How to Write Humor in 5 Steps
Humor and comedy are one of those things that people think you’re either “born” with the gift or not. You “can’t learn” to be funny.
The thing is: some people learned automatically through experience how to be funny. So, you would think that’s the case for everyone.
However, it definitely isn’t something you can’t learn.
There are techniques.
People study comedy. They learn it. There are real techniques that can be applied, and when writing is no different.
I started studying comedy because I realized this is one of the genres that I like the most. One of my favorite book series makes you cry from laughter, Spud, you can read the review here. My favorite TV shows are in the comedy genre, like The Office. And I still read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It’s extremely funny.
So, I wanted to try it myself.
How to Write Humor in 5 Steps
1. How to Write Humor: Subverting reader’s expectation
A lot of comedy relies on changing what the readers expect.
You create a line of thought and break it in the end.
Setting an expectation based on a cliché and changing how it goes:
- The prince goes to kiss the princess, so they can live happily ever after, but the princess slaps the prince hard and runs away, screaming: “PERVERT!”
- The hero goes to fight the dragon with his sword, when he gets there, he screams in fear and runs away for his life. “Me? Fighting a dragon? Are you INSANE? Look at that!”
You understand what is commonly expected of a scene and surprise people.
People laugh when they expect the character to act normal and they end up acting dramatically, much more than it would be normal to expect.
Exaggeration is funny. Making small things an enormous monstrous deal.
For example, at a Wedding:
Tom: “Why am I not sitting with the groom and the bride?”
Steve: “It’s only for family.”
Tom: *gets knife*
Steve: You’re slightly overreacting.
Tom: “They don’t consider me like family! Someone will die today, it’s either me or them!”
Steve: *rolls eyes*
People screaming, things breaking, people running away when they don’t need to, loud stuff, all of that makes us laugh. It’s an exaggeration. Things getting crazy.
3. Reacting in a bizarre way to common events/carrying weird things/saying weird stuff: THINGS THAT WOULDN’T NORMALLY HAPPEN
This is the secret. Every reader you have is a human (hopefully), so, then again, they EXPECT to understand how humans behave.
Even if you think: I couldn’t possibly know what readers are expecting! You can! Because you’re human, and you also expect how things will go through.
So, think about what YOU would be expected if it was a perfectly normal situation.
When you twist it, it becomes funny:
- Make someone obsessed with small detail, for example, instead of fighting the dragon, they can’t get over how shiny its nails are. They keep talking about the nails, obsessively. Obsessive behavior is funny.
- Carry objects that someone doesn’t usually carry. For example, the girl has a purse and the team is in a situation where they need a frying pan. The girl takes it out of her purse, smiling like everything is normal. This is a bizarre reaction. The other people will be definitely confused.
- Saying embarrassing things in front of a parent or teacher. The character either doesn’t realize it or they can’t stop. Embarrassing is funny. Say inappropriate stuff when they weren’t supposed to do that.
- Always tell the complete and absolute truth in every situation. This is not normal behavior, so we find it funny.
- Say formal words in informal situations.
- Things with double sense, are often inappropriate: “the teacher touched me,” the kid says. Mom: “WHAT?”, kid: “yeah, she made me believe I could do anything I wanted!”
Also, it’s important that only some characters act this way. The others have to act normal, so this kind of behavior stands out and becomes funny.
4. Funny expressions and words
Some words are simply funny. Use one instead of a normal regular synonym and people will laugh.
But do it lickety-split because your readers can’t wait!
Here, I found this list of funny words and there are plenty more on Google. Also, write down words that you find funny.
This goes with number 3 but it’s so important that I put it here. It’s also about breaking the expectations:
- People in a terrifying situation behave like nothing is happening
- A grumpy guy among clowns and laughter
- A doctor crying while all the kids are laughing (it’s the opposite of what would happen)
Think about a “regular” scenario and how to put contrast to it. Like inverting the color on a painting. Invert roles, and emotions, and break the expectation.