This post by Craig Snider.
When I think back on all the best books, movies, and stories I’ve ever been exposed to, there is one thing that stands out no matter what the genre may have been. Since you’ve already read the title, you know what that thing is.
Why is it that laughter has such an impact on us? Simple. Our brains are hardwired to reward certain behaviors, like food, sex, laughter, and anything that releases endorphins. Because, when we get right down to it, our brains are like a spoiled little three year old on sugar-crack that throws a tantrum until it gets what it wants. And, when it gets what it wants, it gives you a treat to
keep those things coming. Okay, so it is more like a drug dealer that will hurt you unless you try their stuff, then you get addicted and have to come back for more. Activating the reward center of the brain is a great way to quickly engage someone. That is why most women say they appreciate a man’s sense of humor and will overlook my, I mean “his,” lesser qualities, like–you know, his face, or spindly arms, or his somewhat feminine overall physique… Be right back. I need to get a tub of Haggen-Dasz.
Okay. What was I saying? Oh yes, laughter. Humor is absolutely essential in modern culture. While humor may not necessarily be universal, it is present in nearly every society on the planet, and presmuably elsewhere. Though, I’m sure the fact that the insect-like Zeebldorx of RX-243 love to peel the soft flesh from other animals might not seem so funny to us, they think it is downright side-splitting.
Some of my favorite horror movies are either outright hilarious (Evil Dead, Dead Alive, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil), or have very dark humor (Re-Animator, Slither, Cabin in the Woods). Even “The Shining” had some very humorous scenes. And really, who didn’t want to beat Wendy’s head in with a bat?
Adding humor to your work, no matter the genre, takes it to another level for the reader. Some authors take themselves and their work way, WAY too seriously. Don’t be that guy, or girl, or Zeebldorxian. No one likes them. They are pretentious, annoying, and their work reeks of it.
When you make your reader laugh, you will activate those pleasure centers in their brain, creating a strong memory link that will keep you and your story in their minds for a long time. I’ve read a lot of good books. But, the ones I remember are really well written, and often humorous.
The problem then, is how do you inject humor into your writing? Well, the first thing is not to force it. There is nothing worse than someone TRYING to be funny. Believe me, I know. Have you read my posts before? It takes lots of practice. The first step is don’t take yourself too seriously. Writing is hard work, and if you don’t approach it with some levity you’ll end up as that guy who corners people at a party, forcing them to listen to his terrible novel’s synopsis, all the while oblivious to the fact they have already slit their wrists and written a suicide note to their children in their own blood. Poor Jimmy. He’ll never get a chance to disappoint his parents…
As you are writing, you will often find places where a joke or scene comes to mind that makes you laugh. Don’t resist it. Put it in, especially if it is a rough draft. You can always edit, tweak, or remove it later. Let it breathe for a bit first. Of course, this greatly depends on the style of your writing. If you are a “serious” writer, shoot yourself. Sorry, I mean–no, shoot yoursef. If your writing style is “heavy,” that’s fine. Be subtle with your humor, and make it come from the characters and the scenes, not, I REPEAT, not from the narrator. That is a terrible mistake unless you are a writer whose work is intended to be satirical.
It is a fine balance to maintain for serious genres, but it can be done, and the benefits will be immense. The best part is, that when done correctly the reader may not even realize that is why they remember you story so well. Instead, they’ll say something like, “that was really well written,” or “I just loved the characters,” or “please don’t Facebook stalk me anymore. It is just weird when you like a picture from seven years ago…”
Try it. Start small, say for example, in a series of blog posts, or an article, or just in your Facebook statuses. Force yourself to be funny. As a writer, you already see the world differently. Now all you have to do is teach yourself to see the funny in the world around you. Believe me, it is there. If you’re having trouble seeing something funny, do what I do every morning. Look in the mirror.