Good morning, Cyberspace, and welcome to the world-famous blog known as Story And Dark Chocolate!
Now, I’m sure you’re all throwing your buttered pretzels at the screen right about now and screaming at me like the pterodactyl hatchlings that you are because I am not–as you can probably tell–your precious Kate, whom you have specifically come to this blog to see.
However, I can assure you that the fabulous Kate is quite happy and well, and she is not in any way tied up in the closet with a roll of duct tape trying desperately to escape her bonds before the oxygen supply runs out.
Anyway! Today I have been ‘recruited’ by my flawless twin and best friend, Kate, to come here today and address one of the most complex and unsolvable issues known to the writerly kind:
. . . how to write humor in a story full of deep, serious, and strong themes . . .
And to the average
bear writer, this technique would seem insurmountable. Impossible. Unobtainable.
But alas–I am not your average writer. I am Kenzie, and Kenzie Knows All™.
So never you fear, my dearest beans, for I am here to bestow upon you my one, simple step to solving this inconceivable conundrum:
And before you throw your freshly-sharpened cheese grater at my face in a fit of rage and fury, allow me to explain myself, here.
You should never–under any circumstance–try to write humor into your story. I don’t care what your theme, genre, plot, or overall anything is. I don’t care if you’re writing a depressing dystopian novel or a slapstick jolly-hopper comedy.
I. Don’t. Care.
And why do I not care, you might ask?
Simple. Because it doesn’t matter. No matter what you happen to be writing–regardless of genre, plot, theme, ect.–you should never attempt to write humor into it.
Allow me to clarify:
Humor should never be written; it must be organically grown.
Kind of like a potato.
See, humor is a tricky thing. There is an extremely thin line between ‘genuine humor’ and a desperate crack at a joke to make people laugh.
Let’s take a look at an example:
On our right, we have a prime example of genuine humor. This is a man who is just completely, genuinely funny. This guy is so hilarious that he is able to make literally anyone laugh, no matter what the situation, crowd, or current setting is. Everybody loves this guy. He’s amazing.
Let’s name him Steve.
And then, on our left, we have Joe. Now, Joe wants to make people laugh. He wants to be a Steve. He wants people to look at him and think, “Wow. That Joe is a funny guy! Good ol’ Joe!”
But is Joe funny?
Joe is not funny. He tries to be, of course. He makes bad puns and cracks jokes and tries his hardest to make people laugh, but when it all boils down to the nit and grit of things…
…he’s just not funny.
Joe is our example of the desperate comedian.
“Alright, Kenzie,” you say, stroking your beard like the wise sage that you are, “this is obviously a twisted way of looking at things. Some people are just naturally more funny than others! It’s not poor Joe’s fault that Steve’s been gifted with humor!”
Okay, okay. So you may have a point there, Gandalf. But perhaps you’re failing to grasp mine.
Joe–bless his smol marshmallow heart–is trying so hard to be funny that he is completely missing the point of humor.
That it must be organic.
In other words, Joe is forcing the laughter. And there is nothing–literally nothing–so awful as a forced laugh. Forced laughter is not rewarding.
It is just sad.
Which brings us back to writing.
When you try to write humor into your dark, serious story, you are essentially trying to force the laughter of your audience. You’re trying to take a story with serious themes and sprinkle in some humor, just for the sake of adding it.
And this is bad. Very bad.
Because the worst possible thing you could EVER do is try to force a laugh from your audience. I cannot stress this enough.
But before you go pulling your hair out and murdering a small nation because all else seems hopeless, allow me to present you with some good news:
A cure does exist.
And so, without further ado, allow us to take a closer look at Kenzie’s top tips and tricks for growing humor within your dark and stormy world . . .
Kenzie’s Top Tips and Tricks For Being Funny Whilst Writing Strong and Serious Themes
— Tip One – Understand The Two Basic Types Of Humor —
This may come as a shock to some, but when it comes to humor in stories, it is not a solid mass. It is actually two separate entities, so closely intertwined that it’s nearly impossible to tell them apart when glancing from a distance.
