So, you’re here, so I’m assuming at some point you have considered writing comedy? Speaking from experience humour is one of the most rewarding genres to write in. However, it’s also one of the most difficult to crack, but don’t let that put you off.
Can anybody write funny stories? Some would say not, but I disagree.
Anyone can be funny. Don’t think “I’m not a funny person.” It doesn’t matter if you’re the clown of the party or the shy person in the corner. We’re all funny in our way, and even the most bashful can write rib-tickling stuff.
There’s no better feeling than making people laugh, and that is why I write comedy books. Every humorous author has their way of working. Some would agree with the below and some wouldn’t, but that’s the beauty of being an author. We work towards the same goal in our unique ways.
So, unsure where to start? Then why not read on and I’ll give you some insight into how *I* work.
My approach to writing comedy…
There are a few things I consider when starting a story in this genre. Yes, you can put humour into any story, but when I’m concentrating on getting laughs, I do the following:
- Write a strong story
- Make dialogue my primary place of the comedy
- Write unlikable characters, but make them likeable
- Write down ANYTHING I hear
So, what do I mean by all the above?
Make the story strong
Yes, you’re reading that right. With any book, if you don’t have an engaging story to tell, you’ve lost the audience. Think about it, would you stick with something that was ambling and a tad dull because it’s punctuated with a few zingy one-liners?
I know I wouldn’t.
A book should hook you. If readers are engrossed, you’ll get away with a few duff lines. A reader enjoying a story is more likely to groan and smile at a bad piece of wordplay. If you’re boring them, then it may make them put the book down for good.
You need to tell a story and make it relatable. The description should have a nice balance of humour in it, but don’t over do it. Sometimes explaining something can be funny but it can kill it too.
Try and make the reader feel as if they are ‘there‘ in the story, watching it happen. Let it happen naturally.
Put some pathos in. If sad or bad things happen to characters, it will enrich what you’re writing. You’ll find that humour in sadness works. The element of surprise is key to making comedy work.
So, it’s important to:
- Make the story strong and interesting
- Put humour in the description, but
- Write some pathos. Tug at the heartstrings too.
You have to balance it just right, especially when it comes to my next point…
Comedy in dialogue
This is the central hub for any comedy writer. Be it in books, on the radio or on-screen. It’s the bread and butter. Slapstick works on-screen and, to an extent, in a book, but dialogue is where it flies. You need funny situations, but you need to make character interactions funny too, but remember, if you base the comedy on just the dialogue you’ll end up writing a series of sketches.
So, what is my number one rule when I write dialogue?
The conflict between characters, I find, is a sound basis for comedy. Making characters get angry helps to bounce the comedy around. It also creates situations all by themselves, so you’ll be killing two birds with one stone. Believe me, when you’re a writer, ideas come from left-field, and I tend to find my best ideas come from the dialogue itself.
You only have to look at TV shows. One of my favourites is Red Dwarf. It works so well because of the friction, primarily, between the characters of Lister and Rimmer, especially in the early series. Lister is always irritated by Rimmer being completely anal, and Lister irritates Rimmer because he’s a complete slob with no drive.
They’re trapped together, 3 million years into deep space, and go against each other’s moral code, ergo, it works completely.
Look at the situation. What’s interesting about a mining ship in deep space?
Not much on the face of it, but the characters and the friction creates humour, add funny dialogue, and it flies.
For me, the friction adds to the comedy, and it happens over and over in almost every sit-com you will see. That’s why it’s always good to have characters that don’t get on or irritate each other to some degree. True, one-liners and sight gags add to the mix (the latter in visual comedy) and that, for me, is why I love this particular show. Adding a vain Cat and a neurotic droid to the mix just ups the humour.
Which brings me to my next point…
Write unlikable characters, but make them likeable
That sounds ridiculous, yes, I know. However, even characters that are complete gits can turn out the best, comically. Just look at Arnold Rimmer from Red Dwarf, Edmund Blackadder, Father Ted, David Brent from The Office and Alan Partridge. You shouldn’t like these characters (maybe you don’t, but many do) because they’re all, fundamentally, not very nice people.
In my Bumpkinton books, I have some unlikable characters, but my favourite ones are Amelia Goose and Marjorie Fairfax. They are petty and enjoy complaining about things that aren’t important and mundane. Perfect.
Amelia and Marjorie are friends, but they antagonise each other. So I add friction into the mix, and they become quite likeable. Yes, Amelia’s way of speaking is annoying, but she’s so pathetic there’s also something endearing about her.
I decided to give these two characters a sad past, to humanise them, so a reader can understand why they are as they are. It makes them more likeable, and their petty squabbling becomes par for the course and something to look forward to in the next story.
Writing Comedy from real world experience
The last (or sometimes first!) thing I do is write down ANYTHING funny that I hear. Whether I’m with friends or eavesdropping on the conversation at the next table in a restaurant, if somebody says something funny, I’ll write it down.
Comedy is around us every day and if you let it go by you may miss out on something that will hook in a reader. Not everything is suitable or will fit into what you’re writing, but the more you write, the more you have to play with.
In my story, The Bachelor, I use a line that my partner overheard in school. A student said: “Miss, just look at her skirt. If it gets any shorter, she’ll have another two cheeks to powder.”
That was too good a line to miss, and it fitted perfectly into the Singles Night theme of the story.
Become one of the great comedy writers
So, now it’s over to you. Whether you’re an author, new to writing or even if you’ve never picked up a pen. Why not have a go at writing comedy? I know what I like, maybe your brand of comedy is different, but it will appeal to a vast number of readers.
If you’d like to read more about putting humour into your writing, there’s an excellent piece on the Readers Digest website called How to Mix Humor Into Your Writing and an even better article by William H Coles on humour & fiction on the website Story in Literary Fiction.
They expand on some of my points, as well as add further insight into what works and what doesn’t.
This is my way of writing comedy, you’ll find your own.
As Terry Pratchett once said: “Writing is the most fun you can have by yourself!“