I was asked if I had any tips for writing humor. Most of you know by now that I can’t not write humor into my stories. If a book or movie or TV show has no humor, I don’t like it. Simple as that. Therefore, even my darker books like Acceso have a pervading sense of humor. In fact, each novel has a different Kind of humor, and this is very important. You want your books to have your style, but to sound different, to be themselves. Acceso‘s humor is sharp and uncomfortable. This Mortal Coil’s humor tends to be darkly sarcastic, but there’s a lot of it. The Meaning of Always has a joking, playful sense of humor. Paper Crowns…well, the book is half-comedy. Even Monster has funny moments to lighten the mood.
Now, since obviously I can’t tell you how to have a sense of humor, I figured the most I could do was give you a few hopefully-helpful things and let you run away with them. Do they help? Have you written a line or a paragraph you find particularly fun? Let me know!
One important thing to remember is that every character is different. Within your books, you can have a dozen hilarious characters, but if they all sound the same (*cough*CassandraClare*cough*) the reader will catch on, and it will bring the believability of your characters down. When I tried to get through City of Bones, the thing that stuck out to me was the humor. At the beginning, it was hilarious. Simon made me laugh out loud several times. And then Jace showed up, and…hey, his sense of humor sounded just like Simon’s. Then I tried Clockwork Angel, and Will sounded suspiciously like the other two. It was so redundant, it ceased to be funny.
There are many different /kinds/ of humor. Slapstick – in which someone walks into a door. Sarcasm – in which someone is too witty for their own good. Straight – in which someone says something funny with no expression whatsoever. Tongue in Cheek – in which someone is funny as though they were being serious. Joking – in which the prankster ties two pairs of shoelaces together. Humor is not just ‘humor,’ and the KIND of humor will vary depending on the character. A highly intelligent character is probably going to be witty and sarcastic. A fun-loving, lighthearted character will probably love to play jokes on people. Someone trying to cheer someone up frequently employs ‘straight’ humor, and slapstic is generally unintentional. But play with these stereotypes – mix it up! Maybe the uber-smart guy loves slapstick. Maybe the shy girl is actually a prankster.
As with anything else, practice will help you get better. Yes, humor is like a muscle – the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. Also, don’t try too hard. Forced humor tends to be awkward and falls short of the intended reaction. If you aren’t feeling particularly fun, try reading a book that makes you laugh, or watching a show that does the same. Immersing yourself in the kind of humor you want to write will rub off on you – trust me.
I said how each of my books has a different sense of humor, and since I tend to work well by example, I thought I’d give some to you! Remember to vary your humor from book to book and character to character, and you should do just fine.
I come here now and then when I need a caffeine fix, but I’m not really the sort of guy who digests all the details of a café. “It’s nice.”
“Nice?” She shrugs. “Well, nice. Yeah. It has great coffee, and the orange rolls are to die for.”
“I’ll have to try it some time,” I say.
“An orange roll?” she asks, turning toward me. “Or dying?”
“Everyone has to die sometime,” she says. “But not everyone has to try Theo’s orange rolls.”
I smile a little. “So,” I ask out of curiosity, “who’s Theo?”
She gets a funny look on her face, like she’s excited to tell me. “Well,” she says, “you know Van Gogh?”
“Not personally,” I say.
She laughs and carries on. “Anyway, his brother’s name was Theo.”
“So,” I say slowly, digesting the information, “you named the café after Van Gogh’s brother.”
Now came the all-important next question. “Why?”
“Because the guy who owns it is an art collector,” she answers readily. “And he likes Van Gogh.”
“My Weres won’t cause any trouble,” said Rukiel calmly, folding his arms. “They will, however, be effective in subduing it should it arise.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” said Skata.
To his surprise, Rukiel held out his hand, no hint of irony or mockery on his face. “Then you have it,” he said, his voice measured. “I will provide safety for my patrons, and as soon as the ball is over and you have what you need, we will disappear.”
Skata lifted his hand and clasped the shifter’s for a brief moment before dropping it. “Good.”
Angel clasped his hands together and said, his dark voice dripping with sarcasm, “Oh, wonderful. My congratulations to the happy couple.”
“Shut up, vampire,” said Skata, turning to face him. “I’m not in the mood.”
“For what?” the vampire asked, opening his eyes wide.
“You,” Skata retorted. “Don’t make me mess up your pretty face.”
“My stars,” said Angel with glee, “he thinks I’m pretty.”
“Angel,” said Rukiel, rubbing his forehead, “stop.”
The vampire sighed. “You two are as dull as Skata’s wit.”
Skata turned and hit Angel’s arm solidly with his fist. “I told you to shut it.”
Angel let out a yelp and rubbed his arm, even though Skata knew perfectly well the blow hadn’t hurt him in the least. “You Americans are so violent,” he complained.
“Now that we’re getting along,” said Rukiel, turning to Skata, “if you’ll follow me to the lounge, I can introduce you to the Weres. I don’t want you meeting them and getting suspicious on the big night.”
“Fine,” said Skata. He left the room, picking up his coat as Rukiel followed. “Get those invitations sent out, Angel,” he called.
“I love it when you use my name,” the vampire called.
Skata turned, ready to start a fight he couldn’t win, but Rukiel grabbed his arm with a grip that belied his small size. “He does that to egg you on,” he reminded the hunter. “Don’t let him get to you.”
“After this shindig, I’m never looking at him again,” Skata answered through his teeth.
“That’s the spirit,” said Rukiel, walking out the front door into the windy morning air. “Come with me.”
– This Mortal Coil
. “It smells like cookies in here,” I said suddenly.
His eyes widened. “You can smell them on the street?”
“No – just now.”
He relaxed. “Whew,” he said, grinning and closing the doors. “I’d hate to have to deal with a crowd of hungry cookie-eaters.”
“What are they for? The cookies, I mean,” I asked, feeling that casual conversation was the best thing for the moment.
“Ah…” He scratched his ear. “Eating?”
I let out a small, one-syllable laugh that took me by surprise. “Right,” I said. “My bad.”
“It happens all the time,” he said affably. “Cookies do, after all, look a lot like both Frisbees and compact discs. It’s an honest mistake.”
– The Meaning of Always
“I hate to be mean about anything,” I said, panting and trying to keep up with Astryn, “but I’m really tired of snow.”
“It’s not my fault,” he said.
“It’s your weather,” I said.
“It’s your kingdom,” he said.
“How much longer?” I asked, sighing. I had done a lot of sighing over the last week, I realized; but then, constant exasperation did that to a person.
“As the crow flies? Half a mile,” said Astryn. “As the little short-legged princess walks? Two, at least.”
“I hope Somebody gives you a big hug when we find him,” I said. My leaden feet refused to move another step and I fell flat on my face, creating an impromptu snow angel.
“Go on without me,” I said, muffled. “Leave me to die in peace.”
– Paper Crowns