How to Add Humor to Any Story

No matter what genre, if a few characters in a story display a sense of humor, that hooks me as readily as quirky characters or an intriguing plot. Click here for a previous post on the importance of humor.

Inserting humor into a story, especially one with a serious premise, can be difficult. I’ve discovered how to add humor to any story by knowing my characters extremely well and allowing their natures to dictate their sense of humor.

Assigning the Correct Sense of Humor

In my YA mystery A Shadow on the Snow, my main character Rae is quiet, shy person. Most of her funny remarks are in her thoughts. Her uncle Hank is the family joker. He likes to tease relatives to show his affection, especially Rae’s father, his brother-in-law. This kind of humor seems appropriate for a laid-back, extroverted character. Rae’s father, on the other hand, uses sarcastic humor. That fits with his being a cop of fifteen years experience.

Rae jams in a band with two guys. Houston is from Texas. His sense of humor is exaggeration. When Rae asks him how he came to work in Ohio, he answers, “Like any good Texan, I was undone by a woman.” The other guy Chris is very reserve, and Rae finds it difficult to read his facial or body language. He has a very dry sense of humor that Rae only figures out when she sees an ornery glint in his eyes.

As I’m writing a scene, and a joke or humorous observation comes to me, I have to make sure I assign it to the appropriate character. Sometimes, I’ve had to discard something I think is funny because no character in the scene would make that kind of joke or comment. Writers don’t want to break the illusion of reality they create around their fiction. Jamming a joke in the mouth of a character just because I think it’s hilarious will shatter that illusion quicker than just about any other mistake.

My joker, Uncle Hank, can’t suddenly turn sarcastic because I want to dazzle readers with my wit. Or Rae’s father can’t tell a thigh-slapping joke when up until this point in the story he’s only used sarcasm. Readers won’t buy it, or even worse, feel cheated that a character has suddenly swerved from the personality they’ve come to understand.

For more on writing humor and comedy and what’s the difference, check out this very helpful article on “Almost an Author”.

What stories or shows do you think demonstrate how to add humor naturally?

Spring Acrostic Prompt

I have two themes this month because April is National Humor Month and National Poetry Month. You’ll see prompts for both as well as a crossover! I have a spring acrostic prompt for today. I decided to reprint an acrostic poem I wrote for Easter a few years back. Please put your acrostic poem about anything spring in the comments!

Click here to read previous poetry prompts.

“The Crime Wave at Blandings” by P.G. Wodehouse

April is both National Humor Month and National Poetry Month. I’ll be honoring both with prompts, tips, and guest bloggers. For my favorite story of the month, I’m featuring one of the funniest short stories I’ve ever read, “The Crime Wave at Blandings” by P.G. Wodehouse.

I wrote about P.G. Wodehouse a few years ago and featured his hysterical autobiography Over Seventy. A British writer, P.G Wodehouse created a unique comic world. He takes the British upper class of about one hundred years ago and gives it a madcap twist, along the lines of a screwball comedy or a Marx brothers’ movie.

“Crime Wave” is one of Mr. Wodehouse’s best and is often included in anthologies of his works. The opening gives you a flavor of his one-of-a-kind style”

“The day on which Lawlessness reared its ugly head at Blandings Castle was one of singular beauty. The sun shone down from a sky of cornflower blue, and what one would really like would be to describe in leisurely detail the ancient battlements, the smooth green lawns, the rolling parkland, the majestic trees, the well-bred bees, and the gentlemanly birds on which it shone.

But those who read thrillers are an impatient race. They chafe at scenic rhapsodies and want to get on with the rough stuff. When, they ask, did the dirty work start? Who were mixed up in it? Was there blood, and, if so, how much?”

This story is part of the Blandings saga, which concerns Clarence, Earl of Emsworth and owner of Blandings Castle. Not the brightest man, he longs to be left alone to putter about the ancestral estate, enjoying his roses and overseeing the care of the enormous sow he enters in the county fair. His sister, Lady Constance, constantly bullies him into acting more like a respectable member of the aristocracy.

In “Crime Wave”, Lady Constance has hired Rupert Baxter to tutor Clarence’s grandson George while the boy spends his summer vacation at the castle. Clarence loathes Baxter because Lady Constance forced him on her brother before as a private secretary with the job of making the earl act like an earl. George doesn’t like the look of Baxter, saying he “looks like a bit of a blister”. Clarence completely agrees with his grandson.

George has a BB gun and shoots Baxter to demonstrate his opinion of him. Lady Constance orders the butler Beach to take the gun away from him. During the afternoon, the gun passes through the hands of various members of the family as well as the butter, resulting in considerable confusion over who shot whom, although Baxter is usually the target.

P.G. Wodehouse stories are my literary equivalent of comfort food. In the past month, I was feeling so stressed-out. One way I handled it was to settle down at night with stories about whacky earls, wily butlers, dominating aunts, and all sorts of other nut jobs, all tied together in hilarious stories with more twists than a back country road.

What books or stories do you turn to for comfort?

Fantasy Prompt for a Short Story

I’m wrapping up this month’s theme with a fantasy prompt for a short story. I chose this image because of the blend of fantasy and real-world elements.

What?–An old trumpet found in Great-grandfather’s chest

Who?–A high school girl who needs an instrument for marching band

Where?–Not sure. Girl starts out in her bedroom, practicing.

When?—At the beginning, after school.

Why?– She’s trying out the new trumpet

How?— After playing a few notes, her bedroom melts away and she finds herself on a rocky outcrop with a dragon flying by.

Let me know how this prompt inspires you!

For more short story prompts, click here.

When Writers Make Elements Work Double Duty

In a short story, it’s critical for every element to pull its weight. Every character, setting, and plot point must be employed for maximum effect. There’s no room for imprecise descriptions or dialogue that rambles. But even better is when writers make elements work double duty. If you are skilled enough to make them put in triple or quadruple duty, go for it.

What Is Double Duty?

I learned this concept from the excellent book by Ron Rozelle, Setting and Description. Double duty is when an element does more that it’s obvious assignment. When the main character describes a scene, the point of his description is to give cues for readers to imagine. But I can also convey something about the main character in the way he or she describes it.

For example, the main character is describing the arrival of students at a school in the morning.

The bell rang, and the buses flung open their doors. Kids poured out, laughing, chatting, hurrying for the glass doors to the middle school. The rising pink sun caught angles of the glass, making them sparkle, and threw brilliant shafts across the dusty red bricks. I shouldered my backpack and rushed ahead.

I haven’t said anything about the character describing this scene, but the description helps readers form an image of the person doing the describing. Here’s another way to look at this scene.

The bell screamed, and the buses vomited students. Kids talked frantically, like they had to get all their words about before the glass doors of the middle school locked them in. The rising red sun speared blinding light through the glass, highlighting every crack in the tired bricks. Bending under the weight of my backpack, I trudged at the end of the line.

Other Ways to Work in Double Duty

Dialogue reveals character. The way a character talks can reveal as much as what he says. For example, a characters that starts most sentences with “I” shows something about his personality.

Character reveals plot. A plot point can move the story forward as well as show something about a character’s personality. If the town gossip gets killed because she spread a story that was detrimental to the murderer, then that flaw in her character aids the plot.

Names reveal character. If your main character nicknames people, those nicknames shows something about both the receiver and the giver of them.

If you’ve written a short story, what tips can you offer? Or what are some of your favorite short stories?

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