Humor is popular. Humor sells. Magazine and book editors say they are always on the lookout for work that genuinely tickles their funny bone. I like a story that lets me laugh. I don’t care for raucous or slapstick, but I appreciate a book that if I’m alone in a room, I am moved to laugh out loud. Some people have a gift for being funny when speaking or writing, like the late Erma Bombeck. When I consider romance writers whose work makes me laugh, Jennifer Cruise and Susan Elizabeth Phillips stand out.
I’ve attended workshops over the years, billed as how to inject humor in stories. In so doing I discovered there are many types of humor. As writers we need to decide which kind, if any, works for us, or more importantly, for our characters. Funny incidents in our books flow out of the character. In a recent study as to why one person falls for another, number one listed is that the other person makes them laugh. In your book consider:
laugh-at-life humor. The character doesn’t take himself too seriously. If something bad happens, the character takes a deep breath and looks for the absurd in the situation.
There’s bonding-in-the-moment humor. One character’s outlook will be, we’re in this together and isn’t it fun? The writer will make use of witticisms or lighthearted remarks.
Slapstick comedy is more difficult to pull off in a book. It relies on pranks and physical humor that is totally in the eye of the beholder.
Sarcasm is often perceived by others as dark and biting. It’s better used for a secondary character since it can come off sounding harsh.
Self-deprecating humor requires only a line or two that shows a character is comfortable making fun of himself. It only works in small doses, so use sparingly.
Deadpan type is tough to pull off in a book. In real life people around someone who delivers a hysterically funny line without cracking a smile, often is unsure if their joking.
Jokes at others’ expense. This is really tricky in a book or in life. The person who is the butt of a joke rarely finds it laughable. And saying, ‘just kidding’ doesn’t dull the sting.
Dark/Gallows humor is most often grim and depressing, or deals with misfortune and even death. I attended a workshop on ‘dark humor’ and quickly decided it would be difficult for me to write a wholly pessimistic character.
Situational I see this most often in a book since a reader likes to laugh at something funny that accidentally happens between protagonists.
Quirky/cultural Again, better used for a secondary character, or walk-on because it takes someone with the same appreciation of unconventional humor to judge the incident or scene funny.
So, what is my purpose for blogging about using humor in books? To show that humor is popular and if used with care it can enhance or define certain characters. However, all types of humor can be done-to-death. It’s best sprinkled into a story judiciously. In a romance it can be used well, for instance, if shown on a first date. It works to bring in weird Aunt Maude, or a bumbling co-worker, or sometimes a near psychotic pet. When salting in humor, think outside the box. And in the end you still want your reader to care about your comedic situation or funny character. You want the reader to visualize the situation and think it funny.