As a paranormal and erotic romance author, you may think I don’t use humor much in my books. But actually, the contrary is true. The darker the story, the more essential the humor. Adding humor to books is something I’m passionate about. Why? Because humor serves many functions in our lives, so it should in our character’s lives, as well. Your first thought might be, what can humor do other than make you laugh once in a while? Good question. This is something I’ve taken time to study.
Humor serves many purposes. From a physiological standpoint, it releases endorphins and gives us a sort of high, which relieves stress and makes us more relaxed. It’s like a natural happy pill. Many times when I’m feeling down, I’ll say to my husband, “I need a good laugh, do something funny.” To which he blankly stares. Then I roll my eyes and call my best friend.
Did you also know that laughter can boost your immune system? A good dose of laughter can actually increase your immune cells and disease-fighting antibodies. So when they say laughter is the best medicine, they’re not kidding!
But how can humor fit into your story? And how does it give fiction more depth? Just like in real life, humor has many purposes. For instance, people use humor to diffuse tension in a high intensity situation. Have you ever witnessed an argument where the participants descend into awkward silence until one brave soul breaks the ice with a joke? Depending on the joke, it can either make a tense situation worse or it could give everyone a good chuckle and move the conversation forward.
People use humor to deal with difficult emotions as well. In the movie 50/50, the main character Adam, finds out he has brain cancer and has a 50/50 shot of beating it. Instead of getting depressed, he makes jokes about it. It’s morbid in a way but it’s how he deals with the fear. This really resonates with me because I use humor for the same purpose. If I can’t change an unpleasant circumstance in my life, then I make fun of it. It makes the problem not so scary and intimidating. This is sometimes called dark humor.
Every person is born with a sense of humor. Even the most stuck-up, stick-in-the-mud, serious people find certain things funny. And there are different styles of humor that appeal to different kinds of people. When I first start forming my characters, I think through what style of humor would appeal to them. Some people really love slapstick humor – slipping and falling on a banana peel is the most obvious example. The Three Stooges is classic slapstick humor. Another form of humor is sarcasm. Some people say it’s the lowest form of wit, and those people are no doubt high-brow sense of humor types. High-brow is intellectually based, so a character who’s a bookworm or highly educated might like this style. Think of the show Big Bang Theory. Though there’s a lot of silliness there as well. And of course, you should be careful of stereotypes too. There’s no reason a science geek can’t also like kids hitting adults in the nuts with a baseball bat.
One of my favorite types of humor that’s often underused is irony. You may have heard the ‘90s song, Ironic, by Alanis Morissette – “ten thousands spoons when all you need is a knife.” Or an anti-teen drinking ad right next to a beer ad on the side of the highway.
When it comes to adding humor to your story, think about the character first, then think about what you find funny or what you find easiest to write. Most people have trouble with physical comedy. It’s one of my favorites but it can be difficult to interpret correctly in a book. The best example for physical comedy is the type of roles Jim Carey would play. Clumsy caricatures with silly over-the-top antics. But if that’s what you find funny, then go for it. Find what humor is comfortable for you to write and fits your character. Then just experiment.
Humor in a book serves the same purpose as it does in real life. It can diffuse tension, lift your mood, relax the body, and help characters form a bond. It also tells us something about a character. Someone who can face fear and make a sarcastic comment about it shows bravery (or stupidity, depending on how you look at it). Witty banter between characters shows a connection, especially if there’s a give and take. Or trading insults, playfully (or sometimes harshly) tells us how the characters feel about each other.
Another way humor adds to novels is by helping to move the story along. Readers are picky. We live in a fast-moving society. If they hit a dull spot in a book, they might put it down. There are plenty of other books to choose from – free ones even. If a reader puts down a book, they often don’t pick it back up. So when I have to inundate a reader with a long description or a back story, I make it funny. That way it entertains the reader as well as gives all the necessary information without hitting a lull in the pacing. This works with transitions too. Some of the most difficult writing, I find, comes in having to explain the character(s) getting from point A to point B. Inserting some appropriate humor can make this more interesting for you, which in turn, makes it more interesting for the reader.
Remember, if you’re bored writing it, the reader is probably bored reading it.