Writing is serious business, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be funny. J. K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins all use a mix of one-liners, awkward situations, and fainting scenes to lighten the mood. Try my three-step approach to stretch out your funny bone, and before you know it you’ll be wrangling in your own version of the Weasley Twins.
1. Open with a One-Liner
A quick punchline-style joke is a simple way to make a character more likeable and show him “being himself.”
- When Harry Potter first encounters Dumbledore, the reader can’t help but like him right away because of his opening speech: “Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” (HP Ch.7).
- In Twilight, Bella uses sarcasm when Mike asks about her hometown of Phoenix: “It doesn’t rain much there, does it?” Bella: “Three or four times a year.” Mike: “Wow, what must that be like?” Bella: “Sunny.” (TW Ch.1).
- In The Hunger Games, we see Katniss and Peeta warm up to each other as they wear their flaming costumes: “‘Where is Haymitch, anyway? . . .’ says Peeta. ‘With all that alcohol in him, it’s probably not advisable to have him around an open flame,’ I say. And suddenly we’re both laughing.” (HG Ch.5).
2. Add an Awkward Situation
Humor works great as a contrast to an awkward or unpleasant situation. Young adults are used to blurting out the wrong thing and can connect to this familiar scene.
- Harry uses a zinger to defend himself when Dudley threatens to put his head down the toilet: “’No, thanks,’ said Harry. ‘The poor toilet’s never had anything as horrible as your head down it — it might be sick.’ Then he ran, before Dudley could work out what he’d said.” (HP Ch.3).
- Twilight uses humor to lighten an awkward make-out scene. “’It sounded like you were having Bella for lunch, and we came to see if you would share,’ Alice announced. I stiffened for an instant, until I realized Edward was grinning — . . . ‘Sorry, I don’t believe I have enough to spare.” (TW Ch.16).
- Katniss is very nervous about saying the right thing during her televised interview. “‘What’s impressed you most since you arrived here?’ asks Caesar. . . . I rack my brain for something that made me happy here. . . . ‘The lamb stew,’ I get out.” (HG Ch.9).
3. Finish with a Fainting Scene
When all else fails, it’s time to resort to some physical slapstick comedy. I’ve never actually seen somebody faint or pass out in mid-sentence, but it’s always good for a laugh in fiction. Go ahead and throw a character to the floor!
- In Harry Potter, Professor Quirrell’s warning to Dumbledore about a troll comes off as light-hearted (especially in comparison to the dark, final scenes with Voldemort). “[Quirrell] gasped, ‘Troll — in the dungeons — thought you ought to know.’ He then sank to the floor in a dead faint. There was an uproar.” (HP Ch. 10).
- In Twilight, Bella faints during her biology class and Edward carries her to the nurse: “’So you faint at the sight of blood?’ he asked. This seemed to entertain him. . . . ‘And not even your own blood,’ he continued, enjoying himself.” (TW Ch.5).
- In The Hunger Games, Haymitch passes out from drunkenness “just as he’s opening his mouth to continue.” (HG Ch.2). “One [of the TV commentators] says that District 12 has always been a bit backward but that local customs can be charming. As if on cue, Haymitch falls off the stage, and they groan comically.” (HG Ch.3).
Why it works:
The one-liner and the awkward situation are wonderful for meeting the elusive “show, don’t tell” rule. The one-liner shows us how a character interacts with others; the awkward situation shows how the hero reacts with humor under pressure.
The fainting scenes are especially funny because they show that the character has the opposite of his desired character trait. Quirrell is a lousy villain because he is not intimidating; Bella would be a lousy vampire because she can’t handle blood; and Haymitch seems like a lousy mentor because he’s an alcoholic.
By the way, the comical fainting scenes here have a different purpose than the altered state of consciousness scene and the “total knock out” scene during the climax. With so many characters dropping like flies, it’s a wonder anyone stays conscious long enough to carry the novel!
Once you get the hang of these three methods, check out The Write Practice’s Four Commandments to Writing Funny for more advice about getting your LOLs on paper.