whole class. “Today is really quite entertaining. Now that we’ve finished reading Romeo and Juliet, we’ll discuss the similarities between it and the modern day musical West Side Story. Please take notes.”
Jacob was pretty sure he wouldn’t find it entertaining. Whenever he even heard the word musical, he had to fight his gag reflex. Discussing one that was based on Shakespeare sounded like nothing less than torture. The only thing worse would be an interpretive dance of a math lecture.
Another way is to set up a naturally funny character. Maybe one is overly confident, or always says what’s on his mind, or doesn’t get anyone’s jokes. I have one character who calls it like she sees it.
“I’ve done some acting—a few low budget webseries—nothing on the prime sites, but I don’t think that counts.” Carol paused.
“Wow. That’s incredible.”
Carol smiled. “Thanks, but statistically speaking that doesn’t make me more likely to succeed. In fact, it just makes me more likely to eventually have a large law suit against my parents, get a criminal record, abuse prescription drugs, and get divorced more than three times over my life.”
This is your chance to say what you’ve always wanted to say—just do it through a character. It is an opportunity to give that great comeback, or like us, have a character think of a comeback entirely too late for it to still matter. You might point out what you’ve always found funny (Why do they call the tiny candy bars fun-sized? If I had to be a size that is “fun,” I think it would be as big as a bus. You have to admit that would be fun.)
I think the best advisee is simply to try. There is great humor in all of us. Risk it.
I once had a professor that told us several times that he wasn’t funny. As he lectured, he occasionally paused and said things like, “I see some of you are losing interest. If I was funny, I would insert some sort of joke here, but I’m not, so deal with it.” His insistence that he wasn’t funny was actually quite hilarious.
Roll with what has potential to be funny to you. If you think it might make someone smile, take a shot at it and review it later. You can weed out the mediocre stuff and just keep the best.
If you have tried to use humor during your writing process, your manuscript might have all sorts funny and stupid-what-the-heck-was-I-thinking moments. That’s exactly where you want it. A lot of the work when writing humor comes when revising. Once you have all your humor in place, ask yourself the following questions.
Is it funny? Did you laugh when you read it through, or did you wonder what you were thinking? When you send it out to beta readers watch for their comments on your humor. Is it working?
Does it fit the character? If it doesn’t fit a character’s personality, it get’s chopped. Would a junior high kid really say that? Would a mom do that? Character overrules funny—every time.
Does it fit the circumstance? If a situation is especially tense, most people don’t crack jokes. Now, if that happens to be what a character does when they get nervous, then full steam ahead.
Does it distract from the plot? This one is huge for me. If a whole point of a scene is a joke, then I think that scene has probably failed (unless it’s a straight up humor book).Weave humor into the story along the journey through plot points. If it takes the reader out of the plot, I’d recommend chopping it—even if it is hilarious. I’ve had to delete some of my best stuff. I keep them in a file, just in case I want to go back and read how funny I think I am.
Does it do what I wanted it to do? Is it helping us have a break from the action or tension? Does it help us relate to a character, or just want to hear more from them? Do we dislike a character more because of his/her insensitive jokes?
I’ve done sketch comedy with Brandon Mull (author of Fablehaven and Beyonders) for years. We started in college. In many ways, the man is a comedy genius. However, when I read his stories I can tell he lets the story and characters lead. He is a writer first and comedian second. He focuses on the meat, then he adds the sauce. Of course, the bacon is also already on the plate.