Incorporating humor into writing is one of the most difficult skills a writer can master. In this article, you’ll learn all about humor in writing, how to incorporate it, and what to avoid. We’ll also look at some examples in literature.
What Is Humor and Why Is It Important in Writing?
Humor is difficult to define because it’s so subjective. The benchmark for effective humor, though, is one key reaction: laughter. However, making a casual joke to a coworker and incorporating humor into a novel require vastly different skill sets.
So, why is humor important in writing? It helps to engage and delight readers, break up long blocks of text, and make complex ideas more relatable and accessible. It also helps to establish a strong voice and personality for the writer.
Four Tips for Incorporating Humor into Your Writing
1. Know Your Genre and Audience
As with any aspect of writing, you have to know your audience. What will they find funny? What type of humor is used in other works within your genre? These questions will point you in the right direction to add humor to your writing and determine which types of humor are appropriate or inappropriate for your target audience or genre.
2. Study Comedians or Humorous Works
As with anything in life, it’s best to learn from the experts. Watch comedians, movies, or TV shows and take notes. Write down scenes or jokes that you find funny and reflect on why they’re funny. You can also do this with short stories or novels that incorporate humor, as well as threads on Twitter or Reddit, which provide an endless supply of humorous material. Studying how others incorporate humor will teach you the nuances of doing it yourself.
3. Use Real-Life Experiences
Everybody loves a funny story. Think back to strange, funny, or even bizarre things that have happened in your life. Write them down with as much detail as possible. Keep notes on your phone or in a notebook while you’re out and about whenever something makes you chuckle. You might see someone walking past with a flamboyant sense of style or overhear a conversation that you find hilarious. Material is everywhere if you keep your ears and eyes open.
4. Use Literary Devices
Literary devices are a writer’s best friend. They basically say, “Other writers have used this method, and it’s been so successful that we’ve given it a name.” You can find online guides and explanations with clear examples to show you how these writers did it. Some popular literary devices include:
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Humor in Writing
Since humor is subjective, you’re not going to make everyone laugh. And that’s okay! That’s why it’s important to research your audience and genre, study comedians and other works that you find humorous, and draw on real-life experiences when you want to incorporate humor. Having said that, there are some mistakes to avoid when using humor in your writing.
Trying Too Hard
We’ve all witnessed a social interaction that was so painful to watch, we felt second-hand embarrassment. Trying too hard can result in this awkwardness. The best advice here is from an article from NY Book Editors, which states, “Don’t try to make your reader laugh. Instead, try to make yourself laugh.”
When you’re trying to make other people laugh, you risk coming off as desperate, which can evoke an uncomfortable feeling. Write what you think is funny, with your audience and genre in mind of course. Doing this makes sure that you’re staying true to yourself and presenting authentic material – and that’s something everyone will appreciate.
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Going Too Far
We’ve also all seen someone go too far with a joke. It may start out as lighthearted and harmless, but when you don’t know where to stop, you risk losing your audience due to a racist, sexist, or off-putting joke.
Knowing when to stop and how to close a joke is the best way to avoid this type of situation. You’ll learn these skills by studying other great works of comedy and through practice.
Avoid Using Humor to Make Light of Serious Topics
Because humor is entirely subjective, this is a debatable point. Some people argue that no topic is off limits. Anyone can make a joke about anything. Or can they?
Depending on your genre, audience, and general purpose of writing, you might consider making a list of relevant topics that aren’t suitable to joke about or make light of.
When in doubt, try asking a friend to read what you have and get feedback. Or take a look at this article from Rolling Stone, which suggests asking yourself the following question: “Who may feel marginalized or offended by my words?”
While we can’t get a laugh out of everyone (and that’s okay!), we can do our best to not be blatantly offensive or disrespectful when it comes to serious or sensitive topics.
Plagiarism is using another person’s work or ideas and presenting them as your own. This is not a new concept in the world of comedy. Even big names, such as Robin Williams, have come out and admitted to stealing jokes.
In the comedy world, this is seemingly normal. However, when it comes to stealing work from other authors, you run the risk of being accused of copyright infringement. When doing research and finding humorous role models to give you direction in your own writing, be sure to avoid any temptation to use another author’s or artist’s work.
Examples of Humor in Literature
Here are some examples of humor in writing from famous authors. But be sure to check out social media, blogs, and satirical news sources for more inspiration!
Jane Austen used a lot of situational humor in her novels. Pride and Prejudice is filled with examples of situational humor and bickering between characters. For example, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet squabble constantly throughout the novel. When Mrs. Bennet accuses her husband of not showing consideration for her nerves, he responds to her by saying:
“You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least.”
Oscar Wilde is another example of an author who frequently used humor in the form of witty and satirical comments. Here are some examples:
“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.” –The Duchess of Padua
“I can resist everything except temptation.” – Lady Windermere’s Fan
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” – The Importance of Being Earnest
Terry Pratchett’s works are revered as full of humor, wit, and satire. His most famous novels are works of parody and satire. For example:
“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.” – Diggers
“A marriage is always made up of two people who are prepared to swear that only the other one snores.” – The Fifth Elephant
“If cats looked like frogs, we’d realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That’s what people remember.” – Lords and Ladies
While humor is extremely subjective, there are steps you can take as a writer to ensure you land your jokes with style. Be sure to know your audience and genre, look to other literary works and sources of humor, and avoid trying too hard, going too far, or joking about serious or sensitive topics.
As with any skill, practice makes perfect! Try out some creative writing exercises to experiment with different types of humor and find your own style of writing. And if you need help with incorporating humor into your writing, we’re here to help. Our experts will proofread your first 500 words for free!