Writing Excuses Episode 21: Humor
This episode is about humor, how to make people laugh, with a particular focus on writers. How do you write humor, why do we write humor, more suggestions about how to write humor, and a writing prompt to get you started. Now if we can include cute, naughty, bizarre, clever, recognizable, and cruel elements in our jokes, we’ll get the laughs. Like a brick doesn’t.
How do you write humor?
- I write things that make me laugh and hope that other people have the same sort of sense of humor. Then I go back, look at what I’ve written, take it apart, and see why I laugh. This helps me refine the punchline. Most of my humor is punch line driven, not funny situations. Dialogue. You do beats — 1, 2, bam — 1, 2, bam.
- I write dark humor. Most of it is audacious — did he really say that? It’s surprising.
- most of mine is based on the character’s voice.
Why do we write humor? Like fantasy, why not?
- we write humor because if we want to be evocative of emotion, humor is one of them. We need to make people laugh, cry, scared, excited.
- the best stories have a humorous element.
- I write things that I think are funny. Horror needs humor. For example, when the protagonist is a 15-year-old sociopathic serial killer, if he’s not funny, people will not identify with him. It’s hard to identify with sociopathic killers.
- Larry Niven said that humor is an interrupted defense mechanism. Often we laugh because the alternative is to shriek in terror or to cry. Even puns, are a corruption of language, and we either get angry or laugh.
- It comes back to fulfilling promises. Humor is fulfilling promises in unexpected ways.
- or breaking the promise, but we can point to how it fulfills it.
- surprising but inevitable — a joke is often funny because we don’t see it coming, but it needs a good setup.
- fantasy walks the line between the original and the familiar. It’s the strange attractor of the familiar and the original. Humor is the same. For example, Terry Pratchett describes a man doing something very unusual as being like a dog trying to play a trombone. The combination of a dog and a trombone is humorous.
- the descriptions where a narrator is telling a joke by describing something using words you wouldn’t expect. The Norse god moves his arm, and the muscles flexed like parking Volkswagens.
- or Douglas Adams, “the Vogon ships hung in the sky exactly the way that bricks don’t.” [and the tech laughs]
- written humor is very different from performed humor
how do you write humor?
- Scott Adams says you need to hit at least two out of the six: cute, naughty, bizarre, clever, recognizable, cruel. However, this seems to give a tool for analyzing jokes, but not necessarily for writing them.
- a lot of it is trial and error. One thing I tried made people laugh if they knew me. Now I try to make the humor text-based instead of personality-based.
- part of that is establishing a narrator, then playing off the narrator’s voice.
How do you do that?
- watch the evening talkshow monologues — Leno? Most of them are strawmen, put’m up and knock’m down, one-liner after one-liner. Then watch Craig Ferguson (? I don’t know the US shows). He has a 15 minute monologue, with the jokes connected, and he’ll set up a joke early and then pay off on it later.
- preparation — lay the foundation, then hit the joke. A lot of it is foreshadowing. You need to foreshadow jokes just like you foreshadow plot twists.
[We’ll skip lightly past the spoiler about a person in one of Brandon’s books who curses using nuts, walnuts and such, and then makes a final reference to seafood — and yes, guys, I do know the joke, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Southwest. Kind of a regional joke though, I’ve known people on the East Coast who wouldn’t have any idea what you were talking about.]
Can of Worms: humor, non sequiturs, puns, how to be funny without losing your character or plot
And the writing prompt: write something funny in which strong profanity is appropriate but doesn’t happen.
See you next week.
Current Mood: bouncy
Current Music: International Harvester, Craig Morgan