Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How to be Funny

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.


Kind of.

No, I'm kidding.

(Well, maybe)


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.


  1. Man, now I have to go back my Fat Vampire book and find the superhero name. I can't remember it!

  2. I'm reading Dash & Lily's Book of Dares and oh, does David Levithan makes me LAUGH. But I always wonder, when I laugh out loud at a book, are other people laughing in the same places I do? I mean, different things hit people differently.

    And I try to analyze what I find funny, and usually it's just weird shit that comes out of nowhere. But how does he make it FUNNY instead of STUPID, is what I want to know, because I swear when I try it, it just comes out as stupid.

  3. Thinking post. I went around this forever before the only thing I could say for certain is I like humour dry, when I'm reading. Pushy and forced don't work.

  4. Funny is a hard magic to conjure. I have different characters in different projects that are supposed to have a good sense of humor, but they refuse to come through for me. Jerks. Maybe I should kill them as punishment.

  5. I read a lot of books with humor and my blogs and whatnot are usually lighthearted, if not humorous but for some reason everything either comes out too broad or very serious when I'm writing a novel. Dunno why.

    Neal Kristopher