Every book needs a dose of laughter. Even hard-core, freak-out scary stuff needs a scene or a sentence or a word intended to allow the reader a moment to breathe out some of the tension you’ve mummified them in for pages and pages and breathe in ease.
This post will acquaint you with five make-them-laugh techniques you can choose from when you want to give your readers a giggle, chuckle, snigger or even a good old-fashioned, snorting, belly laugh.
5. K -- the sound it makes is the funniest letter
This rule appears to be universally agreed upon by comedians. So much so, that in Neil Simon’s 1972 play The Sunshine Boys, there’s a scene in which an aging comedian schools his nephew on comedy and the letter k:
"Fifty-seven years in this business, you learn a few things. You know what words are funny and which words are not funny. Alka Seltzer is funny. You say 'Alka Seltzer' you get a laugh ... Words with k in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that's a funny name. Robert Taylor is not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomato is not funny. Cookie is funny. Cucumber is funny. Car keys. Cleveland ... Cleveland is funny. Maryland is not funny. Then, there's chicken. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny. Cab is funny. Cockroach is funny -- not if you get 'em, only if you say 'em."
This is an easy way to add a touch of subtle humor to your writing. Any author can give the diner their character is hiding out in a funny k-name. (Crunchy Cracker Café). By the way, according to my research, these sounds are funniest when you put them in the middle of sentences. (I don’t write the rules -- I’m just reporting them.)
If you want to make your readers laugh, shock them. According to Author Scott Dikkers in his book How To Write Funny, this funny filter includes anything you shouldn’t say in mixed company. He also says it’s a method best used like a garnish. Never the main course.
Example: The television series The Black List deals with grim storylines. The kind that make you me want to close your eyes and turn down the sound. Here is one example of how they used shock to elicit laughter in the midst of a tense scene in which Reddington is trying to extract information from a guy who is part of an illegal organ transplant ring. The bad guy has a heart condition, and Reddington (the bad guy you can’t help but love) has spiked his drink with Viagra.
"Those drinks you’ve been enjoying on the house? They weren’t from the house. They were from me. I hope you don’t mind. I took the liberty of adding a special surprise ingredient. Something to treat any localized dysfunction you may be suffering. Has the little man been falling down on the job? It’s a miracle drug, not so much for a glutton with a bum heart, however. But look on the bright side, you’ll die with a marvelous erection."
As an author, you can easily set your readers up to they think they know what’s going to come next -- and then throw them a curveball. An example of this can be found in another scene from the show The Black List. The character, Reddington, is standing in front of this huge portrait of a woman hanging on the wall in someone’s house, and he says:
"Last night I got up for a scoop of orange sherbet and she caught my eye. I just stood here in the dark, squinting at her. She’s breathtakingly unattractive."
The curveball is the word unattractive. Up until this point, the audience thinks he’s going to wax poetic about her beauty, and he doesn’t. Not only is she unattractive, she’s breathtakingly unattractive. Breathtakingly misdirects us to think beautiful. Had he said very unattractive, the laugh wouldn’t have come. But he used a word that our brains are trained to pair with the word beautiful. We were misdirected, and as a result, we laughed.
Columnist Dave Barry is known for his humor. Humor that is often a result of exaggeration. Below is an example of how he uses exaggeration to paint a picture of a delusional man in Revenge of the Pork Person:
"A man can have a belly you could house commercial aircraft in and a grand total of eight greasy strands of hair, which he grows real long and combs across the top of his head so that he looks, when viewed from above, like an egg in the grasp of a giant spider, plus this man can have B.O. to the point where he interferes with radio transmissions, and he will still be convinced that, in terms of attractiveness, he is borderline Don Johnson."
In this example, Dave doesn’t just stop with one exaggeration, he really piles them on. The key to exaggeration is to not be afraid to go over the top. Exaggeration is no time for subtlety.
A veiled remark about someone or something that indirectly insinuates something. Often, the something has a shock value to it. Example:
"He had the sort of face that makes you realize God does have a sense of humor." -- Bill Bryson.
With innuendo, you don’t want to spell out for the reader why it’s funny. They either pick up on the play on words or they don’t.
There you have it -- five techniques you can use when you want to add a bit of humor to your writing. If you study the examples, you’ll see that humor is often created by combining several methods. How many methods are there? Over thirty. I learned these methods while spending over a year researching, researching, researching how to make people cry.
The easy answer -- surprise them.
And because I’m an educator by trade, I took what I learned and turned my effort into a class on how to add humor to anything.
If you’d like to learn more about this class, check it out. I’ll be teaching it at Lawson’s Writer Academy in October. http://bit.ly/2N5Xc5R
Tell me your go-to-author when you want to laugh, and I'll include your name in a drawing for a $10 gift card to Amazon. The drawing will be on the 25th.
Lisa Wells writes romantic comedy with enough steam to fog your eyeglasses, your brain, and sometimes your Kindle screen. On the other hands, her eighty-year-old mother-in-law has read Lisa’s steamiest book and lived to offer her commentary. Which went something like this: You used words I’ve never heard of…
Lisa’s the author of the Off the Wall Proposals series from Entangled.
She lives in Missouri with her husband and slightly-chunky rescue dog. Lisa loves dark chocolate, red wine, and those rare mornings when her skinny jeans fit. Which isn’t often, considering the first two entries on her love-it list.
To learn more about all of Lisa’s books, visit: