Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to Write Humor - Tip #1

So apparently, I'm pretty good at this humor thing. Most of the BAD TASTE IN BOYS reviews say so, and we know that reviews are usually right, except for when they're written by highly caffeinated monkeys in which case they're not even written in a recognizable language. The thing about writing humor is that it's tougher than it looks. People who can tell a good anecdote and get their friends laughing can't necessarily write good humor, because those really are two different skills. So I thought it was time for me to give a few tips to those of you who are interested in adding a little more humor to your manuscripts or struggling with the funny bits you've already got in there.

My tip for today's pretty simple. Yoda T will tell you all about it.

Use restraint you must, fool. Or pity you, I will.

What Yoda T is trying to say is simple. One great joke is better than seventeen lesser ones. This is a common problem that I see in reading manuscripts, especially when they're written in first person. Funny narrators don't have to be funny all the time. Lots of jokes slow down the pace and make it tough to follow your plot. And it gets annoying, kind of like the preschooler who tells you knock-knock jokes, all of which involve butts, for a half hour straight.

Don't be the butt-obsessed preschooler.

It's pretty easy to tell if this is a problem. Get out your manuscript and highlight the funny bits, where the narrator's making wisecracks, or using a funny turn of phrase, or your characters are taking pratfalls, or you've inserted a completely random element for the comedic value, or whatever form of humor you've chosen. There are exceptions to every rule, but generally speaking, watch out for big blocks of text where there's a zinger in every sentence. Consider cutting those blocks down to the lines with the most impact. One or two really great ones will get you more laughs than five right in a row. I cut some of my favorite funny lines from BAD TASTE IN BOYS, and I hated to see them go, but strangely, the chapter was funnier without them. Because the ones that were left really popped.

Remember, things that are unexpected are funny. If you lead your reader to expect a wisecrack every time Bazoomas McFly opens her mouth, you've shot yourself in the foot.

How do I know this? In BAD HAIR DAY, Kate ends up in competing for Aaron's attention. And her competition is very well endowed. In the last version of the book, Kate made a lot of boob jokes, and my editor suggested that maybe there were too many. My manuscript, she said, needed a breast reduction.

Yeah, my editor out funnied me. Maybe she should be writing this!

Are you struggling with making your funny bits funny? Ask me questions in the comments.


LinWash said...

First of all, you made me laugh just with Yoda T.
Humor is so subjective. I can't help thinking of the show Frasier and how Frasier and Niles would laugh at things their father didn't find funny at all. How did you and your editor reach a common ground about the humor? Did you agree that there were too many boob jokes?

Marsha Sigman said...

The manuscript I'm working on now has more wisecracks than my previous ones. I will definitely be checking back over it in case it needs a little liposuction (no boobs were involved).

Carrie Harris said...

LinWash: It IS subjective, isn't it? And it's funny, because inevitably, people will say, "I laughed so hard at XX," and I'll think, "Yeah, I didn't find that funny at ALL." It just goes to show that we've all got different takes.

And as with everything in edits, I try out what my editor suggested, even if I don't necessarily agree. And she usually ends up being right. ;) She was in this case too!

Marsha: Good luck! I give two thumbs up to more wisecracks!

Claire Dawn said...

This reminds me of Juno. I personally loved it, but it annoyed a lot of people because every line was a wisecrack. And people just aren't witty 100% of the time.

I kind of prefer situational humour in books. The sort of humour that develops through things happning in the scene, than through dialogue.

Maria Mainero said...

You are so right. The funniest funny is unexpected. You probably did laugh at that first knock-knock with the butt punchline, coming from the 3 year old.

Anonymous said...

Good tips! I try to be light and random a lot on my blog (when I'm not in a serious mood, that is... ;).

But in my novels... well, usually I write historical fiction. Of my novels, one's been set on Titanic, one's been set in the Holocaust and one's been set in Hiroshima.

Yeah, not so much space for humor.

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Mary said...

It's kind of weird to hear that something you wrote made someone laugh. Especially when it's completely unintentional. (I've gotten that a couple of times.)

But it's baffling when my readers didn't agree about something I thought was funny (and put in there because I thought it cracked me up). They were like, "Um, no. I didn't even notice that bit." Really? Damn.

Kelly Polark said...

Ha! You are funny!
Great tip!

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