It's been one of those weeks where my mind has been elsewhere, but don't worry: I won't bore you with the reasons. Suffice it to say life has thrown us one of its hilarious curves, and we're coping. It'll be fine.
So when it came time to post, I sat for a while trying to focus and not necessarily bringing my "A" game. When something like that happens, I usually ask myself a few questions, and that tends to lead to the hint of an idea. Most of the time.
This week's question: What can I offer our readers that they can't get everywhere else? The answer was fairly depressing (not much), but after some reflection, it occurred to me that I've often been asked how one can write things that are funny. So I thought I'd offer a few pointers, in the form of rules. This is done because rules can be presented in a fashion that requires fewer words while taking up more space, creating the illusion of value-added content.
There are times I think I should have gone into marketing. Then I try to think of how to market my books more effectively and realize maybe it wasn't my calling after all.
Rules for Writing Funny
- If you're not a funny person, save us all the suffering and don't try to write funny. I will compensate you by not trying to write serious.
- Consider what is the accepted, conventional way to write your scene--and then do the opposite.
- The same with characters. Avoid the cliche. Do the unexpected. Write a surly, threatening florist. A singing dentist. A hit man with a Ph.D.
- Let your character have a sense of humor. People who don't get the joke are useful, but as secondary characters, not carrying the show.
- Try to think like a Borscht Belt comedian. This doesn't help, but it's a fun exercise.
- Never think about things that made you laugh. For one thing, they've already been done. For another, you don't want to use someone else's idea, even if it's not a conscious effort. Not only is that bad legally, but your readers will no doubt notice as well.
- Pay attention while writing dialogue. If a character says something that could be cliched or familiar, you have the potential to make fun of the situation even while advancing the plot.
- Don't write "wacky" situations because you're sure they'll be hilarious. They won't. They'll just remind your readers that the story they're reading is supposed to be funny, and they'll wonder why they're not laughing. Uh-oh...
- Know when not to write something funny. Death is, generally speaking, not a riot. Injecting what passes for humor into a murder scene blunts the emotion. Let it play out, and make fun of the aftermath.
- Don't censor yourself. I'm not talking about "bad" language; I'm saying the best comedy ideas come subconsciously. Let them happen and don't fret over each word. This is just a first draft.
- By the way, there is no such thing as "bad language."
- Don't create stereotypical or exaggerated characters without noting that they are those things. Otherwise, the reader will wonder why nobody's saying anything about that ridiculous personality in the scene.
- Comedy is not possible without pain. Don't try to make everything sunny and light. You'll lose your edge.
- On the other hand, if nothing but tragedy is visited upon your reader, making him/her laugh is a pretty tough job. They call it "comic relief" for a reason, and it doesn't mean, "reading a graphic novel to make your headache go away."
- Listen to the dialogue in great comedies of any medium. Don't try to copy them, but take note of what works and what doesn't.
- It helps if you're a little crazy.
That's it for this week, kids. Go ahead and try these suggestions. If you write the world's most hilarious book and become a massive bestseller... I'll probably be jealous. I'm just letting you know in advance.