But when you’re right in the thick of it–as most writers are–it is crucial to understand the two types of story humor:
Humor for the Character VS. Humor for the Audience
Let’s take a closer look at both types.
Type One — Humor for the Character
Now, I’m 100% positive that you’ve read this type of humor at least once in your smol lifetime, dear bean. Humor for the Character happens mainly in Middle Grade genres, although I have seen it in YA genres, as well.
I know you know what I’m talking about–
2-3 characters are sitting around a campfire/bonfire/living room sofa, passing some beans and good ol’ dialogue back and forth, when all of a sudden one of them–usually the clown of the trio (preferably of the male species)–says something relatively funny that makes every single one of them ‘crack up‘, or ‘burst out laughing‘, or something along that general guideline. They then sit there laughing for quite a good while until either the scene blacks out or the conversation shifts to more serious waters.
Now think back to the last time you read a bit of humor like this. The characters all laughed. They all cracked up simultaneously, even.
So why didn’t you laugh?
And now you’re either A) scratching your mite-infested hair and wondering how in the world I knew that you didn’t laugh
(HINT: i’m psychic), or B) writing me off as a fraud because “I DID LAUGH, YOU UNCULTURED SWINE!!!”.
And to those of you in the B category–
stop lying, you peasant!!! you have my sincerest apologies.
9 times out of 10, however, when all of the characters crack up and are laughing their bulbous heads off, the reader doesn’t laugh.
And why is this, you might wonder? Why–after all that work you go through to get your characters to bust their left lung and kidney–does your just reader sit there with a stone-cold expression and flip the page without a second’s thought?
The answer is really quite obvious.
The humor was written for the character–not the reader.
Perhaps this will all make sense when we take a look at the second type of humor.
Type Two –Humor for the Audience
Between Humor for the Characters and Humor for the Audience, there is but one difference that tips the scale to either side:
In Type One, our small group of characters all bust a gut laughing at a single joke–a joke that was supposed to make them laugh. It was written in the stars for them to laugh, and so–because of our magical abilities as writers–they did laugh.
But our readers did not.
And this all boils down to subtlety.
Let’s put it this way–when you know that someone is telling a joke just to make you laugh, your initial response is to do the exact opposite–i.e., to stare at them with a stone-cold expression and flip the page.
But when you say something so off the wall and so completely out of the blue that it catches them off-guard, then they will be 98.2% more likely to laugh. (these are tried and true statistics, you peasant, don’t doubt me)
In Type One Humor, the author is trying to stimulate their readers’ laugh responses to their–seemingly quite lame–joke by having their characters laugh, as well.
Because when other people are laughing, you’re more likely to laugh. Right?
Not when it comes to reading. Reading is a solitary act. When a character is laughing at a joke, we really couldn’t care less. In fact, more likely than not I find myself annoyed that they’re all guffawing at such a lame joke in the first place.
But give us a subtle slip of humor–a pun that goes unnoticed, an inside joke between a specific character and ourselves, a bit of sarcasm from the usually quiet mouse–and all of a sudden you’re writing humor for the audience, rather than your characters.
And the less you try to emphasize the fact that “OH LOOK, MA!!! I’M BEING FUNNY OVER HERE! YOU SEE IT? YOU SEE IT? AH? AH??????“, the better.
Let your audience find the humor. Let them pick it up and taste it. Give them the chance to decide whether or not they want to laugh at it.
That is how you grow organic humor for your audience.
i’m the doctor.
— Tip Two – Know Where Humor (generally) Comes From —
So you have a dark and stormy theme. It is complex. It is terrible. You have literally no idea how to lighten this up before everyone in your story dies and/or loses their soul.
So what’s the fix? Assuming that the last 2,000 words I just vomited onto the screen made an impression on your brain meats, we already know what and what not to do when writing humor.
But how can we even add any type of humor when our entire world is darkness and death? How do we let something grow organically when the soil of our story is made of the tears of the oppressed and the tendons of the dead?
Easy answer, dear bean: you are focusing too much on the story’s plot.
