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Writing Humor (1 Viewer)

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Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
The great Oscar Wilde is perhaps known as the wittiest author that ever lived. His rumored last words were a nod to his love of humor:

"This wallpaper will be the death of me. One of us will have to go."


Personally, I live life with humor. My family uses wit to get through life’s struggles and once we are past the trauma we laugh about it for years.
I try to use humor when I write fiction, particularly in dialogue. Here is a sample where I have tried to include humor, much in the way that I experience it in my own life.

Version #1

Dwight handed her a bouquet of small, yellow flowers. Jennifer buried her nose into them and said, “They smell heavenly. What are they?”

“They’re yellow jasmine. I chose them because they are a symbol of grace and elegance.” He grinned.
She thought it was the most romantic thing he’d ever said.

Version #2

Dwight handed her a bouquet of small, yellow flowers. Jennifer buried her nose into them and said, “They smell heavenly. What are they?

“They’re yellow jasmine. I chose them because they are a symbol of grace and elegance.” He grinned.
She thought it was the most romantic thing he’d ever said, until he added, “Like me,” and then chuckled. Always sarcastic! she thought.


Does it work?

What are your thoughts on using humor in fiction? Are there some genres, for example dark fantasy, where humor is not appropriate?

Is humor something you incorporate in your writing? If yes, do you find it harder to write?
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
The first one is funnier I think. Or am I misinterpreting the joke?

Dwight handed her a bouquet of small, yellow flowers. Jennifer buried her nose into them (an inelegant and graceless action), and said, “They smell heavenly. What are they?”

“They’re yellow jasmine. I chose them because they are a symbol of grace and elegance.
(sarcasm) He grinned. She thought it was the most romantic thing he’d ever said. <- this line makes it even funnier, but also makes her cute.

edit: Probably not what you wanted. Yes, I add humour but only if it feels natural. A stand out for me is a moment I had at a friends house who used to burn discs using torrents. He was finding a cover for the disc:

"That's no good," I said. "It's upside down."
"It's alright," he said, "I can rotate it in photoshop."

He could not understand why I was in hysterics.
 
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indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I got nothin'. Humor is a blind spot for me, I've tried writing about funny things I've witnessed and experienced and always received blank stares in response.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I got nothin'. Humor is a blind spot for me, I've tried writing about funny things I've witnessed and experienced and always received blank stares in response.

Actually, I had some chuckles while reading Departures with Liam not knowing 20th century terms and idioms. Does this ring a bell?

One thing I can't figure out...he began.
"Is why they they're called 'cowboys' when they ride horses?" Rose and Denise said in tandem and then laughed.
"You also don't know what a 'cow' is, Denise added.
"I'm that predictable huh?"
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Actually, I had some chuckles while reading Departures with Liam not knowing 20th century terms and idioms. Does this ring a bell?

One thing I can't figure out...he began.
"Is why they they're called 'cowboys' when they ride horses?" Rose and Denise said in tandem and then laughed.
"You also don't know what a 'cow' is, Denise added.
"I'm that predictable huh?"

Thanks!

I wrote a short story years ago about a motorcycling incident from 1973 - an era when guys fashion went toward wearing huge bell-bottom pants. A bee flew up the pant leg of one of the guys, and right in front of of a batch of Stanford University co-eds, he dropped his trousers and did a weird kicking cowboy dance in the middle of the street.

Anyway - I thought the story was great, but but all it garnered were a few chuckles.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I get the joke. I think you need to punch it up a bit. Where you have "a symbol of" and "like me" reads to me like it compares him to the symbol rather than defining him, so I think you could use a slight rewording to sell that connection.

It reminds me of something I commonly say. I order iced tea, and the waitress always asks, "Sweetened or unsweetened". I sometimes answer, "Sweet, like me". I generally get a smile and sometimes a chuckle.

Humor has a place anywhere, and in my mind the more serious and tense the story, the more reason you need it to give the reader a break. Compare "The Dark Knight" to the 1989 movie "Batman" with Michael Keaton. "Batman" has cruelty, madness, mass murder, disfigurement, and torture. It's pretty grim stuff. Yet there are frequent tension breaks in the form of humor. I've watched the film many times. On the other hand, "The Dark Knight" also has all of that, and not one tension break. It's a fantastic movie, yet I watched it once and never will again. It was exhausting.

