I'm always amazed when somebody says, "Oh, I wish I could be funny!" Usually, these are writers who put down sentences that make me wish I knew how to actually write. Or they have the ability to plot stories that twist and turn and, again, make me wish I knew how to actually write. Sometimes they are truly boring, but it's mostly the first two.
But humor? That's, like... easy. Right?
Well, for me it is. And maybe easy isn't the correct word. I've found nothing to do with writing is ever easy. Some of it may be more natural, but it is never easy. Because when I'm writing, I'm always looking for ways to make something funny. I like to write funny books. I like funny characters who say funny things and are all-around... funny. There isn't enough humor (or at least good humor.) The question, of course, becomes: what is good humor.
It's an ice cream bar.
And it is not that previous sentence.
IMPORTANT HUMOR WRITING RULE #1: Don't be obvious. The worst humor comes when somebody is so obviously trying to make a joke. This usually happens when the dreaded exclamation point (!!!) arrives on the scene. For many people, the exclamation point (!!!) is a do-all button. Just press it at the end of a sentence and, BAM, you've got the Funny. And that's equivalent to a crime against humanity in my opinion. Instead, maybe use a little subtlety. Be funny in ways that are situational for your characters. Or better yet, they're funny because of who your characters are.
IMPORTANT HUMOR WRITING RULE #2: Don't be esoteric. People won't find your Uncle Paul's comment to your Aunt Pauline back in aught-six funny. There has to be a common context. Having well-developed characters will help. However, what makes me laugh is situations where I immediately understand what's happening. Maybe I cringe in anticipation, or laugh. Either way, I have a personal connection to the situation. So I read something and think: Oh, man... I remember that time the monkey came into MY bedroom... this is going to be AWESOME! The more universal something is, the easier it is to play around with.
IMPORTANT HUMOR WRITING RULE #3: Take a chance. Some of the best humor writing I've ever read comes from these truly twisted, original places. All of a sudden, I'm crying because I can't start laughing. The last time this happened was with a book called FAT VAMPIRE. Without giving too much away, the MC had to come up with a superhero name. Hilarity happens. Of course, this is tricky, right? Because who can tell the line between being obvious and taking a chance?
IMPORTANT HUMOR WRITING RULE #4: Write what you want to write. For me, that's realistic/contemporary humor. Some creative-types (like Joss Whedon) are able to create fantastic worlds and characters AND make it funny. Douglas Adams was this way, too. Christopher Moore is another one. But you don't have to have humor in your books? A little is always good, but maybe you're just not funny.
No, I'm kidding.
Trying to determine what makes something funny is like hearing an agent/editor say what makes for a good writing voice. And if you asked me about humor, I'd probably give you the same, tired line: I know it when I see it. The problem is, again, that this is pretty subjective.