Every time I get out, they pull me back in! I thought I was done with chapter six. Oh boy, was I wrong. I had to go back and complete the action, then set things up for the next chapter. NOW I am ready to move onto chapter seven.
Writing Advice: Humor? Why?
Please pay no attention to the title of this piece. It was written for illustrative purposes only. This article is about humor in narrative.
Here’s the problem with humor. Bad humor is tragedy. Actually, it’s beyond tragedy. Bad humor is anti-humor, which often produces rage.
Ever hear about a show called “Mystery Science Theater 3000?” It’s an excellent show where they take bad movies and make fun of them. The thing is, nearly all of those movies were serious sci-fi, detective, or romantic movies. They only did one or two comedies. It’s because it’s terrifically hard to take something not at all funny and make it funny.
How do you make something funny? Mel Brooks once said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when YOU fall through an open manhole and die.”
Comedy is usually other people’s suffering, but done in an absurd or exaggerated way. You’re never going to see a hilarious movie about American slavery, just like you’ll never see a sitcom set in a World War 2 German prisoner camp.
Oh, sh… there IS one set in a German prisoner camp? “Hogan’s Heroes?” Damn! How did they get away with that?!
Anyway, Colonel Klink aside, It’s hard to make the lighter side of a definite human tragedy. There will never be a rollicking romp set in Nanking in 1937.
No, there won’t.
Which is why comedy is so hard. There is a narrow target, and if missed it becomes horrible. It’s the writing version of preparing the Fugu fish. A mistake results in deadly poison rather than a fun evening out on the town.
It’s because humor demands a very specific result from the audience: laughter. And if you announce that something will be funny, you are almost daring your audience to not laugh.
All this being said, humor can be vital to story telling. The more serious the situation, the more humor is needed to balance out the experience. It is a strong seasoning, so pepper lightly. Don’t have someone spouting off puns while saving someone from being raped. Make the humor situational.
A bizarre example from real life: World War One was literal hell. I think the conditions were FAR worse on the battlefield than in World War Two, least of all because PTSD wasn’t recognized as a mental illness. Back then it was called “moral cowardice,” and one got murdered by the state for that.
Many soldiers did their best to cope via graveyard humor. Some would pick up the now-decayed skulls of their former countrymen and hold puppet shows. Others laid bets on which rookie would get killed first. It was sick humor, and something that also helped the soldiers cope in a very little way.
In that example, the humor is not funny, but is necessary. It was something that the soldiers at the time thought of as the funniest things they’d ever seen. Even after the war was over, the black, bleak humor was a bonding thing – something every soldier knew that no one else in the world would understand.
On a completely different note, note the title to this piece. It’s not funny. It’s not even a little funny. It should evoke nothing but scorn from you. On consideration, it was idiotic to use this title since it screams “GO AWAY” to any possible reader.
But I think it is a fine example of something “humorous” not working at all. It’s a cheap “sound-alike” joke that has no reference to anything, plays nowhere with nothing, and is not instrumental to anything. If used seriously, it would’ve been a signal that the author thought highly of themselves as a humorist, which is the death of comedy.
Humor should flow naturally from a situation, even if it is just a reaction to that situation. Humor for humor’s sake grinds down a story to a halt.
To wrap up, consider two authors: Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. Both wrote hilarious books and did very well for themselves. They are highly regarded as experts in the field.
They never telegraphed jokes. They never did a joke for a joke’s sake. Their humor was woven so deeply into their narrative that their stories would fall apart without it. They never strained to make a joke, forcing a situation to resolve into a mere punchline. The humor flowed naturally out of the situations they painted. None of their characters were there for a cheap laugh. They had something do to, somewhere to go, and valid reasons for both.
So if you put humor in your story, approach cautiously. Is what you wrote really funny? Is it natural to your story? Or is it just a joke you thought of one day and are just mushing it into the story because you’re proud of the punchline?
Have you incorporated humor into your stories? How did you do it? Any advice for others? Let me know!