By Margaret Lucke
"Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog.
Few people are interested and the frog dies of it."
-- E. B. White
The novels I write aren't comic, though I hope that readers will find lines here or there that make them chuckle. If I'm lucky, those chuckles will come where I intend them to, and not at points where I hoped readers would fall in love, blink back a tear, or bite their nails at the unbearable suspense.
I admire writers who can be funny on purpose, rather than by accident and in the wrong places. I'm not one of them. However, that's not going to stop me from offering you a few hints about how to write humor. Here are some tricks well known to creators of comedy.
• Exaggerate -- "Mr. Moneybags led me into his living room, which was bigger than the state of Texas." Of course it's not possible for a room, even a room in a rich guy's mansion, to be anywhere near that large. The reader knows that, but still is more amused than if you'd simply said the room was large.
• Spring a surprise -- Play a bit with your readers' expectations. If you set them up to expect X and then you deliver Y, the result can provoke a laugh. Your protagonist is getting dressed in the morning. She opens the door to her closet and . . .
. . . takes her blue shirt off its hanger. Boring!
. . . is confronted with a circus elephant with a feathered headdress. This will prod your readers to wake up and pay attention. It might even make them smile.
Make comparisons between unlikely objects. Juxtapose improbable things. Choose the perfect yet unforeseen word. (I know, I know -- easier said than done.)
• Go for funny words and sounds -- It may seem odd, but it's well known among comedy writers that words with hard consonants, particularly K and G, sound funnier than words that lack them. Consider that when choosing words or naming characters. Cackle rather than laugh. Guacamole rather than salsa. Gus Kuggle rather than Shawn Smith.
• Be kind -- I once went to an open-mike comedy night at which most of the stand-up comics weren't funny, for two reasons. Some tanked because they based their routines on TV shows no one in the audience ever watched. Worse were the ones who mistook ridicule for humor. You may get a cheap laugh or two by putting down other people, but when you laugh at people rather than with them, your audience is more likely to cringe. Except maybe if your target is politicians.
• Treat your story and your characters with respect -- You might create a fictional situation so funny that your readers' sides split, but remember that your characters don't know they're playing parts in a comedy. They're grappling with what to them are real conflicts and problems that to them are deadly serious. Humor, for the most part, is matter of creating the right tone.
Want to know more? Read a master of comedic writing. I recommend P.G. Wodehouse, creator of the hapless Bertie Wooster and his unflappable butler, Jeeves. There's an author who knows about funny business.