I throw in humor here and there in everything I write. People have told me where they laughed, so I must be lucky enough to get it right some of the time. I put it that way because I've often heard it said that humor is the hardest thing to write. Actors say it's more difficult to portray than drama.

However, for me I'm not going to say it's harder to write, because I don't "try" to write it. I don't start a scene with the idea "Okay, I'm about to write a funny scene". As I write, I sometimes recognize the opportunity to make a part of a scene or a section of dialogue humorous, and I take it. Maybe that's cheating. :) But I'm not writing a sitcom on a schedule where I have to write funny on Friday to start filming on Monday. When I see it, it doesn't really have to fit the story if I see a lighter side to the action. I'll go for it anyway.

For example, I have a scene in my WIP where the MC is having a battle with a sorcerer who has a summoned demon under his control. To start the scene, my MC is unaware he's in the room with a sorcerer and a summoned demon. He's thinking the sorcerer is just some guy he wants to ask a few questions, and the demon is a "damsel in distress". My MC is the Olympian God of Luck (living in modern times), and he's just teleported two people to Athena's place. It was supposed to be a serious scene, but I couldn't resist throwing in some humor (I hope). Bear in mind this is first draft stuff:

It isn't easy to surprise Athena.

Standing in the 'big den' with two strangers. I took a quick look around. No Athena, but she stepped into the room only moments later. She eyed the two interlopers and raised an eyebrow as she favored me with a sidewise look. That's how I knew she was surprised.

Inspecting my transportees, both looked stunned, but the man was recovering. His expression moved from surprise to outrage. He was just about to verbally express that outrage, so I stepped up face to face, which interrupted his impulse for a moment. I didn't give him a second moment. I sucker punched him in the xiphoid process, paralyzing his diaphragm. He went down in a fetal ball. It would be at least a couple of minutes before he caught his breath and regained the power of speech.

The redhead, who had been spilling out of the unlaced corset, was now gathering it up about her. I stepped behind her, grabbed the laces, and pulled them tight at the top. That brought a sharp exhale from her. I considered changing my designation from 'god of luck' to 'god of shortness of breath'. Nah. Just didn't have the same zip.

I pointed to the couch. "Sit down, dear." Eyes wide, she plopped down onto it.

I considered that Athena had exercised remarkable patience with this scene. It couldn't last forever, and 'not forever' was now. When I turned back to face her, a somewhat grim expression needed no words to demand an explanation.

"The girl is the product of white-knight syndrome. The guy put her in that situation." The side of Athena's mouth quirked up on the left with the unmistakable attitude 'And this is relevant how?' "The guy is also the schmuck I picked out to question. I mentioned hits on Olympians and he suddenly got all interested. I decided I'd make more progress questioning him here than in a crowded, noisy room which also might include some number of his friends."

The man had progressed from a series of noises which sounded like a gulping catfish, to a systematized series of wheezes … standard steps of recovery from the indignity I inflicted. Athena walked over and loomed over the girl, then extended a hand to her.

"I'd better take care of her. You ready to start the questioning?"

"Once he can answer, sure."

Athena led the girl off toward her bedroom, I assumed to provide her with a better level of attire. After unbuckling his belt and sliding it free, I put a shoe in the middle of the man's back and pushed to roll him over onto his stomach, then pressed to straighten him out. I leaned over and grabbed the collar of his jacket, then pulled it down to his elbows. This got his arms behind him. I slipped off his dress shoes, extracted a lace from one, and used it to tie his wrists behind him. His hands would soon go numb. I sat on the middle of his back, spun to face his feet, and leaned over to pull the belt tight around his thighs. As long as I sat there, he'd never quite get comfortable breathing, and he wouldn't put up any struggle.

As the Field Marshall said, no plan survives contact with the enemy.

The man spat out a phrase. I don't remember what it sounded like, I was too busy flying backwards across the room and smacking my head against a chair leg. I did hear the snap as the laces parted. I sat up and put a hand to the sharp pain at the back of my skull. As I did so, the man rolled over and up to his knees. He shrugged off the jacket, then unstrapped the belt.

So, DAMN, I was facing a sorcerer, and not a bad one. Being a pagan god, I should have an advantage over a human sorcerer, but that might only be valid if I knew the nature of his magic in advance, and had time to prepare. Gods have been caught by surprise before. My situation was far from the first of its kind. I started to put up a minor ward, but the sorcerer was faster. His right arm shot out parallel to the floor, palm facing me, fingers up. At the same time he barked another short phrase and blasted me again. The chair and I went tumbling back. I ended up face down, my head generally pointed in his direction.