Perhaps this will make more sense with an example
(i’m just full of examples today, guys). . .
Let’s imagine for a moment that you are having one of the worst days in the History of Worst Days. I won’t even try listing out specifics, because that would just be terrible, and the only thing I can think of is death.
And I would really rather not inflict death upon you today, sir.
So go ahead and just pluck one of the worst days of your life straight out of your past and focus on that delicious thought for a minute, okay? Okay!
Now, as you are recreating that terrible day in your mind, I want you to think about what, exactly, made that day so horrible.
Perhaps it was something rude someone said to you. Perhaps you burnt all your hair off on a curling iron.
perhaps someone died (SERIOUSLY, KENZIE)
Chances are, what made that day so horribly horrible was a situation–something that happened to you, or perhaps something that you did.
Are you beginning to catch on, here?
See, a story is basically made up of two things–characters and plot.
Of course, a story is made up of much more than this, but for the sake of everyone’s sanity and Ol’ Farmer Jenkins’ lost marbles, we’re just going to focus on these two main components, okay? Okay.
Now, anyone who’s a writer will already know that plot is basically just a simpler, pleasanter way of saying “terrible incidents that I throw at my character’s faces like the ruthless ruler that I am, MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”
So, assuming for just a moment that your Worst Day Imaginable was a fictionalized story, the situation that made your Worst Day Imaginable the worst day imaginable was, in fact, the plot.
Or, at least, part of it.
please just pretend this is making sense, okay? thanks
So looking straight at that situation–at that terribly terrible thing that has happened to your poor smol self–I want you to look me right in the
eyes screen(???) and tell me that you think it’s funny.
Can you do it?
Probably not. And would you like to know why?
. . . because it is not the plot, theme, or current situation that creates humor–it is the CHARACTERS . . .
Just like it is in real life, it is not whatever situation we are currently living through that makes us laugh, but the people we are experiencing this particular situation with.
If it’s just you in the middle of the ocean surrounded by flesh-hungry sharks, chances are you won’t spontaneously burst out laughing through your salty tears.
But toss one of your flawless best buddies into the mix, and you might just get a laugh or two out of the situation before you’re both crushed to bits beneath the shark’s ginormous maw.
or, you know, you’ll just scream in terror like the normal and sane human being that you are whilst trying to swim rapidly away.
Which brings us to . . .
— Tip Three – The Comic Relief —
Or, more specifically, The Sarcastic Bag of Pringles.
Every single story has a Comic Relief. Every single protagonist has the best friend or smol tag-along who provides the audience with a laugh whenever the hero becomes tangled in a difficult scrape. Comic Reliefs–true to their name–serve to relieve the story’s tension, and are a tool which have been used by writers since the dawn of time to incorporate humor easily and effortlessly into their stories, no matter what the current predicament is that your characters have found themselves faced with:
Alien invasion that’s threatening to burn the world to a crisp? check.
Entire cast is about to get eaten alive by bloodthirsty sharks who think they look like a delicious cookie snack?
oh, hello, previous tip reference check.
Protagonist transforms into a magical cow who can fly through the sky by using the souls of innocent children? check.
No matter how dire the situation is, the Comic Relief has you covered. They are able to make light of even the darkest moments, whether by being pure of heart with an adorable innocence and unquenchable hope for the future, incredibly sarcastic and unbelievably self-aware for being a fictional character, flawlessly good-natured and notoriously hilarious, sassy, witty, naïve, careless–the list goes on and on and on and on . . .
Some more specific examples of Comic Reliefs include:
- Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe
- Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of The Caribbean
- Ever and Nan from An Unfortunate Fairytale
- Maxine from In Between (Katie Parker Productions)
- Merry and Pippin from Lord of The Rings
- Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants
- Sheen and Carl from Jimmy Neutron
- John Watson from Sherlock
- Olaf from Frozen
- Fred and George Weasley from Harry Potter
- Carswell Thorne from The Lunar Chronicles
- Flynn Rider from Tangled
BASCIALLY EVERY SINGLE RAPUNZEL PRINCE EVER
- Iko from The Lunar Chronicles
- Tinker Bell from Peter Pan
As you can see from this list, a Comic Relief is not strictly reduced to side characters. Main characters have just much potential to be comedic as anyone else, such as Captain Jack Sparrow, though it is usually the general rule of thumb that the Comic Relief is a side character that helps the main hero out on his quest.
