Incorporating Humor into Your Writing
by Ally Broadfield
Sociologists, anthropologists, and biologists believe that the ability of humans to laugh serves two essential life functions: to lessen tension and anxiety, and to help us bond with others. Both of these are compelling reasons to incorporate humor into your writing. As romance writers, one of our primary goals is to make an emotional connection with our readers, and the effective use of humor can go a long way toward accomplishing this. Studies have proved that laughter helps a reader focus on a story and remember it afterward.
Many writers look to screenwriters and the three-act structure to plot our books, and we can also learn a lot about incorporating humor into our writing from screenwriters, sitcom writers, and stand up comedians.
The K Rule
Ask any comedy writer and he’ll tell you that words with a hard “k” or hard “c” sound are funny. The K Rule is a useful tool for making word choices that will subconsciously or subtly amuse your readers. To confirm this, watch any great comedy movie or sitcom and you’ll discover that many of the jokes utilize a word with these sounds.
The Rule of Three
Comedic writing usually involves establishing a pattern (with the setup) and then misdirecting the reader (with the punch line). The easiest way to do this is to pair two like ideas and then add a third, incongruent, idea. We use a list of three is because studies have shown that three is the number of things people can most easily remember. “My dog’s favorite foods are bones, bacon, and furniture.”
Put the Funniest Word at the End
Humor writers always put the punchline at the end of the joke. A corollary to that rule is to put the funniest word at the end of the punchline sentence. Again, our hungry dog from above proves this. “My dog’s favorite foods are furniture, bones, and bacon” isn’t nearly as funny as it was when “furniture” was at the end of the sentence (okay, I know this example was never that funny, but you see what I mean).
Of course we all know what a surprise is, but in comedy, it is the foundation of misdirection. To use it, you present a set of circumstances and then add an opposing twist. For example, consider this joke from stand-up comedian James Mendrinos: Last time I was around here I went hunting. I bagged a really huge deer while driving my Honda.
The most important tool to use when writing humor is your imagination. “What If” is my favorite tool, because it can be used with any type of humor. It requires you to think of something in a new way, preferably in a way none of your readers have considered. The following exercise is in Melvin Helitzer’s book, Comedy Writing Secrets: Consider two Coke bottles – what could they possibly be besides bottles? Make a list with as many possibilities as you can. Here are a few of the things he came up with: corn holders for the Jolly Green Giant, a newfangled breast implant, portable urinals, ear plugs for elephants, and spin the bottle for schizophrenics. The next time you get stuck when adding humor to your writing, try this exercise with any object around your house – it’s guaranteed to get your creative juices flowing.
The tips in this article come from a lesson in my workshop
Incorporating Humor into Your Writing
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Ally Broadfield lives in Texas and is convinced her house is shrinking, possibly because she shares it with three kids, five dogs, two cats, a rabbit, and several reptiles. Oh, and her husband. She likes to curse in Russian and spends most of her spare time letting dogs in and out of the house and shuttling kids around. She writes historical romance and middle grade/young adult fantasy. Her first book, Just a Kiss, is coming from Entangled Publishing in December 2013.
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