I’ve been asked numerous times (less than 3) on how do I get in the mood to write comedy. Only on rare occasions (more than 390 times a year) do these answers haunt the back of my mind. This is not a winning formula or a how to episode, but more along the lines of ten things we must do in order to write comedy.
1. Don’t try to be funny. Be serious first.
Some of the best comedy on planet Earth is done in a most serious mind-set. Sometimes, that alone can lead to some highly humorous moments. What makes an event funny more often than not, isn’t the content of what’s happening, but the results of what has been done. Hench the term, a punch line. Not because some ninja comes out of the woodwork and punches people, but because a punch isn’t actually seen until it’s too late. The moment that makes a situation funny shouldn’t be seen coming, until the last possible second.
2. Location is everything. Consider the landscape, the area, what is going on all around your character.
Some of the funniest things to ever tickle a funny bone happen because of the location, with little regard to the building plot. Consider the character who is lost, looking for a specific location, trying to decide which of the surely characters in the background to ask for directions. Your protagonist finally pulls off the road, locates the most decent looking person among the motorcycle gang, and timidly asks the question about where to find the closest Walmart. That’s when it’s revealed the character is actually asking while parked next to the Walmart in question.
3. Contradiction can be a dangerously funny tool. Use it, but not too often.
Contradictions can happen on many different levels. Consider the contradiction I used to start this article in the first paragraph. Numerous being less than 3 and rarely up to 390 times per year actually sets the stage for comedic expectation, and it may have gotten a smile before reading further. When you get to the end of the article and find it more informative than funny, is another brand of contradiction that may amuse the more wise among us. Or I can just share the image of the tough, gritty warrior who is forced to battle the forces of evil with a giant pink bow tied up on top of his head. Either way, it wouldn’t normally happen because it contradicts itself, and if used right, can be rather hilarious.
4. A Clumsy Move
Ever since Bob Denver played Gilligan, we’ve found many reasons for comedy within the elements of being clumsy. However, you don’t need a clumsy personality to pull off the rare slip-up. Witnessing a sure footed, purposeful character take a turn into a lamp post because they were distracted by the opposite sex, or something similar, can be a hit for laughs when you want to lighten a dark situation. It works, but like all things in comedy, too often takes away from the gift of giggle… unless you’re writing a Gilligan type of character, and it’s expected. Then again, anything that’s expected isn’t near half as funny.
5. Word Play In English
The English language is loaded with words that are written differently but sound the same. It’s an avenue some don’t exploit, but can be done rather well, if kept in context. Like an electrician trying to explain to a non-electrician about how electricity works. “What?” says the student. The teacher counters with, “Not what, watt.” Or better yet, right versus write versus wright. You can make your own classic “Who’s on first?” round of terminology, and once again, in the right place within a story, can be killer funny.
6. Unexpected Body Functions
Again, properly placed and rarely done, a good old-fashioned fart can be a good belly buster. Heck, the fart-giver doesn’t even have to be human. An android can cover his butt while appearing embarrassed. “I’m sorry folks, my compressor sprang a momentary leak.” What’s important here isn’t just to have a fart just because you want it. Make it part of the plot. Make the fart a distraction for the antagonist to get away with poisoning a victim, or to help the protagonist escape a dangerous situation. But there are more to body functions than farting. Consider the all-powerful belch. Or the run-for-the-bathroom marathon due to a diarrhea attack. Or in our android’s case, the grease pan seal just popped, and it needs to run for the maintenance room. You get the idea.
7. Smart vs Dumb
Having an intelligent character pull off a pretty dumb move, but makes it work to resolve a situation, can lead to some pretty interesting laughs. Or vice versa. Having a not-so-bright character make an intelligent decision, but for the wrong reasons, and have it resolve a conflict in the manner the author intends, can also bring some humor to the table. An example would be the Space Marine named Biff in my novel, Rulers of Valinthia. He encounters Jasra and the changeling copy of Jasra. He even admits to being confused, which one should he shoot? The changeling messes up, saying she’ll kiss Biff, even go out on a date, if he shoots the “other” Jasra. So our not-so-smart guard shoots the changeling, but not because the real Jasra convinced him of her true identity. He shot the right target because a pretty women would never want to kiss an ugly cuss like himself. In context with the story, it worked like a champ, and I’ve been told by more than one reader how they busted out laughing over that one.
8. Articulate Dominance Gets Spanked
You know whom I speak of. There are those out there who take pride in being articulate, especially some of the smarter villains in my novels. Pushing the envelope, giving a mini-monologue at the height of their victory, just to have the victim turn on him with a good kick to the groin, stops the articulate monster on the spot. Any situation where the know-it-all is showing off just to get physically stopped, in a hard core fashion, has its own brand of humor that never goes away.
9. An Ego Balloon Meets The Needle of Irony
Characters don’t have to be the main antagonist in order to have an inflated ego. The needle of irony doesn’t always have to come from the protagonist, or any of their immediate companions. Having one of the many characters in the background that comprises a crowd, or just a bunch of passersby one would expect in the environment, make an offhand comment, or point out something important to the story, and popping somebody’s ego balloon can be quite funny. Like the blue denarian woman in Rulers of Valinthia. She discovers the puppy that is actually an evil changeling trying to flee from Jack, and Jack’s notable skill at pursuit is part of his still slightly inflated ego. She physically trips Jack before going off stage left in the novel, never to be seen or heard from again, and that is enough of a message that allows that type of humor to bite into a funny bone.
10. Characters In The Background
Most novels take place in a populated city, country side, or any kind of environment where there are normal folks, revolving around your central characters, all doing there own thing. The chances for comedy goes up when you don’t discount their ability to witness an event between your characters, and react accordingly. In Rulers of Valinthia, Jack chases a changeling in the shape of a mop, where it is hopping like a pogo stick, the mop head acting like hair, and Jack is trying to shoot it as the mop makes a thumping escape from the inside of the restaurant. The chase scene is funny enough, but the restaurant’s janitor watched it happen from across the street. His reaction? He took off his work badge and tossed it in the garbage, walking away from that place for good. It’s three sentences in the right spot, and it makes perfect sense. On the up-side, it’s also highly funny.
In closing, there is no direct formula to make a comedy actually work. These ten things to consider is actually a rough guide, something to mentally play with as you’re writing. If you’re feeling stumped by writer’s block, come back here and re-read this article. Visiting some basic situations can actually form a touch of inspiration, and before you know it, the writing is taking off once again.
Guest post contributed by Daniel A. Roberts. Daniel has written several short stories, most of them free, in between the various novels he has written. Check out his website for more of his work.
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