Want to add a little bit of spice to your writing? Try sprinkling a little humor into your work.
Humor is a great way to engage readers, as well as relate to them without bogging them down in biography-style anecdotes (I would know. I write blog posts for a non-profit writing organization…I’m doing my best, so please laugh.)
But how do you go about adding humor to your writing without offending people? And how much humor can you add before it becomes “too silly,” and you lose readers completely?
Read on to find out answers to these questions, and more tips for tickling readers’ funny bones.
Don’t be GROSS, prejudiced or stereotypical
This is the most important tip when it comes to being a decent written comedian and, more importantly, a decent human being. Don’t use GROSS humor! GROSS is an acronym from CleanComedians.com which stands for “gender-bashing, racist, obscene, sexual, and swearing.”
Other things to avoid are “jokes” which target particular groups of people, through stereotypes or other forms of prejudice.
Sometimes, people will make fun of themselves or a particular aspect of their identities as marginalized people. For example, I am Autistic and Queer, and I will readily joke about myself as it relates to those aspects of my identity. However, I have to be careful making such jokes, ESPECIALLY in writing, because the last thing I want is for someone who is ableist or queerphobic to see my joke and appropriate it for their own agenda.
For example, it’s one thing for me to make fun of my own disability and the various issues it causes with my motor skills, spatial awareness, social awkwardness, etc (“Oh boy, here I go pouring water into my face like I’m a neglected house plant instead of an Autistic person trying to take a swig from their water bottle”).
I’s something else entirely when a non-Autistic person “jokes” about me or other people with my disability being clumsy, or *insert various slurs against disabled people*. That’s when it’s no longer joking around. It’s bullying.
So this is something to keep in mind. Even if you’re part of the group you’re poking fun of, written words come across differently than in-person jokes and, either way, you’re potentially hurting people in your own community if you try to make a joke that ends up being perceived as normalizing prejudices or stereotypes.
Use your best, most cautionary judgement in situations like these!
Utilize literary devices
Another great way to add humor to your writing is to use literary devices such as alliteration, rhyming, and asides.
I actually used alliteration in the title for this blog post: “Humor,” “Hassle,” “Hullabaloo,” and “Hurdle” all start with the “h” sound!
Alliteration adds an element of whimsy and childish wonder to your writing, and can be a source of amusement as well. Rhyming accomplishes a similar feat!
Another literary device is the “aside,” which is where a writer utilizes parentheses, an ellipses (…), or dashes (- – -) to make a witty comment mid-sentence. I’ve also used this device in this blog post: under Tip 1, I made a joke about my apparent inability to drink water properly and splashing water all over my face because of my clumsiness related to my Autistic traits inside parentheses.
Asides are a great way to work in funny anecdotes, commentary, or jokes that mimic the flow of natural speech. To me, they read as though you’re my friend and we’re joking around together and moving from topic to topic.
Don’t be afraid of puns, dad jokes, and general “goofiness”
Puns, dad jokes, and other forms of general goofiness and buffoonery are all safe and effective ways to incorporate humor into your written work! They are also, usually, family-friendly, so if you’re writing something for a younger audience or something intended to reach readers of all ages, these methods are a must-have.
Speaking of puns and dad jokes, here’s a favorite of one of my friends (she runs an aquarium store in Eugene):
Her: What do you call a fish with no eyes?
Me: Uhhh…*thinks about the Blind Cave Tetra, the Omani Blind Cave Fish; wonders if my special interest in fish has gone Too Far* I don’t know?
Her: *waves hand, makes noise* fsh.
Me: Wait what-OOOH. Psh!
Use humor to develop characters and relationships
If you’re writing a fictional story, you can apply the strategies above to develop your characters and relationships between them.
Maybe you want one of your characters to be a jokester, or maybe you want to establish a particular relationship between two characters who like to poke fun at each other. You can do this by using literary devices, puns, and general goofiness. Also consider adding humor into characters’ dialogue!
The general rule of avoiding GROSS humor still applies-though this can be tricky, because you could have a character who is mean or prejudiced in some way, and uses those kinds of “jokes” to establish their own views and agenda. Again, use your best judgment, and if in doubt: ask for a second opinion!
Know when to be funny–and when to hold back
The final advice for adding humor to your writing is recognizing when to crack a joke, and when to maintain a more serious tone.
This can be difficult, and varies from author to author, and genre to genre!
If you’re writing a fictional novel that tends to have a more light-hearted tone, you might use humor more frequently than, say, someone who is writing a biography about Herbert Hoover.
It’s important to balance the amount of wit and funny bits in your writing with the more serious parts, because trying to work in too many jokes can make readers annoyed, or not take you seriously. Also, trying to “force” too many jokes makes them not funny anymore. The point is to be mindful of timing and frequency when adding a little humor to your work!
Now, you are ready to go forth and hopefully elicit some laughs from your readers, whatever genre or piece you are working on!
Remember, the best humor isn’t forced–it just happens! Like me spraying water into my face and becoming the newest attraction in Yellowstone National Park. It just happens.
Sources used for this blog post:
Upcoming classes you might enjoy
2nd Thursdays, 7-9 pm | Share your words at our monthly open mic emceed by spoken word poet Jorah LaFleur
Third Fridays | Bring your lunch to a monthly gathering for writers
Thurs Feb 29 | Learn to leave your readers laughing in our February Write Club for Grown Ups with Sarina Dorie.
March 7 | Join multi-genre author, chef, and Registered Nurse, Mia Bowman for Reading Like A Writer–The BIG Read Edition– at Wordcrafters in Eugene!
March 11 | Learn to craft stories and narratives for games in this game writing class with Rosiee Thor
Thurs March 28 | Learn to pen captivating songs in our March Write Club for Grown Ups with m5Vibe