I want to write stories that make readers cry so hard that when they read in bed their husbands see the tears on their pillows and think they were drooling in their sleep. (Thank you, Tamera Alexander.)
I want to write thrillers that make readers so scared they call the police when their cat knocks over a flower pot in the middle of the night. (Thank you, Brandilyn Collins.)
I want to write description in a way that even if I’m only describing an ear infection it’s so real that readers feel they must put down the book before their eardrum ruptures. (Okay, Stephen King, that trip to the ER wasn’t your fault. But still…OUCH.)
I often feel like a failure because I can’t write like this.
But then fellow Idahoan and best-selling author Robin Lee Hatcher said a thing that made me feel successful. She said, “I wish I could write humor. I love reading funny stories, but I can’t write them. I can’t make people laugh.”
And I was like, I didn’t know that was hard.
So often we discredit our own gifts. All the time I’d been wishing I could write like someone else, she, in a way, had been wishing she could write like me. Time to embrace my funny bone.
I’m going to keep working on emotion and tension and description, because I can always improve in those areas. But I also want to offer some tips for those who want to work on their humor.
- Take a gag to the limit. Comedian Mike Myers uses this kind of comedy. He makes a joke then he keeps it going until it’s not funny anymore…then he keeps going until it’s funny again. My personal style isn’t that extreme, but I do want to milk every ounce of humor from a situation. For example, when writing A Caffeine Conundrum, I asked on Facebook what you would say if you were arrested for murder and the lawyer who walks in to defend you happens to be your middle school crush that you haven’t seen in fifteen years. I got so many great responses ranging from, “You know you didn’t have to break the law to see me again,” to “Last time I saw you, we both needed a retainer.” I worked as many lines into that one scene as I possibly could.
- Comic relief. The jester is always everyone’s favorite character, isn’t he? Make your clown likable. Make him quirky. Make him show up at the exact wrong time. In Dead on Arrival, I have a youth group kid named JoJo play this part. Of course, he enters the scene right as his youth group leader has knocked out an assassin and is dragging him into a closet. (This is also why I will never be Brandilyn. My scary scenes verge on silliness.)
- Tell inside jokes. These jokes should be subtle. The reader will only get them if they’ve been paying attention. It will make them feel clever, and if they don’t get it, it will still make you laugh. In Finding Love at the Oregon Coast, I had a character who was sweaty and stinky (from mowing the lawn) climb into a van with a bunch of women. My hilarious writer friend, Heather Woodhaven, suggested I have one of the women spray him with Febreze. I gave the spray a scent and brought up the scent again later. Only a reader who had been paying attention would realize the Febreze had struck again.
- Make thoughts/puns/analogies fresh and relevant to the character telling the story. The last time I critiqued a friend’s manuscript, she had a line about an English teacher where the bad guy said that after he was done with her, she wouldn’t know her right from her left. Being that she was an English teacher, I suggested the line be changed to, “You won’t know a noun from a verb.” Another example is how my coffee lover describes a cute guy as “the caramel macchiato of men.” This also gives your characters a unique voice so they don’t all sound like you.
- Play with point-of-view. I love using multiple POV because you can bounce back and forth between the two different perspectives. In Finding Love in Eureka, I had a male and female hug. To him, it was a hug that woke him up to how he felt about her. To her, she was hugging him goodbye. They don’t say this to each other, but I was able to end one chapter in his thoughts: He didn’t want to let go. I then started the next chapter with her announcing to a friend: “I let him go.” This is often used brilliantly in movies, as well. Think of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where Ferris is on the floor of the taxi, hiding from his dad. You see him tickling his girlfriend’s feet. Then you see the dad look over, and from the dad’s POV, she’s thrashing around like a maniac. Hysterical.
- The Unexpected. No matter what genre you write, you should always include the unexpected. It works well for humor in the way that you can write a list of things and throw in something unexpected at the end of the list. For example, in Finding Love in Big Sky, I have some wild old ladies who run a coffee shop together. Every time my characters show up, they are doing crazy things like line dancing or riding snowmobiles. At then end, my main character arrives to find them knitting in rocking chairs. She’s confused. Had one of them pulled a hip muscle when dancing? Were they tired from staying out all night with their new male friends? Had they started drinking decaf?
- Use everything. In a play, they say that if there’s a gun on the mantle in the first act, it must be fired by the third act. This is good advice for every genre, including humor. No matter what the point of the scene, always have things happening in the background that are related to other scenes. It could be comic relief or it could be clues that will solve your cozy mystery. Never EVER have your characters sitting and discussing life over coffee without something else going on. Even if you write by the seat of your pants and you make up a character trait on the spot or you randomly give the bad guy a “slug bug” to drive, this must not only be funny, but it has to affect the story in some way.
Whether you write humor or not, your story should matter. It should reflect who you are and what you have to offer. For me, that’s humor. So, while I may never make you cry like Tamera Alexander, maybe one day I’ll be able to make you laugh until you cry. Until then, I’m satisfied with making my readers laugh until they spit out their tea/coffee with The CafFUNated Mysteries. (Consider yourself warned.)
Angela Ruth Strong published her debut novel, Love Finds You in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 2010, which became the first in her Resort to Love Series. She’s gone on to publish with Harlequin and have a book selected as TOP PICK by Romantic Times and become an Amazon Bestseller. This Idaho Top Author and Cascade Award winner also started IDAhope Writers to encourage other aspiring authors. She currently lives in Idaho with her husband and teenagers where she teaches yoga and works as a ticket agent for an airline when not writing. You can find out more at.
Solving a murder mystery is harder when you don’t trust your partner…or their taste in beverages.
Sassy city girl Tandy Brandt moves to the small town of Grace Springs to start a coffee shop, never imagining she’ll be competing with local beauty queen Marissa Alexander and her dream of running a tea house. Unfortunately, the current store owner dies before selling the location to either of them, and they both become murder suspects.
The unlikely pair team up in an attempt to discover the real killer, though with the secrets in Tandy’s past and Marissa’s infamous clumsiness, they could be their own worst enemies. Despite their differences, they follow clues to question a sweet, apple pie baking antique store owner, a GQ Santa in the retirement center, and a hipster millionaire with no social skills. Will they be able to figure out whodunit and prove their innocence before one of them goes to jail…or worse?