Let’s face it. Humor is highly subjective. What produces a belly laugh for many readers can be trite for some and even offensive to others. However, books that utilize humor to draw in readers, whether or not the genre calls for it (think Dean Koontz blending humor into horror) can certainly warm our hearts, even if for short time. It can also have us coming back for more. Kat Ellis, one of my favorite bloggers, has certainly mastered this in her blog even though, according to her, she might not be doing it intentionally.
I’ve asked her to share some advice on how she incorporates humor (or humour if you live outside the U.S.) into her writing. Intentionally or not. Here’s what Kat had to say:
Q. Kat, you have a great sense of humor. It’s evident in your blogs, tweets, etc. As a result, I happily click over to your new blogs, knowing that they will be refreshing as well as informative. Your writing genre, however, is Sci Fi and, by your own words, tends to be dark and gritty. Do you find yourself having to restrain your natural sense of humor in your stories and unleash it only to make a punch here and there in order to keep the tension building in your manuscripts?
A. Firstly, thank you for the wonderful compliment! But yes – I am a writer of dark, gritty, lurky things, with splashes of robotics and lasers, and I can’t legitimately claim to be a funny writer.
Humour is so subjective, and something which is so difficult to pin down in writing, that I’ve done no more than dabble with it, really. I tried once, a long time ago, to write a quirky blog series about a foul-mouthed cat trying to stop the spectre of Death from killing all the old folks in the retirement home where he lived, but that fizzled out like the proverbial damp squib.
That’s not to say that my writing is entirely serious (at least, I don’t think so.)
Humour sneaks into my SF and fantasy writing, which is both good and bad. Good, because I find reading anything with no humour at all to be a chore. Bad, because it tends to pop into my writing at awkward moments to diffuse tension which really shouldn’t be diffused. It’s at the point where the MC is finally going to kiss the boy she’s been in love with for months, and a seagull craps on them. Or the point where the MC is facing down his nemesis, and notices that Darth Whoever’s fly is down, and showing just a tiny bit of Darth’s pubic hair. I generally have to take these idiocies out during editing, so my writing goes back to being mostly just dark and gritty, with references to seagull crap and pubes held in reserve for less tense scenes.
(For the record, these great visuals of Kat’s definitely appealed to my sense of humor, but I could see where the villain might need to keep his fly up while the tension is particularly high.)
Q. While my stories also fall on the more serious side, I tend to include humorous situations or conversations to lighten the mood every few scenes. I rely on a variety of irony, timing, and delivery, as well as conversations between unlike or opposing characters.
When developing your characters, do you specifically keep the majority of the humor limited to one or two characters, such as the narrator or a strong secondary character? Or do you just let it flow where it might? Is this something you plan out prior to beginning your MS or do you wait to get a feel for the characters as they develop?
A. My natural writing groove is 1st person past tense. I think this makes it inevitable that the MC’s sense of humour – or lack thereof – will influence the tone of the entire novel. But while I don’t set out with the intention of writing a ‘funny’ character, there are some who form inside my brain with what I see as a great sense of humour, or with traits which might be funny to the reader. If any of my characters are funny, they came to be that way organically. I’m a plotter to my core, but in this, I guess I pants like a demon.
Q. I know that genre-hopping is frowned upon as writers build their audiences, but do you have any thoughts of writing something out of Sci Fi that will enable you to delve deeper into that wonderful sense of humor you have? Personally, I think you could pull off a Bridget Jones equivalent easily.
A. Again, thank you for the massive compliment! I love Bridget Jones and other women’s fic as a reader, but as a writer I’m firmly entrenched in the world(s?) of speculative fiction, and lean more towards writing male MCs. I’ve dabbled in horror with some short stories, but I’m not sure I could even sustain horror for an entire novel.
I think SF as a genre lends itself quite well to humour, and if I ever do pluck up the courage to really try to write a comedy, it will be in the vein of Red Dwarf or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Q. Particularly when narrating in first person, humor (especially when aimed at the narrator) can really help keep the protagonist from sounding like he/she is on a pulpit. What other advice do you have for writers on infusing humor in their manuscripts to keep this from happening?
A. I think if a novel starts to sound preachy, then it’s probably the author being preachy, not the characters. If that happens, the reader is going to disengage. I don’t read novels to learn about the political beliefs of an author, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable shoving my own agenda onto readers.
Humour is wonderful to use in a story, but if it’s there to hide the Important Message the Author is Imparting, readers are going to see through it, roll their eyes, and throw the book across the room. Adding humour is a great way to build character, engage the reader, move the story forward. If it’s not doing any of that, it’s probably going to be cut in the editing stage anyway.
If a writer writes funny books, that’s fabulous. If a writer’s sense of humour doesn’t translate to their writing, that’s fine too.
So, basically – smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.
Q. Anything else you’d like to share.
A. Thank you, Debbie, for inviting me over onto your blog for this interview! If your readers have any questions, I’m happy to answer (but please don’t ask me what a squib is.)
Great advice, Kat. Thanks so much for sharing. I can’t wait to read your first MS in print, whether or not it incorporates evil villains with troublesome zippers. I know it will be a great ride! Kat’s blog can be found here: http://katelliswrites.blogspot.com/.