The funniest things are the forbidden … The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it.
— Mark Twain
I use humour in many of the short stories in my mystery collection Beyond the Tripping Point. My goal is not necessarily to be funny but the characters and their situations need humour, often the black comedy type. My characters are a little off from normal and get themselves in spots where they well, go beyond the tripping point in life and then have to sort it all out. Throw in crime and some of these characters need to go on the light side of life.
One of these stories “The Body in the Trunk” focuses on two close friends, Kelsie and Sally. Kelsie wants to dump her cheating husband but the normal divorce route doesn’t sit well on her shoulders. As she tells Sally,
“Divorce?” cried Kelsie when I’d said as much. “I’d have to split the house, the cottage, the golf set, the home entertainment centre, the BMW and,” she glared at me, “the dog. How do you split a dog? If Harry gets prison for life, he gets nothing and I get everything. And I really want that BMW.” (Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, copyright Sharon A. Crawford, 2012).
\So Kelsie drags Sally into her plan so that Harry will… You didn’t really think I was going to tell you the story, did you? You’ll have to get the book.
Basically I created an original situation which is humorous and had my characters act in offbeat ways that are funny. For example, in a few scenes in the story Kelsie wears a clothespin on her nose. But it ties in with the plot and Kelsie’s character.
So, if you want to create humour in your fiction, your characters must be funny in character. None of this having a character tell jokes unless the character is a stand-up comedian. Otherwise it is forced humour and will fall flat on your reader’s eyes and mind.
Your whole plot can be something offbeat and lend itself to humour (as does “The Body in the Trunk”). And you don’t necessarily want all characters to be funny. Kelsie is, but she is balanced by Sally who while thrust into the ridiculous situation, is not a funny person. The formula for humorous skits applies here – the funny person needs a straight (and I’m not referring to sexual orientation here) person to play against. Of course, there are some humorous skits where both characters are funny. Some of you may remember the skits on the old Carol Burnette TV show. Of course Carol Burnette just has to appear on stage and she gets laughs, but until your characters get well-known in the reading world, it is better to play the funny one against a straight character. The Janet Evanovich series featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is a good example. Stephanie is always getting herself into situations and the humour bounces off the pages.
Which bring me to Point of View – tell the story from the funny character’s POV or another character’s? That depends on who the funny character is – a main character or minor character, protagonist or antagonist, or in the case of mystery-crime stories – one of the suspects. With novels you can have multiple points of view (one POV per scene), so there is some choice. You can get into the funny person’s head and/or the straight person’s head – with the latter you can get their take on the humorous character. If it is short story you are writing, you need to tell the story from one point of view but either the funny person’s or the straight person’s could work. Unsure which? Try writing your story twice – once from each character’s POV. Then read each out loud and see what seems to work best.
Whatever way you use humour in your novel or short story, make sure it isn’t forced. Readers will pick up on it.
One good thing with humour in book fiction – print, e-book or audio book – readers don’t have to suffer from that awful canned laughter on TV sit-coms…not yet anyway.
And I’m going to relent a little; you can hear me read the beginning of “The Body in the Trunk” from my reading on Liquid Lunch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgOKYgBfAwY&feature=youtu.be
For Sharon A. Crawford’s upcoming events with Beyond the Tripping Point, go to the Beyond the Tripping Point page– http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html I continually update it.
Sharon A. Crawford