Author ~ Writing Instructor ~ Bookseller
I believe humor should be present in all kinds of mystery
novels, from those that are laugh-out-loud funny like my Tracy
Eaton series, to the very dark and serious. It's not that
murder and tragedy are laughable, quite the opposite. Laughter,
like tears, is merely a coping mechanism we human beings use
to deal with the tough stuff that comes our way. Humor helps
both our characters and our readers to cope with death and
the issues we present in our books. Just as real life cops
and medical workers use gallows humor to deal with the gritty
aspects of their jobs, a sprinkling of humor in our books
breaks the tension before it reaches a level that's too uncomfortable
for our readers to endure.
The matters our characters choose to laugh about also reflect
critical aspects of their make-ups. Whether your protagonist's
sense of humor is sweetly silly, or a sardonic observation
of life as mine tends to be, or if your character's dark humor
channels his anger and pain – we learn something important
about those characters when we discover what makes them laugh.
Here are some guidelines that will help you write humor for
* Abandon logic: Often what is funny in a statement is that
* Don't overanalyze: Analysis of what makes something funny
just kills it.
* Simple is almost always better than complex: If a humorous
remark isn't working, try simplifying the presentation and/or
* Short is almost always better than long: The best humor
is concise and direct.
* Be willing to surprise yourself: Humor should defy our expectations;
don't let your own expectations limit you.
* Abandon your dignity: You can't be funny if you're afraid
of embarrassing yourself.
* Let your voice and attitudes, as well as those of your characters,
flow: Humor always has an personal agenda and attitude.
* Don't try too hard to be funny: That just makes your humor
feel stilted, if not pained. It should reflect your style.
* Don't sacrifice truth for a funny effect: Good humor always
contains a grain of truth; without truth, it's just playing
* Don't let your characters laugh at their own jokes: This
is the prose equivalent of a sitcom's laugh track. Let the
reader decide what's funny.
Most importantly -- have fun with it yourself. If you enjoy
it, chances are your readers will, too.
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