Writing funny is serious business.

Some books crack me up. Others that are meant to be humorous – fall flat. Some aren’t laugh out loud funny but make me smile. Others are serious with just enough humor that I’d call it a funny book.

I’d love to be able to write a brilliant post explaining how to be funny, but I don’t think there is a formula. And I keep reading that once you try and dissect funny, it’s not funny anymore.

I’m going on a journey. When I read a book that is funny, I’m going to spotlight it here on the blog and share why I thought it was funny. I’ll spotlight two this week. And maybe we’ll figure out how to inject some humor into our own writing.

To get us started here are some universal ways to be funny:

  • exaggeration
  • ridicule
  • hyperbole
  • surprise or reversal of expectations
  • word play
  • juxtapositions of opposites

So much of it comes down to the tone, the writing, and how it’s presented. And as with everything when it comes to writing – knowing how to be funny and actually writing funny are two different beasts.

What books pop to mind when you think of funny? And are there ways you inject humor into your writing?


21 Responses to Writing funny is serious business.

  1. Carole Anne Carr October 4, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    Interesting post, Laura, and one that concerns me. I include slapstick in my children’s books to lighten the mood as I write stuff that is often scary and often wonder if the comedy is working. So far I’ve had no complaints and some good reviews, but it might be an idea to ask children what they think about the humour I’m injecting.

  2. Stina Lindenblatt October 4, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    This is something I wish I could do. There’s humor in my novels, usually through dialogue, and sometimes through witty interior dialogue. But my books are far from humorous.

  3. Creepy Query Girl October 4, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    There are two ‘funnies’ that get my attention. The first is the ‘funny situations’ the second is the MC’s voice and their funny interpretation of non-funny situations. I agree, when you try to dissect ‘the funny’, it looses it’s edge. I look forward to your picks!

    • Laura October 4, 2010 at 1:52 pm #

      Katie – Yes, I love funny situations and a humorous voice. They’ll get me every time.

      Stina – I’m still trying to find the right balance. If I try too hard – it’s obvious.

      Carole – I’m sure if you’re getting good reviews then your humor is working!

  4. Saumya October 4, 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    Ah, this is so great!! I have always wondered what makes things funny and this makes so much sense! It takes a lot of skill to make writing funny especially because you cannot see facial expressions or hear tone changes.

  5. Angela Felsted October 4, 2010 at 3:45 pm #

    What a great idea, trying to figure out what makes a book funny.

  6. Jennifer Shirk October 4, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    That’s so funny–no pun intended–about talking about humor writing!
    My friend and I write romantic comedies and we had a disagreement over another romantic comedy book. I found it hilarious and she hated it. HATED IT. ??
    She found it had too much slapstick, but I found it was just the right amount without being overkill.

  7. Patti Nielson October 4, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    I love funny books and hope to one day write my own. Books that pop into mind is “I love you Beth Cooper” anything by Nick Hornby and the new book “One Day.”

  8. Sherrie Petersen October 4, 2010 at 4:45 pm #

    I just finished reading “Food, Girls & Other Things I Can’t Have” and the humor in this story was spot on. A lot of it came from irony which for me is a great base for humor.

    • Laura October 4, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

      Yes, writing funny is very subjective. What one person will love, another will hate. But I guess that’s the way it works with any writing, not just humor. I’ll have to check out those book suggestions! Thanks.

  9. Karen Strong October 4, 2010 at 6:31 pm #

    Eek! Funny is so hard to do. For MG, I like slapstick funny — it gets me every time.

    YA is little harder though.

    That last laugh out loud funny I read was a YA — HEX HALL by Rachel Hawkins.

    Can’t wait to see what you have in store later this week!

  10. Susan R. Mills October 4, 2010 at 7:02 pm #

    I tend to write serious books, so I struggle with injecting humor into my writing. In real life I’ve been told I have a great sense of humor, but I find it hard to transfer that into my stories. It’s something I have to always go back and add after the first draft.

  11. Lisa Potts October 4, 2010 at 8:02 pm #

    Funny is hard for me. Sometimes I think I’m hilarious, and other times, I think people are pointing and laughing for other reasons 😉

    Can’t wait for your recommendations. I read a lot of YA and some of it is quite dark. I’m always on the look out for funny MG and YA.

  12. Christie Wild October 4, 2010 at 8:31 pm #

    Great post! I’ve often wondered that myself. I find that the best writers of funny are the people that are naturally funny in real life. I don’t really consider myself a funny person. So the only funny in my picture books is based on situations or unexpected endings. The book I read last night had me laughing out loud at the end. Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole (1986).

  13. Laura Marcella October 4, 2010 at 9:42 pm #

    Funny is hard to do. And it’s one of the few things you can’t work too hard at because then it’s definitely no good!

    Roald Dah’s books always made me laugh, and they still do! He mastered all of the things on your list. Many scenes in the Harry Potter books make me laugh out loud; Rowling’s dialogue is really witty, especially whenever Fred and George are on the scene. Ron and Hermione have some zingers, too!

  14. Laura Pauling October 5, 2010 at 12:15 am #

    I definitely haven’t run across as many YAs that are funny as MG. I pick some YA up that are supposed to be funny, but I don’t really laugh. The heart has to be there too.

  15. Julie Musil October 5, 2010 at 2:22 am #

    Laura, I am NOT a funny writer! I wish I had that gift, but I don’t. But the books I choose aren’t funny either. For some reason I write and read serious, but I love to laugh and have fun. Weird!

    Two of my critique partners write great funny into their books. It comes naturally to them, so it’s natural in their books.

  16. Andrea October 5, 2010 at 11:05 am #

    I can write funny bits in my stories, but I have no idea where it comes from or how to describe how I do it. I think some of it has to do with the voice of the story.

  17. Holly Bowne October 5, 2010 at 10:36 pm #

    I don’t think of myself as a particularly humorous person, but I love to laugh and do enjoy writing (what I think are) funny essays and blog posts now and again. But I’ve never stopped to analyze the “how” part of the whole thing.

    I definitely use a bit of um, embellishment on occasion. But sometimes, I don’t need any at all. There is a LOT of humor that evolves naturally in life parenting teens. ;o)

  18. Robert Guthrie October 5, 2010 at 11:47 pm #

    David Yoo’s YA novel, TELL ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE, is oddly hilarious. As my sophisticated teenage niece said, the main character is pathetic and you don’t really like him, but he’s unintentionally LOL hilarious.

  19. Sarah Mullen Gilbert October 7, 2010 at 3:24 am #

    I agree with the voice in Hex Hall being wonderfully funny and would add Audrey, Wait to that list.

    But my all-time favorite funny moment is in Lisa Yee’s Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time when the MC compares his nervous feeling to the time he ate frozen fishsticks and drank hot chocolate to see if they would cook in his stomach. Just so spot-on, unexpected, but something you could totally see 12-year-old boys doing.

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