My father passed away 8 years ago today, one day before his birthday. Not so funny. So why is this post about infusing humor into writing? A few years later, I started writing the first book in my soon to be released BROTHERS OF AUDUBON SPRINGS series, RETURN TO AUDBUON SPRINGS. This book was meant to be a sweeping epic family drama exploring grief, forgiveness and rebirth for a family at odds over one summer at their Jersey Shore home. Before I knew it, the house had been bequeathed to the heroine and her hot carpentry-former lover, a ridiculously steamy battle for ownership between the two followed, enter a secret baby and…holy cow….I’m writing a romantic comedy. I fought it for months. NO! I’m writing an epic family drama, but instead, laughter, love and tears flowed onto the page. Finally I took a step back and realized it all made sense. Laughter lingers in our hearts and humor will always resonate across time and distance. My father had a warped sense of humor, more signature catch phrases than you could imagine, along with a penchant for quoting Shakespeare. Now, eight years later, I find myself using those same catch phrases (“You can’t ever be sure of what you’re going to get” – this was a favorite he used on my husband when it came to me!) and quoting those same lines from Shakespeare. I do NOT, however, ask my daughter to pull my finger!
Humor In Your Prose
I am by no means an expert. Writing humorous scenes usually grows naturally often from taking life’s most embarrassing moments and incorporating them into a scene that works for the heroine/hero. I don’t want to give the impression that all my scenes are a laugh riot, they aren’t, but I do enjoy life’s funny moments. So what are some ways we can do this?
Serious Characters in Extreme Circumstances
This is the top usage in my stories. I like to think of this as the “setup,” something similar to what we might have done during an improve class back in the old acting days. “You’re sitting on a subway station platform when you spot a ten dollar bill lying on the ground. There are several other people, all strangers, around you (and since we are romance writers, one of them is smoking hot), Go!” Maybe your heroine is a hot shot attorney, who has never wanted for money a day in her life, but she’s having THE WORST day. Her wallet was stolen and the city is sweltering hot. Temperatures down on the platform are over 130 degrees, she’s dehydrated and shaking. She needs water fast or she’ll pass out and that crisp ten, looks like pure H2O or even a cab ride home. Our girl is going for the ten and smoking hot guy is going to call her out on it. Maybe it’s his and someone put him up to putting the ten on the ground as a social experiment. Whatever the case may be, they are both about to act in a manner they never would have dreamt of on a normal day.
I have no idea where that came from other than residual effects of our recent horrible heat wave because this scenario does NOT happen in any of my stories. Other unusual circumstances, however, do. You get the idea. Merely by pulling a character out of their comfort zone and throwing them into hot water, humor may logically follow.
I never thought I’d be one for physical comedy, but when a couple is covered in splatterings of food following a sexy food fight, a double spill onto the floor followed by an interruption at the scene of the messy crime by the hero’s disappointed, dominating mother, to me IS funny.
Yes, I’m talking about the popped button on a blouse and the toilet paper attached to the shoe or pants/skirt. Years ago, I was a waitress at a comedy club and we served these cocktail beverages with lots of whipped cream on top. We wore black leotards for shirts. You know the exact two spots where I was unknowingly sporting whipped cream while serving a table of men. Funny to me now, back in the moment not so much, soon AFTER…pretty damn funny mostly due to the antics of my fellow servers.
He said…She said
I love asking couples how they met knowing two very different versions of the same story will follow. Often we can write a scene with our hero and heroine then realize further into the story they had two very different takeaways on the moment. The miscommunication can be key to adding a bit of levity to a situation.
The Funny Secondary Character
Of course, you could also have a character in your story that is just plain funny. Secondary characters are great for this and can add levity to your prose by either their antics or their unique spin on the world. I tend to have the secondary character as a friend who sees the humor in everything and likes to poke fun at the hero or heroine. Then again, in light of recent news, sometimes a guy in a cubicle is all you need!
Above all else, I encourage you to let your humor grow organically. Fellow Violet Femme, Michele, wrote a beautiful post on the various layers to work with during your revision stage including Humor with Purpose. Since she explained it so beautifully, I’m going to quote her here.
If you have heavy moments in a plot, you can balance them with humor. But you need to be careful that there’s a purpose to the funny scene or witty banter. The opposite is true—if you write romantic comedy, you need to balance it with hard-hitting, emotionally-charged scenes.
I love this reminder. In my stories a poignant revelation usually (hopefully!) follows immediately in the aftermath of the funny event. It is important to remember that every scene, funny or otherwise, propel your story forward and fit into your characters journey.
I’d love to hear about some of the funny scenes that have resonated in books you’ve read over time, scenes so funny you can easily recall them years later, much like a line from Shakespeare eight years later still makes me think of my dad.