He rose and took a step forward with some idea of taking advantage, but overlooked an important detail. His pants dropped and he fell to his knees again. It interrupted the magic he intended to follow up with, and gave me time to push up on my elbows. I was in the vicinity of chair debris. I decided I was lucky to have not come apart like the chair did as I grabbed a leg and flung it like a club.

One thing you can generally depend on in a sorcerer: they are dependent on their spells, and are crap at martial combat. He figured I was throwing the club at his head, so he ducked. I was throwing the club at his chest. He realized his mistake and compounded it by turning his head. The chair leg caught him square on the temple. Call it luck.

I picked myself up and cradled the back of my head with my hand again. The sorcerer was down. I was just trying to determine if the blow to the temple had killed him outright when I heard a scream come from Athena's bedroom, followed by thrashing, crashing, and an unfamiliar female voice screaming curses of such obscenity that my delicate sensibilities underwent shock. Believe that if you want to. I heard a sharp slap. The yelling stopped abruptly. A sharp slap from anyone is an attention getter. Imagine the impact of a sharp slap from a major goddess.

Athena appeared, backing out of her bedroom, her attention squarely fixed to the fore. I finished taking the pulse of the sorcerer. He was dead.

"Cay. Is there some chance the loud noises I heard coming from out here have anything to do with the crouching, cursing, snarling demon in my boudoir?"

Athena was asking me a question? I thought it best I feed her data.

"The guy out here turned out to be a sorcerer. He sort of knocked me around until I threw a chair leg that caught him up-side the head. Killed him."

"And this is the man you wished to question?"

I hadn't gotten that far yet. It seemed cross purposes to abduct someone for interrogation and then have to kill him within minutes. You might say I didn't feel good about the outcome. I moved up and looked over Athena's shoulder. I beheld a sight a lonesome mortal wouldn't wish to witness. The recently beautiful face was a mask of anger. The lips were rolled back to reveal pronounced fangs. Her fingernails, which I'd previously ignored, now seemed preternaturally long and sharp. She was tensing and relaxing the fingers of one hand, which resulted in shredding a tear in Athena's area rug.

I didn't feel like explanation or alibi, both of which would have been demanded by any words I'd be tempted to utter, so I just grunted. It was an eloquent grunt of affirmation, as one may only elicit from a god.

There was a connection present to be made. Passive girl. Powerful sorcerer. Dead sorcerer. Unleashed demon. Even I could make that connection.

"So the girl is a summoned …"

"When you killed the sorcerer his control ended."

I have such rare opportunity to voice a conclusion before Athena that I was miffed by her interruption.
 
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Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Thanks!

I wrote a short story years ago about a motorcycling incident from 1973 - an era when guys fashion went toward wearing huge bell-bottom pants. A bee flew up the pant leg of one of the guys, and right in front of of a batch of Stanford University co-eds, he dropped his trousers and did a weird kicking cowboy dance in the middle of the street.

Anyway - I thought the story was great, but but all it garnered were a few chuckles.

Hey, I say if you can get any chuckles, you are doing great!
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Dwight presented the bouquet of yellow flowers.

“They smell heavenly," said Jennifer.


“Yellow jasmine, a symbol of grace and elegance.” He grinned.

it was the most romantic thing he ever said, thought Jennifer

“Like me,” he said, "graceful and elegant," he chuckled.

Always sarcastic! she thought.

...

Probably I would pare it down, hoping emotion might travel through the storyline/& the reader's mind. I need to transfer ownership.

I'd try not to direct, it's tiring for a reader. I want them the pleasure of resolving, keeping the curiosity keen. I'm not on the same wavelength re 'humor.' I'm not really understanding. Is he a fool? Constant sarcasm tends to be a dull and an ugly trait...use as a 'shorthand' for 'she's going to leave him'?
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
The great Oscar Wilde is perhaps known as the wittiest author that ever lived. His rumored last words were a nod to his love of humor:

"This wallpaper will be the death of me. One of us will have to go."


Personally, I live life with humor. My family uses wit to get through life’s struggles and once we are past the trauma we laugh about it for years.
I try to use humor when I write fiction, particularly in dialogue. Here is a sample where I have tried to include humor, much in the way that I experience it in my own life.

Version #1

Dwight handed her a bouquet of small, yellow flowers. Jennifer buried her nose into them and said, “They smell heavenly. What are they?”

