Monday, March 23, 2015

Comedy in Writing

By Jessica Everingham




Someone just whispered the secret of comedy to this monkey.

Unfortunately I don’t speak monkey (despite what my housemates may claim.) So my only consolation is this adorable photo, and the inspiration to go find the secret to humor myself.

Let’s face it, good comedy in writing is difficult. Good comedy in Christian writing, where everything is squeaky-clean, is even harder. So what is an author to do?

A great place to begin is with the experts. Find a book, a podcast, a blog—any professional funny-bone tickler willing to share their secrets. The American Christian Fiction Writers conference session recording called Humor in Fiction is what got me started. (You can view their conference recordings in the sidebar at this link: http://www.acfw.com/conference)

Once my eyes were opened to the analytical side of humor, I began to observe and study it. Real life and TV gave me plenty of material to jot down a list of ‘what makes stuff funny’. Hilarious books were another goldmine—Jenny B Jones is a stand-out in Christian fiction, while Sophie Kinsella is great for a giggle in the mainstream market.

Then I practiced.

I’m still unpublished, so I have a lot more practice ahead of me. But as I’ve put my mind to it, the feedback has grown increasingly encouraging.

Comedy in writing isn’t for everyone—not all novels are meant to be funny, and not all readers want light-hearted books.  But if you’re keen to give it a whirl, here is a list of thigh-slapping crack-ups I’ve observed in the world of writing.

1.      Hyperbole is the most amazing form of humor EVER!!!!!
2.      Sarcasm. Jenny B Jones does not use this at all.
3.      Using specific nouns, e.g. “Kate knew she was the picture of class, jogging down Johnson St in $3 Target thongs, Broncos footy shorts and her Elders Rural cap.” (OK, I used sarcasm there too but it was better than, "Kate knew she was the picture of class as she jogged down the street wearing her daggiest clothes.”)
4.      A serious character in a ridiculous situation. (Or a ridiculous character in a normal situation, e.g. Thor taking the train in Thor 2.)
5.      Physical comedy (with the exception of anything banana-peel-related.)
6.      Under reaction. (The character of Phil Coulson in ‘Agents of Shield’ is a champ at this.)
7.      Over reaction. (Think the dad out of ‘King of Queens’.)
8.      Any case of ‘that escalated quickly’.
9.      Good old-fashioned insults.
10.  Unexpected honesty, particularly from a young child or older person. (Again, Ms Jones is a legend in this area.)
11.  Ridiculous situations, particularly ones that don’t occur by co-incidence but by a series of decisions the character made. (Sophie Kinsella does this like a boss.)

So what about you? What’s the funniest thing you heard or saw this week, either in fiction, film or real life? And what are your tips for comedic writing?



Jessica Everingham loves God, romantic comedies and writing, and is combining the three in her work-in-progress, Hating Jeremy Walters. She loves to connect with fellow readers and writers via Twitter (@JessEveringham), Facebook (www.facebook.com/jessicaeveringhamwriting), email (jessicaeveringhamwriting@gmail.com) and her website jessicaeveringham.com.


11 comments:

  1. Thanks for those insights Jess. I'll have to check out the conference recording you mention. Even though comedy writing isn't for everyone, I think some humour is good even in more serious books or articles, because it can give readers a breathing space and let them know it's okay to smile. It doesn't have to be side-splittingly funny, but lighter moments now and again can help. I've just finished reading the novel 'The Taliban Cricket Club' which is about a group of young people trying to escape Afghanistan during the Taliban's reign. There are a number of tense scenes in the novel that detail some of the horrors of that regime, but it's mixed with lighter moments that give hope.

    I wonder if you could comment a bit more on your Point 9 about insults. I'm just wondering how that fits in with Christian humour? I'm trying to work that out myself, as insults and sarcasm are often used in satire and parody, but it's easy to cross the line. Any thoughts?

    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. When I say 'insults', I'm picturing scenes in Jenny B Jones' novels where a character will take a cheeky swipe at someone, but the other character doesn't take them seriously.
      If it wasn't in a novel, it might be a rude thing to say, but in a rom com with fiesty characters it just seems to work.

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    2. Thanks Jess. That makes sense :)

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    3. Thanks Jess. That makes sense :)

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  2. Hi Jess, I agree that while we don't all want or need to write Comedy with a capital C, spicing up even the most serious book with a touch of humour helps given breath space for the reader and accentuate the tragedy. Personally, I find pets, children and husbands (spouses?) the most fertile ground for humour - though in my writing, I often use understatement, sarcasm, or ridiculous situations (if you don't laugh you'd cry minty moments). Thanks for you post.

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    1. Thanks Jeanette! Yes, pets, children, spouses, and probably older characters too. They seem to get away with things other characters couldn't. The grandmother in Jenny B Jones' Katie Parker series is one of the funniest characters I've ever read.

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  3. Well done Jess. You are doing very well in comedy writing obviously and are setting about it the right way. You are right - writing comedy is far from easy. Although - I think for some it may be more natural than for others. Reading humour is always enjoyable as is watching it. Thanks for those welcome tips and the very best in your writing.

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    1. You're welcome Anusha, and thank-you. Comedy's definitely something that some people are born with, though I think if you have a little bit of it, you can work on that and strengthen it.

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  4. Thanks for sharing this Jessica. Humour is something I need to learn more about. I'll certainly follow the link to the conference teaching. Sounds awesome.

    One form of humour I quite enjoy is the deliberate taking literally of something that was clearly meant to be figurative. Like on the show Yes Minister - the character Bernard often corrects the minister when he uses a mixed metaphor by describing the outcome - which is often absurd.

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  5. Hi Adam. Great point - that's actually a technique I use in the training courses that I write for my day job. Thanks for contributing!

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  6. Some useful tips, thanks Jessica. I think writing humour can be quite challenging, and just as in real life, it's sometimes those insanely 'not meant to be funny' scenes that work out to the be the funniest. And, let's face it, some authors are just brilliant at humour! I wish I wrote humour more spontaneously, but I suspect my tendency to find amusement in the quirkiest dad-joke-type scenarios means I have to be more conscious about my 'funny' attempts or I could possibly alienate (or at least seriously confuse) a good portion of readership. (But hang, I'd at least amuse myself in the process ... LOL). :)

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