Friday, April 9, 2010

Bring the Funny

If you were ever a fan of the TV show The West Wing -- and if you weren't, start watching, because it's more awesome than apple pie--, you might remember an episode in which Sam gathered together everyone he could find to revise a speech, because, as he said, the speechwriters "forgot to bring the funny." When it comes to writing, that's sometimes been my problem.

As I looked back over some parts of The Thief Book, I felt that I was going too long without being amused. Maybe it's because I'd seen it before, but things weren't amusing me as much as I'd like. (Admittedly, I'd kind of like the people reading my book(s) to be falling off their beds laughing, though I accept that might not be the case.)

Here's my thing about the funny, it's important. It's the grease on the wheels, the butter on the baking dish, and some other metaphor about smoothing things out to ease processes. The humor helps make parts of the story that would otherwise be unappealing to the reader, or not as interesting or important to the reader.

One place I like to make sure there's humor is descriptions. A while back, I read a description of pacing that basically said that during description, the pace slows to pretty much zero. For all the words there are on the page, there is no real action occurring. Description is, in comparison to just about everything else that's happening, slow. So, if I'm asking my reader to read words in which nothing is happening, I can at least make sure that the words are amusing and interesting. Wouldn't you rather read "Rebbecca weighed the chances of surviving a jump from the third floor window. Minimal. But if her choices were the window or continuing this conversation, she'd have to pick the window," than read "she didn't want to continue this conversation"? I, personally, would.

Another place to inject humor into your story is to use it as means of filling out your characters. I mean, let your characters be funny. They're allowed to tell jokes and be amusing, in between giving out useful info and doing interesting things and, in other ways, saving the universe (or contributing to its downfall. Villains can be funny, too). A character's humor says a lot about them. Not all characters are funny in the same way, just like all people aren't funny in the same way. Some characters might not even be funny at all. (I admit it, I hope to write a character who cannot tell jokes or tries and fails to be funny. I'd love that.)

Sure, there are times when humor isn't appropriate. Have you ever watched a sitcom and a really dramatic or emotional moment is occurring only to be cut short by a joke? Doesn't that just make you want to throw a pillow/soft drink/cat at the set? My personal response tending to be along the lines of "May a swift and Ebola-like death come unto you! Why can't you just let things be?" All of which is my way of saying that sometimes humor has a time and a place (much like warm weather, despite what my current environment seems to think. Anyway...)

How much humor do you try to include in your writing? Do you like funny books, or do you tend to the more dramatic genres? Any humor-related pet peeves?


  1. Great post, Dominique! Yes, funny is important - but I like how you hit on the situation appropriateness of it. It's got to be fine-tuned and placed correctly to really work.

  2. Humor is important to me. I don't write comedy, but I do write humor. It's essential to my life. and btw I loved your sample :)

  3. There's a few funny lines in my stories. My betas like pointing them out and inserting little smiley faces. So I'm not totally bland and serious. ;)

  4. While I love reading humorous stuff, I don't really write much humor into my stories and poems. This post has me reconsidering that. Thanks!!

  5. I find it an absolute must to have at least one character who becomes the comic relief. He/she can always be counted for a one-liner in a tough spot. It doesn't mean that all the humor is channeled through that one character, but he/she definitely stands out in that regard. I also find it useful to twist things around during dramatic moments to have that person go against character and be silent.

  6. I think humor plays a crucial role in any story. It endears us to characters, eases the tension, and enhances the experience. =D

  7. Talli -- I'm glad you liked it. Appropriateness matters, I believe.

    Karen -- I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    KAH -- I can confirm, you are not totally bland and serious.

    Terresa -- I'm glad you found it thought-provoking.

    DL -- Comic relief characters are always fun.

    L.T. -- Very nice. Well summed up. :)