Humor in Writing- Five Ways to Do It

Photo by Гоар Авдалян on Unsplash

Hi SEers. John is with you today. The other day I was staring at my computer screen like it was the Oracle of Delphi, hoping to at least get a hint on what to post today. But, like the Oracle, my blank screen seemed reluctant to put forth anything for which it could be held accountable. Then, like an angel’s visitation, Staci Troilo sent a message that read, Would you consider a post or series about writing humor in fiction? My response was an excited promise to try. So here goes. This may be a stand-alone or a series, but in any case, let’s hope you enjoy it.

Humor in writing is very different than other types of humor. The marked difference is there are no visual or audible cues to let the reader know that whatever is on the page is supposed to be funny. A writer can’t start humor with classic setups to let the reader know a joke is coming. The two men walk into a bar joke set up generally does not go well in a novel. Think also, about watching a TV comedy. You have actors with facial and vocal expressions to let you know humor is involved. Even if those fall flat, there is a laugh track to let you know you need to at least smile. A book page has none of those props. Whatever is written on that page will either work or not. So, crafting humor like all else in the book with the reader in mind is essential.

For this post, I will suggest five things a writer can do to improve the possibility that what has been written with a humorous intent will be taken that way. Of course, since there are as many senses of humor as there are people on the planet, none of these are guaranteed to have your reader doubled over in laughter. But as the old saying goes trying these can’t hurt.

1 Use funny words. Right here, I want to make a bet with you. Ready? I’ll write a word, and I’ll bet you will smile, if not laugh. Here goes. . . Hippopotamus. You smiled, didn’t you? Of course, writing a story about a hippopotamus may be difficult, but it doesn’t preclude you from using the word in a totally different context. Here’s an example: Fred starts stomping out the campfire like a hippopotamus obsessed with Smoky the Bear. That line is not dependent on anything else in the story to be funny. The word carries the day. There is a whole mess of funny words. Once a writer gets used to finding funny words writing humor becomes much easier. Here are ten as a gift: bamboozled, bifurcate, doohickey, girdle, kahuna, knickers, rumpus, spork, tuber, and weasel. If you want to laugh, make a sentence using each. If you want to wet your pants, make a sentence using all of them.

2 Take an ordinary situation and throw in an outrageous turn. This will usually get a chuckle, if not an outright laugh. The important thing is to pick a situation that most readers would understand. For example, going to the grocery store. Then refine the situation so that the humor will be thoroughly understood. For our purpose, let it be the produce aisle. Your protagonist has entered the meat department of a grocery store. They observe someone sneaking a canned ham under their vast skirt. You could let it go there since the reader is undoubtedly smiling at the idea of someone putting a canned ham under a dress and trying to get out the door, more or less duckwalking with the product between the legs. The real bomb is delivered when the canned ham clatters to the floor, and the person yells, “Who’s throwing canned hams at me.”

3 Surprise your reader with a twist that is unexpected but funny. To do this effectively, it can only be done once or twice in a story. You first set up the trope according to your genre. Let’s say it is an action story. You have a scene where two good guys are in a pitched battle with drug lords. They are pinned down in a warehouse, and it is clear that the number of shots each has taken with their pistols is about to lead to empty guns. One guy whispers to the other, inquiring about his ammo, and then the other starts firing again. Finally, his partner yells to be heard over the automatic weapon noise. “I’m almost out.” Just as the word “out” is said, the other side quits firing, and the word echoes around the big warehouse. The one guy then says, “Why don’t you go ahead repeat that but this time make it louder in case some of those guys missed it.”

4 Look for humor in real-life situations. Humor is all around us, and if we pay attention, things happening in life can be added to a story. The key is recognizing the situation and writing it down so you can recall it later. I’m reminded of a story a friend of mine told. He returned from a week-long trip, and upon entering the house, his wife was waiting at the door. Her arms folded, and she asked how come he never brought flowers or candy to her like his neighbor did for his wife. He thought a moment and then said, “I guess I’ve never done anything on the road that I need to apologize for.” That was the last time he heard about the flowers.

5 Write humor that is consistent with your author’s voice. If you are a reserved author, and your stories are disciplined, then you humor has to carry the same reserved tone. If you are outgoing and gregarious and your stories take your personality, you can amp up the comedy to encompass more broadness. If your stories are serious and you are a serious author, you might want to think first before you add humor.

Humor is not a must-have in every book or story. However, when done well, it adds to the reader’s enjoyment. I hope you found this post of interest. How about you? Do you have any thoughts about humor? Let us know in the comments.

122 thoughts on “Humor in Writing- Five Ways to Do It

  1. Pingback: Daisy Woodworm Changes the World — Review & Giveaway – Rosi Hollinbeck

  2. Pingback: Understanding Humor – Just a Little More | Story Empire

  3. Pingback: Humor na escrita – cinco maneiras de fazer isso – CURIOSIDADES NA INTERNET

  4. Pingback: Humor in Writing- Five Ways to Do It – Nelsapy

  5. I’d say that the more narrative driven comedy — odd situational toon juxtaposition, breech of manners or code, inversion of meaning — all get the biggest laughs. Improv only really works for improv shows, despite trends. And you can’t build a story off of one liners. Puns don’t work if they have to be said aloud so there’s a difference between visual and audible puns

    For BELL HAMMERS, most of the humor came through the pranks or the mocking of pranksters, even though it’s a very “serious” novel

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Humor in Writing- Five Ways to Do It – A1 marketing forum

