Writing Humor

A woman in sunglasses laughs on the right side of the image and the left has the post title, writing humor,.

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

One thing that I love about writing cozy mysteries is the ability to integrate humor into the stories.

The amount of humor varies. I still somewhat regret writing A Body at Book Club which has a scene in which I actually laughed out loud while writing (startling the cats and dog around me). Since then, almost every book has at least one customer review that says: “It’s okay. Not as funny as A Body at Book Club.

I’ve noticed that humor comes easier as a series continues and I know the characters better and better. I think that’s because my humor is all character-based and the set-up for a humorous scene becomes easy when the readers and I know the characters very well. Running gags can be particularly effective over the course of a series.

The easiest is putting characters in situations where the reader knows the character is uncomfortable. Situational humor (similar to the idea behind sitcoms, or situational comedies). I’ll put my hypochondriac character around someone with a terrible cold and have him anguish over that in the background as my sleuth is questioning the sick suspect. Or I’ll put my former English teacher sleuth on the spot at a book club meeting when she hasn’t read the book (and doesn’t want to own up to the fact).

I’ve always loved the classic clown and straight-man type of set-up evident in shows like I Love Lucy. Modeling that, I’ve got one sidekick whose dry sense of humor acts as a nice foil for my unpredictable sleuth.

I’m not afraid to delve into farce or screwball comedy every once and a while (notably, A Body at Book Club).

But my books are gentle books and the humor is gentle, too. Your books might be darker or edgier, but there’s definitely a style of humor that will fit your writing. Don’t think that your serious novel doesn’t need humor. There’s an interesting post by Dean Gloster to refute that notion: “7 Reasons Writers of Serious Novels Should Use Humor in Their Fiction” (including reader identification and assigning positive traits to characters).

There are posts that I’ve bookmarked on Evernote for repeated reading.  Specifically to incorporating the style of humor we want to focus on (with the right tone for our genre and books), I’d look at a couple of posts from writer Darcy Pattison: “Five More Ways to Add Humor” and “Running Gags“.  September C. Fawkes offers “15+Tactics for Writing Humor“.  Margie Lawson does a nice job with concrete examples in “Humor Hits Hook Readers.”  Jordan Dane’s “Five Ways to Stand Out With Humor in Your Writing” has some good tips.  I also like “How to Mix Humor Into Your Writing” by Leigh Anne Jasheway.

Do you use humor in your books?  How much do you use?

Tips and resources for writing humor: Click To Tweet

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16 thoughts on “Writing Humor

  1. I keep re-reading the Spenser For Hire mysteries for the dialogue between the characters that make me smile even though I know the joke. You’re right: humor gets easier as you write a series as there is a backlog of shared experiences to poke fun at. I stopped reading a mystery series recently because the stories were humorless … and the violence to women irritated me. Fine post as always. :-)

    1. Those were great books! And the TV series was good, too. I’m with you–I like the gentler mysteries because of the humor. Life is stressful enough without getting added stress from my reading.

  2. A little light touch can really add to a story, Elizabeth, you’re right about that. I like situational stuff when it’s not slapstick, and I also like those one-line sarcastic remarks if they’re not hurtful. It’s got to be done so that it doesn’t sound contrived, but when it’s done well, that sort of wit is great.

  3. Wonderful post! I love reading humor in my mysteries, so I knew I wanted to write it into my own. I remember a few key scenes over the years where I laughed right out loud while writing a scene.

    Humor can be tricky, though. There’s always the risk of it falling flat. Will definitely be looking up the links you provided, Elizabeth – thanks so much!

  4. Hi Elizabeth – a light humour is always good – sharp wit can be great too – but somehow I need to be connected to see what’s happening. As you say if it’s natural it’s great – I love laughing out loud and quite often do with documentary type material … perhaps where analogies are used. I’m sure being oneself in these sorts of situations helps the dialogue along … so well done … cheers Hilary

  5. Elizabeth—great post. I agree that humor is an excellent tool for deepening stories. Not just cozies, as sometimes humor can diffuse tension—when needed—and add to characterization in even darker fiction. I’ve used it liberally in two of my thriller series (Dub Walker and Samantha Cody) and humor is front and center in my Jake Longly comedic thriller series, where it comes from Jake’s quirky view of life and the situations that fall into his lap.
    I love your blog and follow it daily. Keep up the excellent work.

    1. Thanks for the kind words and for reading my blog…and for being a great resource for writers, yourself (especially mystery writers).

      Great point that humor can diffuse tension, especially in dark novels. Otherwise, it’s less of a relaxing escape for the reader.

      I love the idea of a comedic thriller series! Will be checking that out.

  6. I always try to let my sense of humor come out in my stories. I have to be careful though. As a veteran and an ex-cop, my idea of funny doesn’t always mesh with everyone else’s. I usually go for subtle though, like slipping a pun in.

    Great post and resources!

    1. I can imagine your humor might be a little darker (than mine anyway, ha!), but that’s likely what fits best with your protagonist and books.

      I think puns are one of the highest humor forms (although I know many would disagree with me!) They’re just so clever.

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