“They’re yellow jasmine. I chose them because they are a symbol of grace and elegance.” He grinned.
She thought it was the most romantic thing he’d ever said.

Version #2

Dwight handed her a bouquet of small, yellow flowers. Jennifer buried her nose into them and said, “They smell heavenly. What are they?

“They’re yellow jasmine. I chose them because they are a symbol of grace and elegance.” He grinned.
She thought it was the most romantic thing he’d ever said, until he added, “Like me,” and then chuckled. Always sarcastic! she thought.


Does it work?

What are your thoughts on using humor in fiction? Are there some genres, for example dark fantasy, where humor is not appropriate?

Is humor something you incorporate in your writing? If yes, do you find it harder to write?

Humour is always appropriate in fiction. If it's dark fantasy, then let the humour be of the gallows variety. In your example, the second one works. The first one, I went looking for the punchline tbh, but then I often have to be led to these things...

I do (try to) incorporate humour in my fiction, generally as a tension-zeroing device but mostly to amuse myself ;)
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Humour is always appropriate in fiction. If it's dark fantasy, then let the humour be of the gallows variety. In your example, the second one works. The first one, I went looking for the punchline tbh, but then I often have to be led to these things...

I do (try to) incorporate humour in my fiction, generally as a tension-zeroing device but mostly to amuse myself ;)

Yes, my intent was to add humor to the second one, so you read it like me. But TheMightAz, pointed out the first one could be actually funnier if there was a play on her actions, "burried her nose" (not very graceful or elegant) and his description.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Dwight presented the bouquet of yellow flowers.

“They smell heavenly," said Jennifer.


“Yellow jasmine, a symbol of grace and elegance.” He grinned.

it was the most romantic thing he ever said, thought Jennifer

“Like me,” he said, "graceful and elegant," he chuckled.

Always sarcastic! she thought.

...

Probably I would pare it down, hoping emotion might travel through the storyline/& the reader's mind. I need to transfer ownership.

I'd try not to direct, it's tiring for a reader. I want them the pleasure of resolving, keeping the curiosity keen. I'm not on the same wavelength re 'humor.' I'm not really understanding. Is he a fool? Constant sarcasm tends to be a dull and an ugly trait...use as a 'shorthand' for 'she's going to leave him'?

Yes, I like it better this way. When you say "direct", what exactly does that mean?

The humorous part, is supposed to be that she thinks for a moment thought he was complimenting her. But then added a sarcastic quip. She loves him dearly, but it is the one thing that drives her crazy. But, I agree, perhaps it's not that humorous to be sarcastic.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Yes, my intent was to add humor to the second one, so you read it like me. But TheMightAz, pointed out the first one could be actually funnier if there was a play on her actions, "burried her nose" (not very graceful or elegant) and his description.

Ahh, I see. If I was going to edit it, I might try

Dwight handed her a bouquet of small, yellow flowers. Jennifer buried her nose into them and said, “They smell heavenly. What are they?

“They’re yellow jasmine. I chose them because they are a symbol of grace and elegance.” He grinned.
She thought it was the most romantic thing he’d ever said until he added, “Like me."

But old Dwight would have to be a pretty self-deprecating ****er to not come across as a mighty egotist. Jose Mourinho manages something similar in a PaddyPower ad doing the rounds right now.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Oh, it is quite difficult, and is easier to 'say' than to 'do,' and probably for 'draft' but I want the message to travel through my/your/the prose. Rather than telling people what she's thinking I want readers' to think 'if he treated me like that I would leave him/thump him/embrace him...' ... ...kind of invisible hand stuff.

I think you should stay confident to write with humour as you are doing. You don't need validation for 'that' up top, it's realistic and exciting...keep on keeping on.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Ahh, I see. If I was going to edit it, I might try

Dwight handed her a bouquet of small, yellow flowers. Jennifer buried her nose into them and said, “They smell heavenly. What are they?

“They’re yellow jasmine. I chose them because they are a symbol of grace and elegance.” He grinned.
She thought it was the most romantic thing he’d ever said until he added, “Like me."

But old Dwight would have to be a pretty self-deprecating ****er to not come across as a mighty egotist. Jose Mourinho manages something similar in a PaddyPower ad doing the rounds right now.

Oh my gosh, the commercial...great find!

But you make a good point and that is, it depends on the character if this would be funny. For example, if Dwight was typically self-deprecating then it would be funnier than if he were a egotist by nature.

