I have a confession to make. I’m not funny.
As in when I tell a joke the room gets quiet, and I’m not even sure you could call me the straight man to someone else’s punch line. (I am a woman after all.)
The trouble is unfunny (is that even a word?) writers like me still need to write humor to keep people engaged in our stories. This struck home as particularly true while I was reading Brandon Sanderson’s Bands of Mourning. Without giving anything away, I was giggling like a kid on a pixie stick during the read. It was in stark contrast to Catherine Asaro’s Undercity that I had read the week before. Undercity was without a doubt a good book, but the main character was so serious and intense that it began to drag. Bands of Mourning on the other hand weaves comedy and drama together like a chef mixing spices. The humor has a brilliant way of doing three things:
1) Humor diffuses tension: There’s a time and a place for the dramatic, but have you ever read books or seen movies that have nothing but intense drama? They’re exhausting to read, and you almost are glad when they’re done so you can breathe normally again. Humor breaks up that tension and gives you a time to recharge before the action gets started again.
Keep your readers with those lol catz!
2) Jokes give your characters personality: Your characters need character? Say what?!
Who are your favorite people in the world? I bet you that on a list of five favorite people at least three of them are good at making you laugh. We like people that can make us laugh because they understand us enough to know what we find funny. They see reality through a similar lens.
Same goes for characters on a page. When they crack a joke we get a sense of who they are on a deeper level. Is their humor cerebral, crass, offensive, meant to make them feel mighty, whimsical, or inspired by the gallows? When you know as a reader (and as a writer) you’re one step closer to seeing the character as a fully realized human.
3) It makes the story more real: Fiction is the art of telling the truth while lying through your teeth. We fiction authors build worlds, design people, and devise plots more readily than any real world mastermind, and it’s all just ink (or e-ink) on a page. None of it is real.
But the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense. Fiction is where our understanding of people comes together in a story arc, and a lot of my friends have admitted they learned a lot about people through reading novels. And you know what? People like to laugh. It’s good for us. Like hugs.
So it’s time to get my unfunny ass in gear and learn to crack a joke. And like the dutiful millennial I am, I’ll turn to Google.
C’mon Google overlords, don’t fail me now!
PS: Please follow me on Twitter @moriartynova and Instagram (novamoriarty) for updates on my writing projects, yoga adventures, and articles. Or if you want to see how slow I am on Zombies, Run! Thanks for stopping by.