TRICKS TO ADDING COMEDIC TOUCHES TO YOUR WRITING
Tell the truth. Humor often comes from observing the mundane and every day in a new way. (Like your list of Annoyances/Frustrations)
- Roseanne made her career out of what’s it’s like to be working-class mom.
- You can’t just write mother-in-law jokes; it has to be your mother-in-law. People know what’s authentic.
- Jerry Seinfeld made his entire career about finding the humor in the mundane.
- Jeff Foxworthy made a career joking about being a redneck.
The Twist. Comedy depends on surprise, the unexpected.
- Example. Roseanne twisted the adage “The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Her take: “The quickest way to a man’s heart is through his chest.”
- Example. In the first Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Arc, instead of getting in a sword fight like we thought he would with the guy skillfully wielding swords around, Indiana just pulled out a gun and killed the guy. The fact that it was unexpected made it funny.
- Exaggeration, Puns, Oxymoron (contradiction in terms)
- Malaprop—unintentional misstatement or misuse of word or phrase. George W. Bush made comedians’ lives easy by saying things like:
- “They misunderestimated me.”
- “There’s no question about it. Wall Street got drunk — that’s one of the reasons I asked you to turn off the TV cameras — it got drunk and now it’s got a hangover. The question is how long will it sober up and not try to do all these fancy financial instruments.”
- Don’t be afraid of using adverbs and adjectives when writing comedy. One of the first things we writers are taught is SHOW DON’T TELL. Right after that, we learn not to abuse adverbs. So for example, instead of writing “She ran quickly,” you’d user stronger verb choices and write: She raced, she sprinted, she dashed. However, in comedy writing, there is more leniency to the rules.
- Example: The shame, the shame, Angela recalled. Childhood with Professors Pearson and Watts had been perfectly stable and even loving, but acutely, serially Amy Peoppel, Small Admissions
- From Bill Bryson’s book, IN A SUNBURNED COUNTRY (nonfiction)
- “I am not, I regret to say, a discrete and fetching sleeper. Most people when they nod off look as if they could do with a blanket; I look like I could do with medical attention. I sleep as if injected with a powerful muscle relaxant. My legs fall open in a grotesque come-hither manner; my knuckles brush the floor. Whatever is inside—tongue, uvula, moist bubbles of intestinal air—decides to leak out. From time to time, like one of those nodding-duck toys, my head tips forward to empty a quart or so of viscous drool onto my lap, then falls back to begin loading again with a noise like a toilet cistern filling. And I snore, hugely and helplessly, like a cartoon character, with rubbery flapping lips and prolonged steam–valve exhalations. For long periods I grow unnaturally still, in a way that inclines onlookers to lean forward in concern, then dramatically I stiffen and, after a tantalizing pause, begin to bounce and jostle in a series of whole-body spasms of the sort that bring to mind an electric chair when the switch is thrown.”
Specifics – Not Generalities
- Example: From Denis Leary: We’ve gotten to the point that over-the counter drugs are stronger than street drugs.” Then he gives specific example: “It says on the back of Nyquil ‘may cause drowsiness.’ It should say, ‘Don’t make any plans.’”
- EXERCISE: Make a list of places, jobs, hobbies, sports, etc. that you’re an expert at or passionate about or know a lot about (even if you’re not particularly good at it). Don’t worry if the item itself isn’t funny (like book-keeping). Work on list for ten minutes. Now look through your list. Pick two that don’t seem to go together, like “yoga” and “curling hair with a flat-iron.” Now make a list of words, concepts, and terminology that go along with each of them—free associate! The more specific and obscure to the field, the better. Work on this list for 5 minutes. Now that you have your vocabulary lists, combine these two disparate fields of interest into a humorous piece that can take any form—a letter, an essay, a character monologue.
PART ONE: THE FORMULA AND STRUCTURE OF WRITING COMEDY
Why add humor to your fiction (or life)? Humor gets people to like you—and your characters. In romance, humorous banter between the hero and heroine shows that they GET each other—for love to last long term, you have to be able to laugh through the tough stuff. (Maybe not at the time, but someday.) In action novels or movies, humor can reduce tension after an especially taut scene. Even in literary mysteries like ORDINARY GRACE by William Kent Krueger, a little humor in the face of the mystery of a dead body endears the reader to the narrator. In TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, some of the humor came from eight-year-old Scout interpreting complex things in the world from a child’s perspective. Humor doesn’t work in every book—the book ROOM by Emma Donoghue is tense and pretty depressing throughout. Humor might not always work in horror, although sometimes Stephen King evokes a laugh despite what evil doers lack behind the shadows.
What novels can you think of that include humor that aren’t necessarily intended to be funny?
What follows are some tips for how you can include humor in your writing.
WHERE DOES COMEDY COME FROM?
- Pain + Time = Comedy
- Humor comes from pain/embarrassment/annoyances
- Comedy is anger with its makeup on. EXERCISE: Quickly make a list of things that make you mad/annoyances/frustrations.
- Topic + Attitude (Weird, Scary, Hard, Stupid) + Premise (Different takes on a topic). à If topic is body piercing write ten things that you think are weird, scary, hard, stupid and so on about body piercings. If you say in one sentence that something is weird, in the next sentence you have to write what is weird about it.
- Example: Robin Williams’ take: “Body piercing is weird. I’m from San Francisco where body piercing is popular. They look like they’ve been mugged by a staple gun. Fifteen earrings here, a towel rack there . . .” In this case, Williams says aloud what his attitude is: he thinks piercing is weird. Attitude can also be inferred—the protagonist thinks something is odd or puzzling or irritating.
Why Comedy in any Genre?
How many personal ads say that they are looking for someone with a sense of humor? People like funny!
- Adding humor between action scenes to ease tension.
- Example: the action scenes in Indiana Jones were broken up by Indiana’s humorous one-liners.
- Buddy cop movies where there is witty banter—Lethal Weapon
- Shows the way hero and heroine might not agree on everything but feel a connection. Rachel Gibson, Katie McCallister, Jennifer Crusie. Kristan Higgins all use humor to show connection between characters, whether protagonist or friend/family member/potential love interest.
- Chick lit and other women’s fiction is well known for having attitude Sometimes snarky humor, but humor is a big part of what makes the voice in these books unique. The goddesses of this genre are Marian Keyes, Jennifer Coburn, and some of JoJo Moyes (some JoJo Moyes, is serious and historical. She writes both.) Marian Keyes writes about serious things like drug addiction and depression—and yet you laugh your butt off (between grabbing for tissues to wipe away the tears).
What other fiction authors do you find funny? Please comment below!Read More