Laughter: The Third Greatest Gift

Happy Friday everyone! Casey here.

Humor, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Some of us enjoy our humor dry and witty. While others prefer slapstick, raunchy or down-right rude. Or maybe your mood dictates what you think is funny.

I think part of the reason I fell in love with urban fantasy is the genre embraces snark in a serious way. While some level of “funny” isn’t required in the books I enjoy, I always love it when an author gets me.

You know, that moment, when the laugh comes out of the blue. I don’t how other authors do it, but when I’m writing, humor sneaks up on me and comes from the characters (not me!!). And often times, I don’t realize I’ve written something “funny” until someone else points it out to me.

And what you find funny, someone else may not. Like wine, there are different vintages of funny. Personally, I fall into the witty, sarcastic camp. The snarkier the better. I enjoy authors like Bill Bryson (Tales of the Thunderbolt Kid: one boy, one sleeping uncle, a magnifying glass and mysterious burn spots). The book is a non-fiction memoir of his childhood and it’s hilarious.

My favorite urban fantasy authors are: Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, Simon Green (Eddie Drood or Nightside books) and you can never go wrong with Christopher Moore (A Dirty Job - love those sewer harpies!), Terry Pratchett (The Hogfather- the wackiest Christmas story ever) or A Lee Martinez (Gil’s All Fright Diner - who doesn’t love a roadside diner that’s constantly attacked by the undead?).

If UF isn’t your thing, check out Kristan Higgins (the shovel scene in Too Good To Be True still gives me the giggles), Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum Books or our soon to be published Scribe – Jamie Pope (aka Sugar Jamison).

How do these writers do it? Well, I can’t tell you how to be funny and I don’t know the magical spring where their talent comes from, but I can suggest some logical places to sprinkle humor into a story.

Narration -this kind of humor is often found in first person books, think Bridget Jones’ Diary or see the aforementioned urban fantasy authors or Ms. Kristan Higgins! Just having a window into the character’s thoughts can be funny. What they think about other characters – the annoying neighbor, the crazy aunt with lipstick on her teeth or how the character views herself –  are all areas to slip in the funny.

Situational – humor can be injected by using the circumstances in which characters find themselves. Think Stephanie Plum and all her captures gone wrong. Another popular choice is The Date From Hell, The Family Event from Hell (wedding, funeral, graduation) or the plan that goes horribly awry.

Banter – This is my personal favorite. Here, the heroine/hero engage in witty exhanges with other characters.I jones on characters verbally sparring in humorous ways. For example – The Princess Bride by William Goldman or A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore.

Note: these can be mixed and matched as needed.

One thing to keep in mind – forced humor is not funny. Readers can smell phony attempts from a mile it away. Don’t be lame! And, remember, the normal rules of storytelling apply – don’t add humor for the sake of it. If it doesn’t advance the plot or grow your character – axe it!

In case you’re wondering about the title of this blog post – check out The Muppets (2011 version) and enlightenment will find you!

What kind of humor do you enjoy? Favorite funny writer? Have a technique or advice to share?

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14 thoughts on “Laughter: The Third Greatest Gift”

  1. I love narration and witty banter. The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny have some really snappy dialogue that always makes me smile, even if it’s short of rib-splitting laughter. Jim Butcher’s voice as Harry Dresden can be downright funny. Terry Pratchett’s third-person narration leaves me gasping for breath and wiping away tears.

    “And often times, I don’t realize I’ve written something “funny” until someone else points it out to me.”

    I know -exactly- what you mean! One of the highlights in my writing workshop was a scene in the prologue of Far From Home where a good wizard approaches a town in need of a newborn baby for a ritual. Preoccupied with weightier matters, such as the specifics of the ritual to bind a spirit thousands of times his greater in raw power, he pays no attention to such minor details as how to ask a group of superstitious folk for a newborn child. At a loss, he simply asks, “Do you have any spare newborns lying around?” Queue pitchfork mob.

    Totally wasn’t intending humor when I wrote that. Over half the class circled that page and said, “Keep this!” Stands out as my fondest memory of the Louisiana State University writing workshops I attended. :)

    1. Hi Greg!

      I love it when humor just happens in my writing. It always makes me suspect that I have this inner comic (or maybe it’s a clown) living inside me waiting to get out. And I’m always excited to meet people who share similar interests and reading habits!

      Have you ever read Kevin Hearne (Iron Druid Chronicles)? I just discovered his books recently. He’s an enjoyable addition to my collection of must read authors.

      1. I haven’t heard of him yet, but I’ve jotted down a private note to have a look. Thanks for the tip!

        I’m about thirty books behind on my reading right now, so it’s just awful (and AWESOME) that Cold Days is coming out. Thanks again for the great post. It’s really helped me with my first foray into long-format first-person urban fantasy narration.

      2. He was news to me too. I’m always psyched to find new UF reads. And I think we can all relate to having monster TBR piles! Especially with so many friends published. I’m excited to read COLD DAYS too. Good luck with your writing. Don’t be a stranger!

  2. Great post!

    Humor seems to creep up on me in my books. Sometimes it’s situational, but often times it’s in the banter between characters. Because, you know, Husband is snarky, and I like that.

    I loved your characters in Mystic Ink and Undead Space Initiative. Those were some characters I found very funny. :)

    1. Thank you Meggan. I am thrilled to know I can make you laugh, since I am totally envious of your gift for snark! And, you know I’m you’re number one fan – saucy pirate wench! I hear you on the hubby. I think that’s why Scar and I haven’t killed each other yet – we can still laugh together and we have the same twisted humor!

  3. Excellent post, Casey! I love my humor dry…stirred, not shaken:-) Campy humor makes me roll my eyes, but amuses me anyway. Witty banter is always fun, and I love the unexpected twist of humor after a serious moment. Nothing like the element of surprise to catch me off guard and make me go from tears to laughter.

  4. Super duper post Casey. I love Sherry Thomas and her banter btw Hastings and Helen. she does it in Beguiling the Beauty and continues it in Tempting the Bride, and of course I love Kristan Higgin’s humor in all her stories. For me, it has to happen when it fits in. I don’t strive for humor, but sometimes it is there. Humor is part of life.

    1. Couldn’t agree more about Kristan! And I have Sherry on my to read list. Humor is one of the best parts of life. Especially when life hits those rough patches. I’d rather laugh, then let darkness drag me down :)

  5. Hey you mentioned me! Thanks! I started out writing really serious, emotional stuff but funny scenes kept sneaking into my writing and it make my manuscripts seem like they had split personalities. It was when I embraced the funny that I finally got THE CALL. I love funny books and funny men. What would life be without laughter?

    1. Of course I mentioned you :). Your writing and stories are wonderful. I’m glad you embraced the humor. Your stories wouldn’t be yours without it! I know my life has been the better for it. Soon, everyone else will know it too!!

  6. I really enjoyed reading this, Casey. Many of those authors I haven’t read, so I appreciate the recommendations. I have read Bill Bryson, but only his Walk in the Woods, which I considered more hoot out loud funny than snarky. As a writer I probably veer more toward the outlandish or preposterous when I’m writing a lighter scene. Terrific article on the lighter aspects of writing. Have a great Saturday!

    1. I just love Bill Byrson. I’ve pretty much read all of his books even his first one about the English language. A Walk in Woods is a riot. The part that stuck with me the most was his friend and the Little Debby snack cakes. Thanks for stopping by!!

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