When I was quite young, I heard an old joke that became one of my favorites. It goes like this:
A woman and her young son are strolling along the beach when a huge wave comes along and pulls the boy out to sea. A man standing nearby, who witnesses the event, springs into action. He dives into the ocean, swims against the current, and somehow is able to reach the child. He brings the child back safely, and presents him to his mother on the beach. The mother looks at her son and says to the man: “He had a hat.”
It’s probably a corny joke, but I’m smiling right now. What makes the joke work so well for me is the audacity of the mother. The man just saved her child, and she is not satisfied.
Many writers who don’t write humor on a regular basis have a fear of writing it. They feel they will either come off as corny, or not funny. Truth is, sometimes we’re not funny. Sometimes we are corny. But to successfully add humor to your work, you need to be like the mother in the joke, and have the audacity to dare to be funny.
This is your greatest challenge in writing humor. Have you ever written something in a manuscript, chuckled to yourself and then cut it, because you thought no one else would think it’s funny? Just as you have to believe in your prose, must also believe in your sense of humor. Every one of us has one.
When I was writing Never Slow Dance With A Zombie, I had my sense of humor turned way up. It was my first YA and I wanted to take advantage of what I thought was one of my greatest assets –my humor. Being a sitcom writer, I realized that some things I thought were funny were going to fall flat. However, some things I thought were cute were going to get big laughs. That’s exactly what happened. In readings, passages I thought were funny didn’t get so much as a chuckle, while other things I didn’t think were funny at all, got laughs. I knew I had achieved my goal when one reviewer called my little book “a laugh out loud debut novel.”
When a comedian goes on stage he has no idea from night-to-night what material is going to get a laugh. Some nights, things that have been sure-fire funny fall flat. That’s how it is with humor. It doesn’t work the same for every reader. But the beauty of injecting humor into your work is it adds balance. It adds color and depth, and can illuminate the most dramatic of moments. And it sets you apart from writers who are afraid to attempt it. So, if you want to step up your game as a writer, you must make the conscious effort to dare to add humor.
Next week: The Key To Unleashing Your Humor—Thinking Crooked