A big ARHtistic License thank you to the hysterical Lisa Wells for these humor-writing tips, which first appeared on Writers in the Storm.
Every book needs a dose of laughter. Even hard-core, freak-out scary stuff needs a scene or a sentence or a word intended to allow the reader a moment to breathe out some of the tension you’ve mummified them in for pages and pages and breathe in ease.
This post will acquaint you with five make-them-laugh techniques you can choose from when you want to give your readers a giggle, chuckle, snigger or even a good old-fashioned, snorting, belly laugh.
5. K — the sound it makes is the funniest letter
This rule appears to be universally agreed upon by comedians. So much so, that in Neil Simon’s 1972 play The Sunshine Boys, there’s a scene in which an aging comedian schools his nephew on comedy and the letter k:
“Fifty-seven years in this business, you learn a few things. You know what words are funny and which words are not funny. Alka Seltzer is funny. You say ‘Alka Seltzer’ you get a laugh … Words with k in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that’s a funny name. Robert Taylor is not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomato is not funny. Cookie is funny. Cucumber is funny. Car keys. Cleveland … Cleveland is funny. Maryland is not funny. Then, there’s chicken. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny. Cab is funny. Cockroach is funny — not if you get ’em, only if you say ’em.”
This is an easy way to add a touch of subtle humor to your writing. Any author can give the diner their character is hiding out in a funny k-name. (Crunchy Cracker Café). By the way, according to my research, these sounds are funniest when you put them in the middle of sentences. (I don’t write the rules — I’m just reporting them.)
If you want to make your readers laugh, shock them. According to Author Scott Dikkers in his book How To Write Funny, this funny filter includes anything you shouldn’t say in mixed company. He also says it’s a method best used like a garnish. Never the main course.
Example: The television series The Black List deals with grim storylines. The kind that make you me want to close your eyes and turn down the sound. Here is one example of how they used shock to elicit laughter in the midst of a tense scene in which Reddington is trying to extract information from a guy who is part of an illegal organ transplant ring. The bad guy has a heart condition, and Reddington (the bad guy you can’t help but love) has spiked his drink with Viagra.
“Those drinks you’ve been enjoying on the house? They weren’t from the house. They were from me. I hope you don’t mind. I took the liberty of adding a special surprise ingredient. Something to treat any localized dysfunction you may be suffering. Has the little man been falling down on the job? It’s a miracle drug, not so much for a glutton with a bum heart, however. But look on the bright side, you’ll die with a marvelous erection.”
As an author, you can easily set your readers up to they think they know what’s going to come next — and then throw them a curveball. An example of this can be found in another scene from the show The Black List. The character, Reddington, is standing in front of this huge portrait of a woman hanging on the wall in someone’s house, and he says:
“Last night I got up for a scoop of orange sherbet and she caught my eye. I just stood here in the dark, squinting at her. She’s breathtakingly unattractive.”
The curveball is the word unattractive. Up until this point, the audience thinks he’s going to wax poetic about her beauty, and he doesn’t. Not only is she unattractive, she’s breathtakingly unattractive. Breathtakingly misdirects us to think beautiful. Had he said very unattractive, the laugh wouldn’t have come. But he used a word that our brains are trained to pair with the word beautiful. We were misdirected, and as a result, we laughed.