Author Tamela Hancock Murray

Comedy As a Tool

We all like to laugh. Writers with a knack for humor can find a large and eager audience. But humor can be tricky. If you want to write humor, The Christian Writers Institute has a couple of inexpensive lectures to review (find them here).

In the meantime, writers need to consider at least a couple of elements.

Novelists can use humor to reveal character and truths.

Your mean-spirited villain can poke fun at the innocent. Your jovial aunt can find the silver lining in every situation. Humor will generally be organic in otherwise serious novels. A comedic novel? That takes a special talent and light touch. Some techniques can be taught, but not the talent. If you have the talent to write comedic fiction, hone that gift.

Nonfiction is a different game.

Most people are looking to nonfiction authors either to poke good-humored fun at life with the overall goal of entertaining and cheering readers or for a self-help book that employs a strong dose of humor to make the book more entertaining and the advice more palatable.

Let your audience get to know you through platform.

As a writer, you can put forth your brand with your platform to help people understand who you are and why, as a result, you can write related comedy. Father of eight? A funny look at parenthood makes sense. Married for 50 years? Foibles about marriage might be your thing. Your audience wants to think they are your friend. Then they can laugh with you.

Do you have a clue?

Your audience wants to know you have a sense of what you’re talking about. For instance, I doubt anyone would want to read what I think may be funny about working in an automotive shop. Let’s look at someone with real knowledge and talent. Not current but still timeless in her writing, Erma Bombeck was highly successful. Her books are readily available today, and writers who want to write gentle humor about everyday life would do well to read some of her work. The fact that her readers knew she wrote from her experience as a wife and mother helped her to be successful. Readers relate because she knew what she was talking about. And she was funny.

Will your audience understand your references?

Though this is a verbal example, it’s just as true when writing. I once repeated a joke with the punchline “Live Free or Die.” As a Virginian, I grew up knowing this is New Hampshire’s state motto. I told the joke with great gusto to someone living in the Western part of the United States. The person didn’t know the motto, so the joke didn’t work for my intended audience. With my East Coast sensibilities, I forget sometimes that someone living elsewhere may not have the same knowledge bank to draw upon as I do. On the other hand, when I shared the same joke with my husband, also a native of the original thirteen colonies, he immediately laughed. So shared references, or at least writing broad references, works best to reach the most people.

Does my audience like me?

You don’t necessarily need to be liked when you’re performing angry comedy meant to change the political landscape. But gentle comics will find that being liked goes a long way. For instance, Phyllis Diller was a queen of self-deprecating humor, and people liked her. For example, one quote attributed to her: “My photographs don’t do me justice – they look just like me.” This is funny whether written or verbalized.

Humor has many levels.

So did you smile, chuckle, or laugh out loud at the last quote? Or maybe you didn’t find it funny. Remember, when you’re writing a book, various people may respond differently to the same lines. What may make me slap my knee may only curve your lips slightly. I might like dry wit; you might like slapstick. So don’t be discouraged if your audience doesn’t need knee braces after reading your book. Often making someone smile a millisecond is more than enough.


Your turn:

Who is your favorite humorous writer, past or present?

What humor topics do you like to read about?

What other tips can you offer aspiring humor writers?




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