William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and Kurt Vonnegut knew the power of humor. It’s a great tool to leverage when writing. In this week’s blog, author Diane Kelly explains that humor is mighty: bringing levity to tense dramas, intensifying others, and even making characters appear more clever. Laugh on!
Comedy That Kills
By Diane Kelly
Murder and laughter might not seem to go hand in hand, but the contrast between humor and horror can take an ordinary book and amp it up to extraordinary. Humor techniques add tools to a writer’s toolbox, giving an author more flexibility and options as they develop their stories.
When I began writing, I knew only that I wanted to write about strong, feisty female lead characters that were matched with an equally strong male lead. I didn’t set out to write mysteries or funny books. It wasn’t until my third manuscript (the first that sold), that I realized romantic mystery was my genre and that my humorous voice would set my work apart. Once I realized this, I vowed to learn everything I could about writing comedy.
Perhaps the most surprising thing I learned is that there is a place for humor in every book. Whether it is infrequent touches of dark humor in a gritty thriller or laugh-out-loud moments in comedic crime capers like mine, humor has a home in every written work.
What can humor do for you? So many things.
First, humor can stretch a book’s emotional impact. Readers relate with characters and engage with a book via emotion. While many murder mysteries and thrillers set a reader’s heart to pumping and palms to sweating, not many give the reader the extra emotional hit of humor. Add a well-placed laugh or even just a note or two of clever irony to your stories and you’ll give the reader a broader emotional experience.
On a related note, humor can act as a breath of fresh air for a reader after an author has put them through the wringer. Too much nonstop tension can overwhelm a reader. A humorous passage placed after a particularly intense scene can give the reader some comic relief and allow them to better tolerate what will follow.
The flipside, of course, is that moments of levity can, by contrast, make dark moments appear even darker. For example, imagine a scene in which a character has been too busy for grocery shopping and is forced to improvise a dinner of Froot Loops floating in Tennessee whiskey. Funny, right? So when a machete-wielding psychopath appears in her kitchen, the contrast is even darker than it would have been had she been cooking a raw, bloody steak on the stove.
Humor is, at its core, a coping mechanism. Think about the things we find funny: bad relationships, poorly behaved children, financial instability, the loss of physical beauty, etc. All of these are negative things that people have to deal with. Rather than let these problems bring us down, finding the funny in them helps us conquer and control them. In a murder mystery, the characters — and vicariously, the readers — will likewise have to cope with negatives: Loss, Grief, Fear. If the character and reader can find some humor, they can better deal with the situations and emotions they must face.
Believe it or not, a sense of humor can make your characters seem clever. A well-worded, perceptive, or thought-provoking quip signifies intelligence. Think of your funniest friends. Chances are they are also among your smartest. If you want to amp up a character’s IQ, give him or her some funny lines to deliver. Moreover, most novels contain a cast of several characters. Put a few people together in real life and there is likely to be a cut-up among them. Such should be the same with a fictional group.
Humor intensifies a story. In a way, it acts like salt, elevating the flavor of a scene. Why? Because humor grabs a reader’s attention, and when a reader is paying attention they are more engaged and better absorb information.
A bit of warning. However you use this tool, do so with some caution. One person’s chuckle is another’s insult. Be careful what topics you approach with humor to avoid alienating readers.
Bottom line? Humor is an incredibly flexible tool. It can be dark or light, or any of the many shades in between. It can be used often to nail down the material, or it can be used sparingly when a screwdriver or buzz saw are more appropriate. But add some to your work and you’re guaranteed to like the results.
If you would like to read more about Diane Kelly’s books please click here.
A former state Assistant Attorney General and tax advisor, Diane Kelly inadvertently worked with white-collar criminals on multiple occasions. Lest she end up in an orange jumpsuit, Diane decided self-employment would be a good idea. Her fingers hit the keyboard and thus began her “Death and Taxes” romantic mystery series. A graduate of her hometown’s Citizen Police Academy, Diane Kelly also writes the hilarious K-9 cop “Paw Enforcement” series.
Diane’s books have been awarded the prestigious Romance Writers of America Golden Heart® Award and a Reviewers Choice Award. Be the first to receive book news by signing up for Diane’s newsletter at www.dianekelly.com. “Like” Diane on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dianekellybooks, and follow her on Twitter @dianekellybooks.
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