Infusing humor in your writing is a smart way to get readers to stick around. Who doesn’t enjoy good comic relief? Yet there is no recipe to make a book funny; “funny” is easy to spot but harder to recreate.
That’s why I decided to look at books I’ve read in the past month and study the strategies they’ve used to make me smile, chuckle, and even hoot with laughter.
Humor & Character
Humor can affect the way we perceive a character, appeal to our sympathies. WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple is about a mother who retreats from the world. Kooky Bernadette is pretty hard to like at times, but her zaniness is steeped with so much humor that I couldn’t help but like her a little. To avoid interacting with other people, she hires a seventy-five-cent-per-hour virtual personal assistant from India to do her shopping for her and organize her life. Bernadette affectionately refers to the other mothers at her daughter’s school as gnats. She can spend hours fuming over the design of Seattle roads. Humor softens up Bernadette’s edges, brings out her humanity. It heightens her character in a way that is almost loveable. Bernadette has flaws but is not unsalvageable.
“You could save yourself time if you pay the most attention to the criticism you most dislike.” –GD Deckard
GD Deckard is a science fiction writer from Naples, Florida. He’s been writing since he was seventeen years old, has six grandchildren, and happens to be one of the friendliest people on Book Country. In the discussion “How Do You Use Reviews,” he writes something I find quite profound. Admitting how hard it is to take peers’ criticisms of his book, he concludes: “Truth is, it’s my baby, but someday it will have to make a living in this world.” Amen to that.
Nevena: Thank you for being part of the spotlight, GD. Where do you get ideas for your fiction?
GD: The idea for my current project came to me in a series of dreams about a future America in which natural resources have run out. I didn’t dream about calamities, just bits of everyday life. Eating in a cafeteria because, well, that’s where people would eat. Finding a barracks room to stay for the night because that’s where single people would sleep. Feeling intense togetherness at a community event on a school playground, and later disturbing sadness when I realized the school was long abandoned. It never felt like my America in ruins, but inexorably the scenes came together to make a coherent world.
Nevena: What draws you to hard science fiction?
GD: Hard science fiction is the only way to write about an inevitable future world. I set my book at the turn of the next century to allow time for America to need cafeterias to feed everybody. In the story, civilization has already run out of oil in the middle of the century. That’s “fiction” because it happens in the future, and it’s “science” because it’s based on current oil company projections.