Weekly Musing: Tickle My Funny Bone

We all like to laugh. Sometimes we just need to laugh; whether it’s a bad day, bad week, bad month, whatever is dragging us down, laughter can pick us up.

Humor in writing, I think, is one of the most difficult things to accomplish. Humor and sarcasm often don’t translate well onto paper. Sarcasm especially unless the author denotes it with ‘He said sarcastically.’ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people and been personally involved with bickering online because someone said something sarcastic but other people got offended because they failed to see it the statement. Again, unless someone flags it, sarcasm doesn’t translate well on the page or computer screen.

Humor is a different animal. The intent is to make the reader laugh but how does one accomplish that? And how does one do that well? I am struggling to come up with the names of authors that write humor well. The first ones that come pop into my mind are comedians like Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert, and Tina Fey. They have an advantage because they have a ready-made audience with their TV shows. It’s easy to hear their voice when reading a book of theirs. A certain amount of hilarity is expected.

When brainstorming fiction writers, I struggle more to come up with funny authors. A large portion of this failure is on me for not discovering enough authors have humor in their books. I’m not referring to ones that always write funny stories but who have humor in their books that work. A. Lee Martinez’s Emperor Mollusk vs. the Sinister Brain is quite humorous because of its absurd premise of Earth ruled by a highly intelligent mollusk that creates all kinds of exoskeletons and weapons, amongst other things, for him to go out in the world. For goodness sakes, the book starts off with him leaving the grocery store and ordinary citizens saying ‘Hi’ to him. It is that premise which allows the author to get weird and funny.

What makes writing humor difficult, in my opinion, is everyone has a different sense of humor. I think that is why some authors use slapstick characters or crude dialogue. Most people recognize that character and potty humor is fairly universal. To take humor to a higher level is difficult. The author must be comfortable and trust his character to be naturally funny. The author must also be okay with the fact not every reader will get the jokes.

It is the concept of trusting the character to be the jester that I have a hard time wrapping my brain around. Personally I am a horrible joke teller. I’m also horrible telling stories orally; more comfortable with the words in front of me. Yet I still consider myself funny because my japes are more off the cuff and a reaction to what’s going on around me. I couldn’t write that stuff down to save my life.

The thought of writing jokes or funny dialogue worries me. I recently wrote a story told entirely through dialogue. The challenge for me wasn’t telling a story through dialogue but the considerable amount of humor it contained. I went with an absurd concept thinking it would make it easier for me. Weird = funny. I kept my fingers crossed hoping writing a humorous piece would work. Surprisingly enough, it did or so my writers group told me. But that was probably one of the most difficult yet the most fun piece of writing I’ve done to date.

Would I want to do that again? Not so sure yet I want to, and look forward to, having funny characters who fire off smart dialogue. Just hope I can keep up with them.