I was wondering how to make sure you convey humor efficiently in a writing medium like novels?
I know how it is done in comics and animation/movies, but even after reading many books with funny parts, I have a hard time finding a way to put humor in my writing without it looking… kinda bland. Like words struggle to convey fun (or at least the “witty” ones…).
Are there guidelines to make sure your jokes are well communicated?
Thanks in advance.
That’s an interesting question. I think narrated works tend to rely more on witty remarks in the dialogue or narration, whereas it’s probably more common in visual storytelling to have things happen that are funny – using visual reveals to show when characters are wrong, etc. And because novels are so long, I think they are less likely to lean on humor to make the plot reveals worthwhile. Things just don’t remain super funny for the entire length of a novel, so it makes more sense to have a meaningful reveal with humor as icing on top.
However, the banter you see in many visual works should work for novels. For instance, the humor Joss Whedon is known for is compatible with novels. I have an article listing ten of these types of jokes.
There’s no secret recipe to being witty. If you’re used to non-narrated mediums, perhaps you simply need more practice with narrating body language and expressive dialogue. Regardless of how funny the joke is, it will be harder for you to pull it off if you’re still learning how to narrate social interactions. If you’re used to relying on visuals to convey emotion, it may take time to adjust. You also might consider whether your characters make it easy to poke fun. Generally, that means they have really distinct personalities that you can exaggerate a bit or make fun of. Giving them some level of chemistry – often a little disagreement or tension – can also make it easier to create fun interactions.
Otherwise, you could go the route of Terry Pratchett or Douglass Adams and try omniscient narration, so your narrator is making fun of the characters and events of the story. That’s probably harder, however.
Generally, when I’m writing humor into a story, I aim to rely on the humor not working. That means making sure all the witty lines also have a storytelling purpose and aren’t just there as jokes. If you do that, then it’s okay if it doesn’t come off as funny as you were hoping. You can keep practicing without worrying about getting it wrong.