But don’t let that stop you from being different. After all, writing rules are made to be broken.
Break the rules, dear bean. Break them all.
— Tip Four – Remember Whose Laughter Truly Matters —
I could honestly prattle on for an eternity about ways to incorporate humor into your stories, but this post is quickly bloating into the size of a small beached whale, so I’m just going to go ahead and begin wrapping this beast of a smudge up.
(do I smell a sequel? ah??? AH????)
So here is my fourth and final tip for writing humor within dark and serious themes:
. . . remember whose laughter truly matters . . .
Who are you trying to please with this story? Who are you hoping to make laugh? There are hundreds of thousands of books being consumed by hundreds of thousands of people every single day, and this story that you are writing–this beautiful tale that you’re intricately weaving together word by word–is written first and foremost for you.
Ah, yes, Joe. Our sad little comedian from the beginning of this smudge.
See, our smol Joe over there made an extremely fatal mistake earlier. A mistake even more deadly than trying to force the laughter of his audience. (which we have already established is very, very bad
[like one of the seven deadly sins bad])
Joe, in his hazardous frenzy of trying to become a Steve, has lost sight of the one thing that makes him stand out . . .
Joe is trying so hard to hand-feed the massive, insatiable crowd the humor that he thinks will make them laugh, that he’s forgotten something of much greater importance–the things that make him laugh.
And when this most precious thing is lost, the entire foundation of humor crumbles.
If you take one thing away from this entire post, make sure that it is this: write to make yourself laugh.
You alone are your story’s first reader. If you don’t laugh at your own words, why should anyone else? If you don’t find the light amidst the darkness, why should anyone else see it?
Above all else, write this story for you, and you alone. The readers and critics will all come later, so don’t spend your time worrying about them right now.
And when all is said and done–when everything has been written in ink and you have made yourself, above all others, laugh–and it turns out that still no one is laughing alongside you, then by all means, go ahead and throw a rusted pitchfork at their peasantry faces and laugh hysterically as they run away screaming into the crimson night.
You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life, anyway.
After all, it is just as a wise old man once said–
If there remains only a single laughing soul within a universe filled with scowls and sneers, do all that you can to ensure that this one precious soul belongs to you.
and yes. yes, I am the wise old man. thank you for noticing, peasants.
*Kate bursts out of closet*
Thank you, Kenzie,
for locking me up in a stifling broomcloset for gracing my humble blog with that truly scintillating post.
(I don’t know what scintillating means.)
The reason I asked Kenzie to come in the first place was simple. I can’t write humor.
And a wiseman once said “you can’t teach other people how to do something if YOU don’t know how to do it.”
I stand by that man.
And who better to teach us how to be amusing than Kenzie The Chipmunk Fiend, amirite? As you undoubtedly noticed based on this post alone, she is hilarious.
Not to mention that I have had the distinct privilege of reading parts of everlost (Kenzie’s fabulous novel, very shortly to be published) and it is sidesplittingly funny. But dark. I mean, that plot is no walk through a daisy-infested field, let me tell you.
But it is hilarious.
And I need that. Let’s be honest, The Songless needs that. It’s a dark book, full of heavy themes… But I read somewhere
not lying this time, I promise, that the darkest books should make you laugh the hardest. That humor makes the darkness darker by contrast.
I want to develop that skill.
So. Let’s have a thunderous round of applause for Kenzie. In case you hadn’t noticed, I love her to bits and YOU SHOULD BE FOLLOWING HER BLOG so that you can love her too.
*whispers* Also! Unbeknownst to Kenzie, I invaded her blog while I was in the broomcloset and have prepared something very wonderful for you all. It will go live on Tuesday. BE THERE.