This week RWA/NYC members share their observations
about adding humor to their writing.
Beware Flying Tomatoes:
Adding Humor to Your Writing
by Stacey Agdern
So you want to add humor to your writing? It’s a very tricky, dangerous and interesting world. Humor can be anything from a quagmire of disaster to a purveyor of sidesplitting laughter or even some slightly sarcastic comment that would give your reader reason to smile. The field is wide, the potential for failure is huge. But sometimes? It’s worth the risk of getting a tomato thrown at your face 😉
The most difficult thing about humor is that you cannot make it seem forced. If a reader feels like they’re supposed to laugh, you’ve lost them. My one and only experience with the works of a well-known fantasy writer ended partway through the first book I read of his because it felt as if each page was written with the intent to make a reader laugh. Even though any writer who writes funny intends to make a reader laugh, any writer who telegraphs that intent to a reader will guarantee they’ve lost that reader.
Once we’ve gotten past the thing you’re not supposed to do when writing humor, we get to the way you’re supposed to write it.
Clearly, not all humor is the same; there are more styles of comedy and humor that you can shake a stick at. So the first thing you need to decide is what kind of humor are you writing. What are you going for? Slapstick? Something more subtle? Puns and wordplay? Are you spoofing something? It doesn’t matter which style you choose, but once you do decide, pay attention to who you think does it best. Writers? Comics? Songwriters? Television writers? Screenwriters? Playwrights? Once you’ve decided who, pay attention to how they do it. Tear it apart. Then use what you’ve learned as a guide in your writing.
When I do end up writing funny, I find that the humor comes in the internal monologues of my characters. More specifically, their reactions and descriptions to things they’re having difficulty understanding. Here’s an unedited excerpt of this:
He looked up and her world stopped. Far away he was hot. Up close the charcoal grey eyes pierced through her, the hint of stubble accented those cheekbones, and the jeans he wore showed off a nice ass. She tried not to stare, and clearly failed miserably.
“You saved my life,” he said.
She raised an eyebrow. It was a pen, not mission critical. “It’s a pen,” she said, trying to remain somewhere between polite and flabbergasted. “Really. It’s no big deal.”
“No,” he replied, those eyes burning through her. “I’m serious. It’s …” He took the pen from her outstretched hand, his fingers brushing her palm, and smiled.
Of course his smile had to be killer. Just her luck that he was also unaffected by the press of skin on skin. How was that possible? Also? How could he be so devoted to a …pen? It wasn’t even a good pen; a random piece of whatever that he probably picked up at a dollar store. Definitely not worthy of the kind of devotion she’d seen people show to fountain pens or things they bought at prices that were way beyond her comprehension.
(Caught in the Crossfire, Unedited, SA)
The italicized sections got laughs in a reading I did recently. When I thought about why, I discovered that, in fact, they all were the wry observations of the heroine as she processed the hero’s …odd devotion to a pen.
In the end, every writer needs to figure out what their own style of humor is. How do you translate you own sense of humor to the page. And how do you do it in a way that feels natural? Whatever you do, have fun, enjoy, and be careful of the tomatoes. ♥
Stacey Agdern is an award-winning former bookseller who has reviewed romance novels in multiple formats and given talks about various aspects of the romance genre. She is also a romance writer. She’s a proud member of both LIRW and RWA NYC. She lives in New York, not far from her favorite hockey team’s practice facility. You can find her on twitter at @nystacey.