Search:
 
 

Writing Funny

I’m here to talk about a very serious subject — comedy writing. In writing, getting the comedic balance right is tricky. Years ago, a contest judge said my entry read like a series of jokes. Unfortunately, this was not intended as a compliment. What s/he meant was a novel shouldn’t come across like a stand-up routine. My challenge? Concentrate on the plot and narrative, and let the funny flow naturally. (Contest Judge, I hope I’ve done you proud!)

As you might have guessed from my debut YA’s punny title, This Is Your Afterlife is on the lighter end of the grayscale. That’s not to say there aren’t dark moments — the story revolves around murdered high school football star Jimmy Hawkins. It’s just his death is treated with a touch of humor and hope. Here’s an excerpt:

“Aren’t you psychic?” he taunts.

“Being psychic would mean I could see into the future.”

 “Then what do you call this…this thing we have?” He gestures at the space between us.

 I frown at that space. “You have what is called the afterlife. I have what appears to be clairvoyance.” Grandie was pretty clear on the distinction. “Psychics see the future. Clairvoyants and mediums see dead people. And argue with them, too, it seems.”

How did this even happen to me? Last time I checked, I didn’t have the Gift. I haven’t been struck by lightning, haven’t taken any hallucinogenic pills or eaten magic mushrooms. My sixteenth birthday would have been a prime time for spirits to make an all-singing, all-dancing debut in my world, but that day passed quietly three months ago.

Unless there were signs I missed. But what counts as a sign? Randomly sensing Grandie’s lavender perfume in the Bugle office? Could it be that she was trying to communicate then?

What bugs me is that I’ve been invisible to Jimmy for years. Now that he’s dead, he finally sees me. There is no justice in the world.

One of my favourite movie quotes is from Crimes and Misdemeanors, in which Alan Alda’s character says, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” I’m not known for my love of mathematics, but this is one equation that makes a lot of sense to me.

Here are a few key ways to inject a dose of fun into your work:

  • Clever turns of phrase; flip an expression, observation or cliché on its head.
  • In terms of characterization, think of the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. We expect lions to be courageous and majestic. But this lion, when we first meet him, is far from brave.
  • Use the rule of three. Create an element of surprise by starting off with an ordinary list and topping with something unexpected. For example: Harriet wanted nothing more in life than a comfortable pair of slippers, three-ply yarn, and a hot young Scottish laird. (Okay, that wasn’t my best example. It’s hard to write funny! Perhaps Harriet has plans involving the laird and the yarn?)
  • Take a real-life situation, even a serious one, and give it a humorous twist.
  • Puns are so punny! But they can get unfunny pretty fast. Don’t overuse them.
  • Physical comedy. Be careful of turning it into slapstick.
  • Absolutely. Again, like puns, alliteration can become absurd if overused. Some people look at alliteration as an abomination that should be axed altogether.

Keep in mind there are contraindications for each of these. Use sparingly. Always stay true to character. You can’t have a supreme court judge cracking wise at the bench. Unless she’s Judge Judy. But it’s okay for her because caustic wit forms part of who she is.

How do you know if you’re writing funny? It’s a promising sign if people constantly tell you, “Say, you’re really funny!” Or if they laugh with you, not at you. Like anything, humor is subjective. What’s hilarious to one reader might be tedious or even offensive to another. Test it on CPs and friends. Grab someone off the street and feed them a line. If you get hit with rotten tomatoes, or worse, don’t raise a chuckle, you may have missed the mark. Do your comedic situations make you, the writer, laugh? They say if you cry when writing a sad scene, it’s likely your readers will pick up on all that emotion you poured into it and cry, too. So I think the same goes for humor. Go ahead, LOL at your own jokes.

Tell me, when was the last time you laughed out loud? Got a favorite funny author or movie?

You’ve been a great audience. Thank you and goodnight!

 


Out now – This Is Your Afterlife (Bloomsbury Spark), a paranormal YA that brings new meaning to “teen spirit.”

