Adding a dash of humor to your writing

We are at the letter H in our series on “Authors’ Tips – A to Z of Writing

If you’ve read the previous posts on the subject, you’ll recall that the eight of us – Devika Fernando, Preethi Venugopala, Paromita Goswami, Adite Banerjie, Ruchi Singh, Sudesna Ghosh, Saiswaroopa Iyer and I – are blogging on a myriad of writing-related topics with the topic corresponding to the Alphabet of the Week.

This week I’m going to talk about adding humor to your writing.

I can’t write a blog on humor with mentioning my favorite author.

“If you take life fairly easily, then you take a humorous view of things. …making the thing a sort of musical comedy without music, and ignoring real life altogether.”
PG Wodehouse

PG Wodehouse’s comic genius is something to aspire to; however, not all of us write comedies. What, then, is the point of adding a comic touch to our writing? Indeed, in that case, what is the purpose of this blog?

Humor is an emotion. Readers need to feel the emotion in your writing otherwise it’s just a straight line on a heart monitor for them. No troughs, no peaks. If you can make your reader smile, or snicker, or laugh, you’ve connected with her. isn’t that what you, as a writer, really want to do?

So, yes, it helps to occasionally get into rib-tickling mode even if you’re writing a murder mystery. Remember that not every character in the murder mystery is pensive and meditative. Some could be funny or fun-loving, too.

The key word here is – occasional – don’t overdo the humor (or any other aspect, for that matter), not unless you’re PG Wodehouse, who has a flair for making every word count as far as humor goes.

Here’s how to bring humor into your writing – remember, of course, to use it sparingly; use it where it serves a purpose; use it when you’re so mad with your protagonist for not behaving as you think she should that you may as well have her make a fool of herself.

  1. And that, right there, is the rule of three.
    Notice how, in the preceding paragraph, I made a list of three things. Two were congruous and legitimate (‘use sparingly’ and ‘use where it serves a purpose’), but the third broke the pattern – it was completely twisted and was the surprise punchline to enliven the mood.
  2. Use funny descriptions
    When you’re editing the first draft, substitute a few serious words with something lighter.
    An example: instead of ‘She flinched at the sound’, write something like ‘She flinched as decorously as her regal upbringing allowed, even though the sound was hideously loud and quite sudden.’
  3. Exaggerate
    Don’t skimp – go overboard to the point of absurdity.
    An example: I felt like I had been walking non-stop for a month. My feet would never forgive me – in fact, the soles of my faux leather lace-ups were probably worn out by now. I glanced at my wrist – my watch said it was now ten minutes since I had stomped out of the meeting. Strange! My feet were saying it had been a month.
  4. Have one of your characters relate a funny anecdote
    It should be relevant to the plot or to character development otherwise it’s just taking up precious space.
  5. Create new words
    In this example, I’ve used more than a couple of neologisms purely for the sake of the example. I wouldn’t recommend so many – they can be beyond annoying:
    Was that Mrs. ‘Haw-you’ve-no-shame‘ Sharma? Oh no! She’d better not catch sight of me in my tiny two-piece-ness. I swam as fast as my clumsy breast-stroke would allow and clambered out at the shallow end to unpool myself seconds before she dove in.
  6. Warp a cliche or two
    Twist the ending of a well-known cliche and make it something unexpected and bizarre.
    An example: All’s well that ends…before the liquor runs out.
  7. Use imaginative similes, metaphors, comparisons
    An example: Getting Mrs. Sharma to see me as daughter-in-law material was going to be hard – harder than that time when I’d tried to convince Mamta to let me kiss her boyfriend. I’d been fifteen and I’d wanted to know what she’d meant when she’d confessed that he kissed like a dream.

Do you like using humor in your writing?
If you’ve never consciously tried it, do so next time you write. Just remember not to use anything that’s sexist or racist. Don’t be sarcastic, or rude – don’t aim your joke at anyone in particular as that could cause unnecessary hurt.

Suggested reading:

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6 thoughts on “Adding a dash of humor to your writing

  1. Adite

    Great tips, Reet. Humour does make a book so much more appealing and even if you’re not a Wodehouse, it definitely does help to add a dose of humour.

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