Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Gift of Humor

by Jenny B. Jones

Humor makes the world go round. It is the sugar in my tea and the spice on my fajitas. It’s also why I write books— to make someone laugh, to entertain, to encourage and provide an escape.

What I love about humor is that it can sweeten almost any story or work of nonfiction, whether it’s just a brief moment or the voice of the entire piece. Let’s talk about some ways you can incorporate a few laughs, a few smile-inducing moments in your work.  

1.  Kids, Old folks, and Minor Characters
The joy of having an elderly character or a young character is that they have free reign to say and do whatever they want. Exhibit A:

Look at the success and beloved legacy of Golden Girls. Use grandma or the four year old to be the voice of reason, to be your blunt characters, and the ones who have no filter. Usually they’re just vocalizing what we polite ones are thinking anyway.

Look for other characters who can be your Steve Martin. While my protagonists always have a sense of humor (or are supposed to), the heavier comedy usually comes from my minor characters, such as a nutty best friend or a socially inept boss. (Think Michael Scott, The Office) This keeps your main character (the one you want your reader to relate to) more believable while letting other characters up the comedic stakes.

2.  Contrasts
When you have contrasts in your book, you have built-in humor. How can you twist your story, your setting, your character to provide the unexpected? One of Warren Buffett’s best friends is a woman, Sharon Osberg. The two have been bridge partners and confidants for over twenty years. I find that unexpected, endearing, and humorous. It’s not the first image that comes to mind when I think of Buffet, but man, is there a story there or what?

3.  Dialogue
Dialogue is one of the easiest and most effective sources for humor because you can use just a little or a lot. For me, dialogue is the driving force of the humor in my books, so I rely on witty conversation a lot. (Again, my use of the term witty up for judgment, but wit is the intention.) I want the comedic dialogue to be shorter; a funny piece of conversation is rarely a long one. And I want it to move quickly. In my romance Save the Date, social worker Lucy and ex-quarterback Alex are total opposites, share a mutual dislike, and find themselves in a fake engagement. If I didn’t capitalize on that to create some sparring, humor-filled conversations, then I haven’t done my job.

Dialogue can also be effective for those writing more serious tomes. Sometimes a moment is so dark or the reader has been held under for so long, a brief flash of subtle humor or irony would give them some relief.

Laughter is one of the best sounds ever created. (Right after that noise made by popping the tab on a Diet Coke.) Your readers are surrounded by a bad economy, global unrest, pressure at work, and stress at home. If you’ve been called to write a little comedy, you have the opportunity to provide your reader with moments of escape, a break from the realities of life. There’s nothing like getting reader email that says “You made me laugh on a tough day” or even a simple “You made me smile.”

Humor isn’t just a style.

It’s a gift to your reader.
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Jenny B. Jones is the four-time Carol Award winning author of books for women such as Save the Date and the newly released companion YA There You’ll Find Me. None of these books have been optioned for stage, screen, or Vegas, but Jenny continues to sit patiently by the phone waiting for that lucky call from Spielberg or Donnie Osmond. Having little free time, Jenny believes in spending her spare hours in meaningful, intellectual pursuits such as watching E!, binge Twittering, and writing her name in the dust on her furniture. You can find her at www.jennybjones.com

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