What’s So Funny?
How to Lighten Up Your Story and Get Readers to Laugh
by Margaret Brownley
A reader recently wrote to tell me that her husband lost his job, her father took ill and the washing machine broke down-all in a single week. That’s enough to make anyone want to cry, but instead she wrote, “In spite of everything that happened, your book made me laugh.”
Reading is all about connecting with characters. We especially like characters who make us laugh-especially during these hard times. Hook your readers with humor and they will follow you to the moon—or at least to the end of the book.
Writing humor isn’t easy and is even harder to explain, but here are some pointers to get you started:
Comedy Springs from Character
A humorous character must have both flaws and great passion. In Dawn Comes Early Cactus Joe is the bad guy who gets no respect and that’s what he wants more than anything in the world: “The way this town treats its criminals it don’t deserve none,” he laments and we can’t help but smile.
Aunt Bessie’s great passion is matchmaking and her flaw is not owning up to her mistakes: “I’ve matched up twenty-three couples over the years and in all that time I only made one error. Although I still think the marriage would have worked had she not shot her husband.”
A funny character never sees himself as he really is. Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther thinks he is the best detective in the world, but in reality he’s totally incompetent.The disparity between perception and reality allows for much humor.
Remember the Rule of K
A pickle is funny; an olive is not. Kerplunk is funnier than thud; bucket funnier than pail. Woody Allen knew the K was funny when he described the spider in Annie Hall as larger than a Buick. Hard C sounds are funny too.
The first thing I do when planning a book is think up names with K. Some of my character names include Ruckus, Lucy Fairbanks and Miss Quakenbush. In Dawn Comes Early you’ll meet my protagonists Kate and Luke.
What’s Funny about Christian Fiction?
God has a great sense of humor otherwise he wouldn’t have created the platypus and aardvark or even the plague of frogs. The Bible is proof that you can write serious themes with humor. It’s chock full of funny imagery, play on words and humorous situations. Even Sarah herself had to laugh at the thought of having a baby at age ninety.
The Bible also tells us to make a joyful sound until the Lord but you wouldn’t know it by reading some Christian books. And have you ever noticed how so many characters sound alike when they pray?
In Dawn Comes Early the ranch is in desperate need of rain. Now there’s a serious way to convey that or a humorous way. This is how my ranch hand prays: “God, the father, thank you for your many blessings and don’t’ forgit to send rain. And if you ain’t sending rain to us, don’t go sendin’ it to no other ranchers, neither.”
In A Lady Like Sarah, my recently converted heroine prays with a noose around her neck. “God, I plumb hope you know what you’re doin.'”
Pray through character and you pray though humanity.
Humanity is that quality that makes readers care. We identified with Charlie Brown’s trusting nature and vulnerability and that’s what makes us care. We loved Lucy’s impulsiveness even though it got her in hot water. We were repulsed by Hannibal Lecter’s bad eating habits, but were drawn to his wit, charm and loyalty.
Look for the Comic Perspective
We each have a unique way of looking at the world. A family member will go to great lengths just to save a dime. A quilter friend sees shapes and patterns everywhere, and is biologically unable to pass a fabric shop without stopping. My motto is watch out; everything you say or do could end up in my book. Can you just imagine what TV comedy writers could do with these perspectives?
Last but not least, the best way to start thinking funny is to people watch. Not only will this inspire humorous thoughts, it will also give you a good chuckle.
About Margaret Brownley:
Thrills, mystery, suspense, romance: Margaret penned it all. Nothing wrong with this-except Margaret happened to be writing for the church newsletter. After making the church picnic read like a Grisham novel, her former pastor took her aside and said, “Maybe God’s calling you to write fiction.”
So that’s what Margaret did. She’s now a New York Times bestselling author and a Romance Writers of America RITA finalist with more than 25 novels to her credit
In addition to her new book “Dawn Comes Early,” Margaret is excited to announce that her non-fiction book “Grieving God’s Way: The Path to Hope and Healing” will be published in July-not bad for someone who flunked 8th grade English. Just don’t ask her to diagram a sentence.