So do you think that her thinking "Always sarcastic", it makes it less funny, because sarcasm is not really that nice?
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Oh my gosh, the commercial...great find!

But you make a good point and that is, it depends on the character if this would be funny. For example, if Dwight was typically self-deprecating then it would be funnier than if he were a egotist by nature.

So do you think that her thinking "Always sarcastic", it makes it less funny, because sarcasm is not really that nice?

No it's not that. It's just too much like belabouring the joke, overdoing it. Make the quip and let it sit. If it's good, it will land. And if you've written Dwayne well, it will work for him .
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
The great Oscar Wilde is perhaps known as the wittiest author that ever lived. His rumored last words were a nod to his love of humor:

"This wallpaper will be the death of me. One of us will have to go."


Personally, I live life with humor. My family uses wit to get through life’s struggles and once we are past the trauma we laugh about it for years.
I try to use humor when I write fiction, particularly in dialogue. Here is a sample where I have tried to include humor, much in the way that I experience it in my own life.

Version #1

Dwight handed her a bouquet of small, yellow flowers. Jennifer buried her nose into them and said, “They smell heavenly. What are they?”

“They’re yellow jasmine. I chose them because they are a symbol of grace and elegance.” He grinned.
She thought it was the most romantic thing he’d ever said.

Version #2

Dwight handed her a bouquet of small, yellow flowers. Jennifer buried her nose into them and said, “They smell heavenly. What are they?

“They’re yellow jasmine. I chose them because they are a symbol of grace and elegance.” He grinned.
She thought it was the most romantic thing he’d ever said, until he added, “Like me,” and then chuckled. Always sarcastic! she thought.


Does it work?

What are your thoughts on using humor in fiction? Are there some genres, for example dark fantasy, where humor is not appropriate?

Is humor something you incorporate in your writing? If yes, do you find it harder to write?

The 2nd one is funnier because we did not expect him to say “Like me”. But I never like it when people state the obvious (when she said he was sarcastic) plus it wasn’t actually sarcasm. I also can’t tell if she likes him using humor or not. Is it predictable and annoying to her that he made a joke? Or is his humor a familiar trait that she loves? There is no humor in the first one unless you make it obvious that her actions should be seen as inelegant. You could make it obvious like her burying her face in the flowers and sneezing or almost falling over.

I try, myself. I liked yours. I wish it came more naturally to me in my writing. In real life humor is very important to me and my husband’s writing is wonderfully humorous but he is also funny naturally. It’s like I’m married to Patton Oswalt.
 

BrandonTheWriter

Senior Member
I'm bad with humour. It is one thing I need to get better at. I have tried to be sarcastic in my writing at times, but not sure if it translates well. Being sarcastic in writing can be very hard.

I find dialogue is a bit easier if you can bounce two or more characters off eachother with punchy comeback lines.

I think humour is one of the hardest things to write.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
The 2nd one is funnier because we did not expect him to say “Like me”. But I never like it when people state the obvious (when she said he was sarcastic) plus it wasn’t actually sarcasm. I also can’t tell if she likes him using humor or not. Is it predictable and annoying to her that he made a joke? Or is his humor a familiar trait that she loves? There is no humor in the first one unless you make it obvious that her actions should be seen as inelegant. You could make it obvious like her burying her face in the flowers and sneezing or almost falling over.

Yes, you are right, the first one wasn't supposed to be humorous. I didn't explain my thread well enough. I was actually reading through my draft and found a similar passage and thought, OMG, it's too Hallmark. So I decided to make Dwight funny. It has been great to give him some character and it has created a whole new dynamic in their relationship. I really hate schlocky (Is that a word? It should be posted in another thread) romance. It does annoy her a bit, but she has come to expect it, and sometimes he does make her laugh.

I agree about not stating the obvious. I'll take that out.

I try, myself. I liked yours. I wish it came more naturally to me in my writing. In real life humor is very important to me and my husband’s writing is wonderfully humorous but he is also funny naturally. It’s like I’m married to Patton Oswalt.

How lucky you are!! My husband and son both have a very dry British wit. I don't know how I would survive without it!
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I'm bad with humour. It is one thing I need to get better at. I have tried to be sarcastic in my writing at times, but not sure if it translates well. Being sarcastic in writing can be very hard.

I find dialogue is a bit easier if you can bounce two or more characters off eachother with punchy comeback lines.

I think humour is one of the hardest things to write.

Agreed!
 
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