Website (revamped!)

Twitter

5 Lessons on Branding… Which Led to Launching a New Pen Name

When I signed my first contract for a little paranormal romantic comedy short story back in 2008, I didn’t have a clue about branding.  But at least I knew I was completely clueless.  I was ready to be a sponge and absorb all the wisdom I could about the wild and wonderful writing business.  I […]

Ruby Release: Cowboys for Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time…of the year! No, I’m not talking about Christmas. Not yet. I still have two kids’ birthdays AND two kids’ birthday parties, plus Thanksgiving, before I can turn my attention to Ho-Ho-Ho and mistletoe. I’m talking about Holiday Book Season! The time of year when I curl up with anthologies from […]

Ruby Release – I Wish

“Don’t ever give up,” said the late Jimmy Valvano (former basketball coach for NC State University) a few short weeks before cancer claimed him. That quote became the motto for me and I Wish. This is the manuscript that finaled in the Golden Heart in 2009. Without I Wish, I would’ve never met my Ruby […]

November: A Writer’s Take for Giving Thanks

Because the American holiday falls in November, I’ve noticed that we tend to focus more on our blessings during this time. I’ve seen it on Facebook when friends will take each day in November and list something for which they are grateful. List toppers are usually their faith, their families, their health, etc. I’m not […]

NaNoWriMo Mid-Point Check-In

Whoa. I’ve just had a revelation. Seriously. A big, possibly writing-life-changing revelation. For a few years now, I’ve been reporting my NaNo progress here on the Ruby blog…’cause, you know, I find the threat of public shame to be a really great motivator. This is my sixth annual NaNo, and I’m coming in with a […]

Superstitions: Find a Penny, Pick It Up

Hurray! Today is the book birthday of CURSED BY LOVE, the second book in my Good Riders Series. While writing this book, I studied long lists of good luck/bad luck superstitions. And believe me, there are some odd ones out there. In CURSED BY LOVE, the heroine, Molly Webber, is a superstitious schoolteacher who doesn’t […]

Keep It Up!

It’s November 12th which means folks are nearly halfway through NANO. For those of you racing toward your 50,000 word goal, I salute you and wish you continued success and a productive, daily word count.  For those who have set different goals for the month, I salute you as well. We all write at our […]

Just Say “No” to NaNoWriMo: In Defense of Writing Slowly

Two books and a novella. That’s what I remembered being “normal,” back in 2011, before my son was born. It felt like a lot, but as an unpublished author, I didn’t think I had much say in the matter. Swim with the big fish or get left in the shoals. And before my baby was […]

To Buy or Not to Buy: That is the Question

To massacre a phrase from Hamlet’s Soliloquy beyond all earthly recognition, have you ever thought about the factors that influence you to buy a book? This blog post started off as an analysis of authors whose work I pre-order and auto-buy, but then, looking at my Amazon Cart and seeing so few books there <wince>, […]

The Series Addiction

I love reading books in series.  Nalini Singh’s Psi/Changelings, Julia Quinn’s Bridgertons, Julie James’s interlocked contemporaries – I will wait in line to snag the next book in a series I love.  And it looks like I’m not alone.  Conventional wisdom in the world of self-publishing is that your books MUST be in series.  Some […]

It’s a Mystery.

As most of you know, I write romance–romantic comedy to be precise. But…I’ve been cheating on my first love, romance, for a while now. That’s right, I’m considering genre-hopping to mystery. There I admitted it. Hello, my name is Katie Graykowski and I am a mystery writer. OR at least I think I am. You […]

Spice Up the Romance

This is a hectic time of year. After September, it’s a slippery slope right into the winter holidays. So we often forget that most important someone in our lives. Taking the time to remember why and how you love someone is incredibly important and can also be lots of fun!  Now I know you know […]

Happily Ever After. And After. And After.

The idea for this blog came to me as I was reading a book by my newest favorite romance author. This was her fourth book, and just as awesome as the first three. But one thing that stuck out for me in the not-so-awesome category was the guest appearances by couples from books 1-3. They […]

What Makes You Weird?

