When you think of humor in writing, do you immediately think of comedians like Tina Fey? Or maybe satirists like Mark Twain or Terry Pratchett? Or maybe Erma Bombeck or Janet Evanovich?
All of these writers are masters of their craft, and the literary and entertainment world would be a much darker place without them. But humor doesn’t have to take center stage to exist in your writing.
From sci-fi/fantasy to Westerns, from romance to horror, even nonfiction, humor can enhance any genre or subject.
Edge-of-your-seat drama or action makes for a compelling read, but you just can’t keep that up for the entirety of your 100,000-word novel. You’ll exhaust your readers, and many of them will give up on your story halfway through. Or stick with it to see how it ends only to become reluctant to pick up the next one.
You have to pace your action. That may mean incorporating slower scenes. Or you could insert bits of scene- and character-appropriate humor.
After that short break, your readers will remain engaged and be ready to jump right back into the action with you.
Humor makes for better characters.
Imagine two characters.
The first is always serious and straightforward. Things happen; he acts accordingly. Maybe he’s sad. Maybe he’s angry. But he remains serious.
The second goes through the same set of events. She’s reacts. Sometimes, she’s sad. Sometimes, she’s angry. But she’s also sarcastic when another character does something stupid. Or she hides her fear by subtly insulting the villain with irony and double meanings.
Who do you identify and engage with more?
That’s not to say that the serious character is wrong or bad, not any more than the snarky one is.
Characters need to contain elements of who we are, but they also need to have elements of who we wish to be. And a good story contains a variety of characters.
Some subjects are just too horrific or traumatic to swallow straight.
Humor is one of humankind’s great coping mechanisms. There’s a reason satire is so popular.
True, there are circumstances when humor is inappropriate. For example, you’d want to really consider how you use it in an academic piece on delicate subjects like racism or human trafficking. But used carefully, it can also make your message incredibly effective.
Because humor comes in so many forms, it has proven a great way to deliver hard lessons to audiences who might otherwise be less receptive.
Can you imagine Jonathan Swift or Mark Twain without the humor?
Or the Dexter books by Jeff Lindsay. Without the humor, they would be just too horrifying for most readers. (They’re horrifying enough as they are.)
Humor has many faces.
You may not have thought too much about it before, but you probably know that humor comes in many forms. It’s more than Charlie Chaplin or the Three Stooges. It’s not always lighthearted. In fact, one of the most common uses of humor is to deal with the darker aspects of life.
As such, you have a lot of choices for your writing.
Is your character sarcastic and irreverent? Would the villain’s ultimate fate be enhanced by a touch of irony? Would your serious, stoic character be more relatable with a dry wit?
Might a joke or bad pun in the face of certain catastrophe make your hero more dashing? Or maybe you could subtly undermine a character’s intelligence and authority with some intentional speech errors.
Serious nonfiction takes a more skillful touch, but sometimes a bit of irony or wit makes your point more effectively than pages of arguments.
The possibilities are endless, no matter what you’re writing about. You just have to choose a form of humor that best fits the tone you’re going for. Just make sure it’s believable!
Remember, some of the best, most effective uses of humor are subtle and unexpected.
Rebecca has a passion for helping you fill the world with great literature and making sure said literature doesn't get passed over for the lack of a little editing.