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Seriously Funny: 7 Ways To Add Humor To A Novel

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Please welcome novelist Marilyn Simon Rothstein to Writer Unboxed today!

Marilyn Simon Rothstein is the author of Lift And Separate [2], the story of a woman forced to restart her life when her husband of thirty-three years, the Bra King, leaves her for a perkier fit. It was released by Lake Union Publishers in December 2016 and is available on Amazon.com [2]. Her second novel, Husbands And Other Sharp Objects, appears in early 2018.

For more than twenty-five years, Marilyn owned an advertising agency in Connecticut, but then she realized she could make a lot less money by becoming a novelist.

Now that’s funny.

You can learn more about funny Marilyn and her novels by following her on Facebook  [3]and Twitter [4].

Seriously Funny: 7 Ways To Add Humor To A Novel

  1.  Start with a sense of humor.

All novelists are people who observe things. For example, here’s an observation. Have you ever noticed that when two people are married a long time they often start to look like one another? Their dogs look like them too. Cats? Not so much.

To be seriously funny, you need to see what most people don’t even notice and bring it to the world’s attention by finding the humor in it. In short, nothing is funnier than the truth.

(So, warning: If the only way you can get a laugh from your friends is by reciting a joke that is as old as a saddle shoe, this article will be of no help to you.)

  1. Find comedy in every day situations.

They say most car accidents occur minutes from home. Humor takes place in your home—or in your car, grocery, business meeting. I had a lot of humor happen to me while talking to other mothers at the middle school bus stop. Also amazing? What you can pick up just by listening to the people at the table next to you in Starbucks.

Cull your humor from things that happen to you or people you know. Nothing starts out as comical as something that actually transpired. Add bells and whistles. Edit out irrelevant and dull details. Polish it. Hone it.

Here’s an example of my version of a situation in which my character discovers her daughter on the couch with a boy. I wasn’t feeling well so I came home early, middle of a school day, from my office. I walked into my family room and found my fourteen-year-old daughter with a boy. They were on the couch in front of the fireplace, wearing matching outfits–they both had nothing on. His name was Mother’s Hell. 

  1. Utilize humor to express feelings

Don’t save humor for happy emotions. Great wit is a great partner for relating the feelings that make you wish you had a gin martini in a large jug or a freezer full of ice cream to down the pain. Equal time here for drinkers and foodies.

Were you feeling depressed? Or, were you so depressed that you would have been happier if you spent a month with your mother-in-law, who you dislike because she never called you when you were deathly ill, but you’d rather die than speak to her in any case. Were you decimated when your husband left you? Or, did you cry just one tear because even your tears were alone now? My debut novel, Lift And Separate, is about a woman who is forced to restart her life when her husband of thirty-years walks out—since when is that hilarious?

  1. Utilize humor to describe professions, places and things.

In Lift And Separate, the protagonist is Marcy. Her husband is Harvey, the Bra King. He owns a business called Bountiful Bosom. From this came the title, Lift And Separate. From the title came the cover, brassieres—lots of them. Marcy’s brother

Max is a scam artist. In high school, he was voted most likely to go to a white-collar prison. All occupations provide abundant material. Meet any lawyers, lately?

In every generation, we are surrounded by opportunities to be funny. Places we frequent now–Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Starbucks, the Apple computer store, Home Depot, a cosmetics counter, an all inclusive resort, a cruise ship–can be described in a way that makes a reader smile in recognition.

Then there are objects. Take my aunt’s vinyl see-through purse with the zipper. She opened it once. My uncle had a hearing aid, but he refused to buy a battery. My aunt and uncle were pretty tight. They were married fifty years. And they looked just like each other.

  1. Always surround the humor.

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Marcy Hammer’s life has been turned upside down. Her husband, the head of a global brassiere empire, didn’t think twice about leaving her after thirty-three years of marriage for a 32DD lingerie model. Now Harvey the Home-Wrecker is missing in action, but Marcy’s through thinking about what a cliché he is. What she needs now is a party-size bag of potato chips, a good support system, and a new dress.

In a novel, humor must be a part of the story. It cannot just sit there all by itself—like a Jewish mother. Humor has to be there for a reason. Is it moving the story forward? Showing the personality of a character? Building on a relationship? Describing a place or location? Take time rolling out a laugh. Setting it up slowly. Surround it with actions and descriptions.

  1. Timing is everything.

Pace yourself.  Continuous chuckles pale, and subtract from the seriousness of your writing. A novel is not a comedy act. Too much laughter and the reader won’t have time to care about your characters. 

  1. Read your work to a writer’s group.

How can you tell if you have written something that makes people laugh? Unlike most kinds of writing, you can tell immediately by the reaction of others in your writer’s group. What if you don’t have a writer’s group? I recommend finding one. Almost everything they say will be good for a laugh.