Lesson Two – Where to find humor. Where to use humor. (And when to beat a hasty retreat!) Part 1
There are, really, two types of novels/author when it comes to humor. Accordingly there are two sets of rules to use depending on which type of novel you wish to write. They break down into :
1. Talk Show Host: The serious novel with glimpses of humor. If you wish to write a more serious novel with moments of sublime giggles the rules are far more restrictive. This is because, in spite of the fact that you’re writing fiction, the situation must always reflect real life. In truth, fictional humor has to be more realistic than real life. The adage that “Truth is stranger than fiction” really sucks for a humor writer because the reader will not believe anything that seems even remotely impossible--even if it actually happened. This is the most common sort of novel.
2. Stand-Up Comedian: An out and out riotous laugh fest from cover to cover. If you’re writing a laugh fest you can draw your humor from just about anywhere. Newspaper reports, real experiences, funny looking words… the list is huge and all that’s needed is a little imagination. Terry Pratchett’s invention of the Luggage—a sentient travel chest with a mind of it’s own—came about when he saw a woman at an airport terminal struggling with a suitcase that had wheels and refused to go in the direction she pulled it.
Finding humor as the stand-up comedian opens lots of avenues but is still hard work. You can pore over the thesaurus studying synonyms, antonyms and homonyms until you’re blue in the face. But finding puns and jokes that are fresh and sharp takes dedication and time. Then, once you have a punch line, you have to spend time working out just the right delivery phrase to set the joke up. A lot of this kind of humor also takes real life situations and exaggerates them to a point of imbecility. Or exaggerates real life to unreal proportions. If the exaggeration is enough to shock or surprise your readers then they will laugh. e.g.
“Several years ago I emigrated from
Englandto . It was a long swim, but was worth it.” America
Advances in transplant surgery had enabled Shaun to graft on two extra arms. He found the additions very handy.
Writing as a talk show host is slightly easier. For this kind of novel you want to keep the reader in the realms of reality. Frequently, adding the humor part of the novel occurs while writing in ad hoc scenes and secondary edits, when the flow of the writing already exists and the hidden humor of the piece reveals itself to the writer. Dialogue or character interaction humor is common for this type of book, like this example from Katie MacAllister’s A Girl’s Guide to Vampires where Roxy meets Dante, Joy’s boyfriend and famous author.
“Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod!” She [Roxy] jumped up and down for a moment, then grabbed her bag and flung herself at his feet, scrabbling for her books, muttering about finding a pen worthy of the great Dante’s fingers.
I smiled one of my best patronizing smiles and patted her on the head. “So much for remembering your party manners.”
How many times have we been embarrassed by a friend's overreaction? This little piece taps into that shared experience allowing us to laugh at it. Note, also, that little bit of snark on the end just to wrap the joke up.
For a Quick Exercise see if you can write down up to five ways that situations/people in your life have embarrassed or scared you, and how many of them have you, later on, twisted it around and laughed about it with your friends.