Like many writers, I’ve been flummoxed by the challenge of adding a little humor to my writing. I don’t want my prose to feel as stale as last week’s bread, (or worse: last year’s slang!) Or even worse, rely on worn-out cliches. But just how do you add the funny?
Timing, as we all have heard, is everything. Saving the punch line for the end makes the joke funnier. But you need a good joke to start with.
I did a little surfing, and here’s the best advice I found:
HOLD YOUR READERS’ ATTENTION WITH INCONGRUITY
(Excerpted from Writer’s Digest)
Incongruity is the main reason we laugh. When logic and familiarity are replaced by things that don’t normally go together, such as a man lying in a hammock in an elevator, humor arises naturally as our minds recognize that things are out of place and try to find a way to make them connect.
Donna Gephart, author of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award–winning middle-grade novel As If Being 12¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is President, notes: “I always strive for the unexpected—quirky characters, unusual settings, wild plot ideas, etc. And I tend to find opportunities to sneak more humor into my books through successive revisions.” But incongruity is effective in other ways, too. Even if your goal isn’t laughter but simply keeping your readers engaged, you can use incongruity to keep things fresh by finding ways to combine unexpected elements.
A great way to summon incongruity is an exercise I call the Journalistic Association List. Simply write the words who, what, where, when and why across the top of a sheet of paper and separate the columns with vertical lines. Then draw a horizontal line about halfway down the page. Choose your topic (the more concrete, the better—for example, “space travel”) and in the appropriate columns in the upper half of the grid, fill in all the words you naturally associate with the topic. Then ask yourself, What don’t I associate with this topic? Fill the bottom half of the page with your answers. Select the most interesting associations, and consider: How can you use them to add interest to your work-in-progress?
What a great practical tool!
USE FUNNY WORDS
On another page at Writer’s Digest, I found this list of words that just make any sentence funnier. Or at least not quite so poker faced.
Some of my favorites:
Bumfuzzle I don’t even know what this is
Kerplunk Much better than drop
Waddle A common word, but conjures up images that make me smile
Write to Done had a great tip:
USE A THESAURUS
A single word can be really, really funny. It may be the way they sound or even how they’re spelled that gets the laugh. You’ll know immediately when you see one, which is why your thesaurus is essential. For example, destroy is routine but pulverize is hilarious. Yellow is conventional but chartreuse is witty. Surprise is ordinary but flabbergasted is priceless.
And then, a final word from Dark Cargo:
HUMOR IS SUBJECTIVE
No matter how hard you try, you can’t make everyone laugh. Humor is extremely subjective. What’s funny to me may fall flat to you, and vice versa. Fortunately, for fiction writers there is a workaround:
So lest my attempts at humor go kerplunk, I’ll get my mind waddling off. Hope I haven’t bumfuzzled you!