Award-Winning Author ~ Writing Instructor ~ Bookseller
Humor Writing Tips

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 your mysteries:

* Abandon logic: Often what is funny in a statement is that it's illogical.

* 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 language.

* 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 with words.

* 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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