By Kevin Pettway
Writing humor into your book can make an already difficult task even harder. Like running one of those races where you have to jump over the little gate-thingies only instead of shoes you’re wearing hot dogs on your feet? I don’t know sports.
That book is hard enough to sit down and write as is, so why put more obstacles in your own way? Is writing not hard enough already?
So why do it to yourself? What’s the point of telling a grand epic tale of heroism and sacrifice and terrifying evil that you also have to put funny bits in? You don’t really need all that, do you?
Well, no. But…
Part 1: Increasing Reader Buy-In
Let’s say I want to write about an ancient evil lord who fell from the heavens and wants to take over the world with his vast army of animalistic fighters from a giant scorched nation of completely unfarmable land, and his magic jewelry that only looks special when you stick your hand in a lit fireplace. This story is gonna be grim, and sweeping, and it’s gonna have all sorts of twists and turns and inspiring characters and intriguing landscapes. Hidden kings and otherwise useless characters with hairy feet.
Hm. This is sounding good. Don’t steal my idea.
So, maybe it’s just okay. Not, y’know, great or immortal or anything, but it’s fine. So how do I increase my reader’s buy-in? What do readers like?
(Before you answer, let’s pretend you didn’t read the name of this blog.)
Part 2: What (Some) Readers Want
They like a touch of humor. You don’t have to write the funniest book in all fantasy like I did (your milage may vary, jokes in the mirror are closer than they appear), but making a reader laugh somewhere in the first chapter is a good idea for two big reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of your writing.
First and less important, people like to laugh. It can be an unexpected gift and it makes you look clever. Give your reader a chuckle without breaking your tension and you’ve just raised the bar on your whole book. Steak is fantastic, but it’s not a whole meal. You want some potatoes or something green on that plate too.
Not kale. Never kale. A funny veggie. Maybe peas.
The second and more important reason has to do with walls. Every reader opens a book with walls in place. It isn’t that they don’t want to be entertained, they do, or that they want to have wasted those sixteen bucks on a book that isn’t any good, they don’t. It’s just that life teaches all of us to approach new situations, like a novel, with our eyes open and our guard up. We can’t help but be wary, and most of us have been burned more than once.
Part 3: Getting Past the Walls
Humor is the fastest way to slip underneath those walls and pull them down, so your reader can get on with the business of enjoying what you wrote. You can do this a lot of other ways too, and many authors do just fine for themselves without it, but a well-placed funny line is the most efficient means of engaging your reader’s emotions, and it’s a marvelous tool for a fast handful of character-building as well. In that respect humor is like any other tool in your belt. Drama, sympathy, inspiration, peas, you name it.
Part 4: How to Do It
How to write humor is probably the subject for an entirely different blog, but I’ll throw a few bones here. Specificity is good, such as drilling down to exactly what make, model, and year of metal bucket fell on your character’s head. Non sequiturs are always a hit. Lead the conversation inexorably in one direction and then at the last minute raspberry rainbow.
If you don’t think you’re funny there are a couple of options out there for you. The first and most obvious is to go back in time and have a terrible childhood. Honestly, good parents are just a death-knell if you want a career in humor. You can also work harder at it, which is like, ugh. I do both which is why I’m known for my… imaginative swearing as well as being married to a woman whose facial expression is stuck in permanent eyeroll.
You have no idea how hard it’s been to keep this clean.
I hope this has been helpful in some way to you, and if it wasn’t I invite you to lie to me about it when we meet at JordanCon this year. I am so excited about making new friends there and also I cry easily, so be kind.
I had a terrible childhood.
Kevin Pettway is the author of the Misplaced Mercenaries series, funny fantasy books full of adventure, friendship, inventive swearing, horrifying evil, noble-ish sacrifice, and more swearing. Upcoming is the Misplaced Adventures shared universe, with six new series all set in the same world and including five amazing new authors and one old cranky one. Available wherever fine books are sold… as well as, obviously, other kinds of books.