  7. Thanks for the excellent post, John. I’m reminded of the old Dick Van Dyke Show episode where he talks to Richie’s class about what comedy writers do to make their work funny. His results you could see acted out. Without that, writers must anticipate what readers imagine and shape that best they can.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Mistakes are basic keys to going forward and broom leftovers. So writing just need a white paper to paste our thoughts on it. Write again and again to clean leftovers and climb up the mountains of perfection.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I like humor , they say laughter is the best medicine😂😂 and jokes really make you feel good especially if you had a stressful day humor is what a person needs to calm their nerves down. As a blogger I do use a bit of humor not all the time because my blog is about fashion & style so I always write serious posts about clothing with the aim of helping men dress better🙏

    This is a great blog about humor John and the ways to include it in a blog I am sure some writers with take note🔥

    Liked by 1 person

  10. For me, This knowledge and experience that you shared is Just so uplifting !
    And yes what’s been said here about humor in writing is totally the base.
    There are no fixed marks or symbols also which helped in writing humor !

    We come down to only words and then sentences with no words like a pause is necessary but while in the sentence but it’s only the words that’s making you laugh.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Hi John, whenever I read anything about writing humour, I think of this quote from Matilda by Roald Dahl: “There aren’t many funny bits in Mr Tolkien either,’ Matilda said.
    ‘Do you think that all children’s books ought to have funny bits in them?’ Miss Honey asked.
    ‘I do,’ Matilda said. ‘Children are not so serious as grown-ups and love to laugh.”
    I don’t include any humour in my adult writing. I am a serious person and I don’t really have light thoughts. I do include some in my children’s writing but my mood for that writing is vastly different. I can’t write for children unless I’m on holiday and relaxed.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I actually try to have a little humor in my writing at times, particularly with my music, but let’s say you’re writing about something a little dark. Humor might be a reasonable option to get a serious point across, but to each it’s own I guess. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ve always had at least a smile from your posts, John. Frequently, you’ve made me chuckle, too – and so I know I’m in the hands of a master. Your advice is pertinent and really useful for someone who often struggles to create humour on the page. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Fantastic post, John. Writing humor is tricky. Sometime the funny line doesn’t get the laugh. Then, along comes the scene written in all seriousness, and the laughs flow. A good author will take credit for the unintended.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Oh, I loved this post, John! I was grinning through all of it. I especially loved the story of your friend, his wife, and the flowers.

    I’ll drop humor in my stories on occasion, but I tend to slant to a more serious tone as a writer. I did, however, pen two comedic tales—a short called “Miss Lily Makes a Wish,” and a novella, “In Search of McDoogal.” Because I tend to write darker, they were a fun departure. I had a blast writing both, and hope to try comedy again!

    Liked by 3 people

  16. This is a good post, John. I don’t typically write humor into my works, but I love a good pun. And those do make it into many of my works. I would love to read more. Hippopotamus made me smile and think of the song, I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Now I know why my husband doesn’t bring me flowers, John. Phew! Lol. That was pretty funny. I don’t put much humor in my books. A little snark now and then or a character with a comical take on life, but humor is so hard to write well. I admire anyone who gets it right because blurting out a laugh while reading is delightful. A fun post!

    Liked by 3 people

  18. This was a great idea and post, John 🙂 Humor is the hardest for me to write, but I love to read it. The word list did make me smile. You have some good suggestions how to incorporate humor into a story using our own voice.Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

  19. I cannot think of a more appropriate subject for you to write about, John. And thanks to Staci, for jarring your creativity. I love all of these suggestions. I have to admit I laughed at the canned ham escapade. 🙂 I like throwing a bit of humor in my stories, and often it may come through animals. My sister recently wrote a book that had a parrot in it and that certainly added to the humor. Great tips and suggestions. I hope we’ll see more on this! Thanks, John!

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Hippopotamus? Yep, that brings a smile, along with your other examples. Some people are gifted with seeing the laughter-side of life and you are one of those few, John. Thank you for sharing how writers might include this life-facet in their written work. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  21. You didn’t have to give me a shout-out, but I appreciate it. This is probably the closest I’ve ever come to being called an angel. I’ll take it!

    I’m so glad you wrote this post. It’s clear humor comes naturally to you, and I figured I might as well ask the master how he does it. (And now I really want you to write a sentence with all ten words from point one.)

    Great post, John.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Some great points here, John. I write for kids, for the most part, so I try to pop in things kids would find funny. They like funny words (funny to them) like underwear, fart, burp – you get the idea.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Pingback: Humor in Writing- Five Ways to Do It | Legends of Windemere

  24. Some of us (and that includes you) are funny people and it comes out in our writing naturally. It never feels forced when I read you and I sure hope it never does in my stuff! Nothing worse than when a writer tries too hard. Excellent suggestions, John.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. I think the trick is not to try too hard. If something turns up naturally (perhaps a character everyone will recognise, or a situation we’ve all experienced) don’t over-egg the custard pie. Just let it fall and lay there. If the reader has little sense of humour and doesn’t pick it up, no harm is done. On the other hand, if they slip on it…

    Liked by 6 people

  26. I’m one of those serious types. Any humor in my writing isn’t planned; it’s delivered by the characters themselves doing or saying something that turns out to be funny. If the humor makes sense and fits the situation, I leave it in. But that’s it. I don’t think I could ever write a piece with the intention of making it humorous.

    Liked by 5 people

We'd love to know what you think. Comment below.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s