I have a clear memory from when I was nine or ten years old of being in the back seat of a car and looking over to my right. There was a man driving next to us, and he was just staring straight ahead of himself, not looking at me, not doing anything at all but waiting for […]

It’s Time to NaNo!!!

Warm up those keyboard fingers, writers, it’s TIME TO NANO!!! It’s all I can do today to keep from bouncing up and down and hugging every stranger I see. And it’s not even because I’m amped up on Halloween candy (though, not in the least surprisingly, I am). Nope, I’m as excited as a twelve-year-old […]

Flash Fiction

It was a dark and stormy night… Not really. Right now it’s pretty calm, but we do have clouds misting around a bright orange moon. Doesn’t get any cooler than that. With Halloween nigh upon us, I thought I would celebrate by entertaining you with a two-hour interpretive dance. Or, better yet, how about a flash fiction piece?  […]

Just How Brave are YOU?

We talk a lot on the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood blog about writing, and I think we can all agree that writing a book, putting it “out there” and watching people read, review, throw your book into a trashcan takes a certain amount of bravery. Okay, so I don’t know that someone threw any of my books […]

Research: Unexpected Consequences

One of the things I love the most about writing medical romances is the research. I’m a sucker for all of those not-so-common ailments and spend far more time than I should perusing medical sites and my trusty Physicians’ Desk Reference. There are a couple of problems with research, though. One is that I’m not […]

Boxing for Our Servicemen

If you’ve shopped at Amazon lately, you can’t have helped but notice the host of multi-author boxed sets for sale­­—many for only 99 cents. I’ve watched a lot of these bundles hit major bestseller lists. So when Chris Keniston, one of my GH sisters from 2010, invited me to take part in a promotional 99-cent […]

Ruby Release: This Is Your Afterlife!

It’s Shea Berkley here and I am so excited to introduce Vanessa Barneveld’s debut Young Adult book, This Is Your Afterlife! USA Today called it a “must read!” Clink your champagne glass to the screen and give a shout out to Vanessa. YAY, Vanessa!!! If I had confetti, I’d throw it in the air, but me being […]

The Confessions of a Non-writing Writer

Several weeks ago, I attended my 40th high school reunion. My high school was located in a small rural farming community in northwest Mississippi, and my graduating class was small. Because of our small number, you would think it would be easier to get us together through the years, but we’d not had a reunion […]

Return of the Slog

A few things have converged this week and I wanted to address them under the broader heading of “The Slog.” We discussed the idea of “the slog” in a post back in February, which you can find here At the time of the article, I asked the question, “What makes some days a slog and some […]

RUBY RELEASE: Seventh Grave and No Body

WOOT! It’s release day for the next book in the Charley Davidson series: Seventh Grave and No Body. I’m thrilled to be able to share this with our readers, especially in this, my favorite month of the year! Nothing says Halloween is coming like one of Charley’s creepy cases. This time Charley gets to do […]

Motivation through workshops

My first book came out two years ago this month. In the subsequent twelve months I had three more out and one novella, and then this year two and a novella. Next year will hopefully be three full lengths (and just maybe three novellas). I know plenty of authors do more than that, but for […]

Subscribe to the Blog

Name
Email *

Coming Soon on the Blog

  • November 24, 2014
    by:
    THE COOLEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER!
  • December 1, 2014
    by:
    NaNo Confession Time 2014
  • December 2, 2014
    by:
    Golden Heart: Open for Entries Today!
  • December 12, 2014
    by:
    Creative Minds: Trent Reznor
  • December 15, 2014
    by:
    Announcing the 2015 Ruby Winter Writing Festival!!!
  • January 12, 2015
    by:
    Opening Ceremonies: Ruby Winter Writing Festival 2015!!

Newsletter Signup

* = required field

Find the Rubies

The Rubies don't have any appearances scheduled. Please check back soon!