Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why Humor Will Make or Break Your Story

You may think that humor is an unnecessary nuisance when writing your story. You want your stories to be serious, full of deep life lessons and morals which people can apply to their lives. You may, indeed, believe that books would be more enjoyable without humor. In fact, you might wonder why I'm writing a post about humor at all.

On the other hand, you might be a compulsive comedian. Your writing may be littered with thousands of second-rate riddles and characters who seem to crack a joke at every opportunity. You believe that humor will engage your readers and make them enjoy their experience in your world. What could be wrong with that?

As it turns out, both of these views are a little...extreme. If you write without any humor at all, what's to stop the story from being dry and stuffy? And if you use too much humor, your reader will wonder whether even you think of your writing seriously.

In my view, at least a sprinkle of humor is absolutely necessary in every story. Yes, you heard right--every story.

"But," you might say, "I want to be like the great authors! Tolkien never used humor!"

Oh really? Then how do you explain Merry and Pippin, archetypal jokesters who had me laughing from the first few pages? If you're not convinced, here's a little except to tantalize your funny bone:
Aragorn: "Gentlemen, we do not stop till nightfall." Pippin: "What about breakfast?" Aragorn: "You've already had it." Pippin: "We've had one, yes. What about second breakfast?" Merry: "I don't think he knows about second breakfast, Pip." Pippin: "What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn't he?" Merry: "I wouldn't count on it. ” 
Examples of humor abound across all reams of fantastic literature--Fred and George, the beloved Weasley twins from the Harry Potter series; even Mr. and Mrs. Beaver from C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The recent Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan is chock full of humorous references to modern life. If you think a fantasy book doesn't have humor in it, then look closer--I'd bet that, more likely than not, it does.

Now, none of that is to advocate for a book that's completely fun and games. As writers, we strive to give our readers a powerful emotional experience, one that will make them laugh and cry, shout with joy and scream with fear.

What is the mark of a truly great book? That it can plumb the depths and soar to the heights of human emotions. That's the kind of book that, when readers put it down at last, they'll sigh and say, "Now that was a good read." That's the kind of book that we're trying to write, and that's the kind of book that a touch of humor can help us create.


  1. A while back there was an author interview on Speculative Faith - don't know when, don't know who :P - and the author mentioned how humor opened men's hearts. He talked in terms of the reader letting the guard down when confronted with humor, and then getting invaded by the rest of the story and considering whatever message you have. The idea completely amazed me.

  2. Now that's a good point about humor! I completely agree--I once heard a speaker say that "if you can make them laugh, you can do anything." It's completely true that humor opens doors in people's minds and attitudes, and moves them from defensive/angry into open. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Great post, Dawn! I've been trying to add some humor into my stories, and I've found that it requires a conscious effort, and more than a little extra thought.

    And good point, Katty!

  4. Thanks, Abby! Humor can be extremely difficult, agreed. For me, it's easy to incorporate a witty or slapstick character, but then I find it's difficult to mesh that character's voice with the more somber tone of the rest of the writing. JRR Tolkien, in my view, does a good job with dry (subtle) humor.

    Thanks for the comment!


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Proverbs 15:1
"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."