Just like a well-delivered one-liner, writers must have great timing and dynamics when their characters produce a sentence—or word—meant to be funny.
the ability to select the precise moment for doing something for optimum effect
Don’t forget—to show your character’s sense of humor—readers need to know the character’s usual personality, and/or the situation, that to most people, is serious.
In the following excerpts from my attempt at historical fiction, readers can see and feel the seriousness of the situation: (Please note, the passive voice is supposed to be passive.)
Today is the 23rd of October, 1861. My daughter and I are standing inside our home waiting for the preacher and his missus to arrive in their carriage to take us to the cemetery. Through the window, I study clouds surrounding the mountains, both which are practically a step away. The clouds seem as sorcerers brewing a storm, the first of the season. Several yellow and orange leaves cling to branches of aspen trees as if begging nature to stay the arctic frost, and let them live if for only one day more.
Then readers learn more about our protagonist and what is normal for her:
“She’s going to San Francisco,” I tell the elderly woman. (on the train) “Will you help her? Please?” I have never begged for anything, but as I kneel between my daughter and the woman, I clasp my hands together, searching the old woman’s eyes. The feeling, the situation is so very odd.
The set up:
Some moments later, I realize I am sitting on the ground. If more of my tears were to fall, they would practically create their own puddle.
The joke and in this case, the lesson:
A miner and his wife, new to the area…help me to my feet…Then he steps backward into a fairly fresh pile of horse manure. His wife holds her handkerchief over her nose. And then she giggles, almost unperceptively. Trying to hide his laughter, the miner snorts, steps out of the pile, and then wipes his boots in the dirt. He and his wife are now laughing quite loudly because, instead of cleaning his boots, the dry dirt only sticks to them, making an even bigger mess.
…I cannot help but chuckle. …But then laughter leaves my mouth before I can stop it. Perhaps I should be ashamed, but the moment reminds me what is the best medicine.
Okay, maybe you’re not busting a gut over this, but when the miner steps into manure and creates a bigger mess, all three characters laugh—allowing readers to laugh—thus lending a respite from grief.
noun plural but singular or plural in construction
a pattern or process of change, growth, or activity; variation and contrast in force or intensity
The protagonist in my debut, *The Frozen Moose, a short story is a mess; such a mess she has planned her suicide.
The below scene shows her mindset, as well as a bit of her normal thought process:
My plan of self-elimination was simple. Winter was in full swing— International Skeptics Day, January, 13. The valley near the riverbed was coldest. I would simply freeze myself. Unsophisticated but effective….
…Then the phone rang.
Now we get a glimpse of our protagonist’s normal world and the set up:
The caller’s monotone worked well either as a sleeping aid or entertainment, dependent upon the subject matter. Halley, my social worker friend, “Hey, my dear…. “I’ve got a foster child. She’s been in eight homes in the last six years. I need you to care for her.”
...“Pretend I’m Catholic, and it’s Lent.”
affording light mirth and laughter; seeking or intended to amuse; differing from the ordinary in a suspicious, perplexing, quaint, or eccentric way
Check these sites for additional advice on writing funny:
Humor Writing for People Who Aren't Funny by Jeff Goins at The Write Practice.
The Secret of Writing Funny by Ghulam at Write to Done.
Comedy Writing: How to Be Funny -- an interview of humor writers by Scott Simon on npr.org
Give the gift of humor to your characters, but remember one man’s humor is another man’s white elephant gift.
A Colorado native, Rainey, (writing as L. Treloar), has been a RMFW member since 2012 (or so), and is happy to belong to one of the best critique groups ever: The 93rd Street Irregulars. She has self-published The Frozen Moose, is currently re-editing the first manuscript in a political thriller series, and has entered two contests with her 2016 NaNoWriMo Historical Fiction novella. In her spare time, she enjoys organizing anything from closets, to military family retreats, to rodeos and parades. Along with teaching her cat to retrieve, she volunteers at church and The Horse Protection League. With an Associate degree in Applied Science/Land Surveying, she learned she far prefers words over math.
*The Frozen Moose, a short story is available on Barnes and Noble in e-book.