Creative writing can be a tricky thing, but even more so when a writer wants it to contain elements of humour. Humour is one of those abstracts that does not translate well. Different nationalities find different things funny, and what may seem like wit to people from one country sounds like sarcasm to another. Moreover, humour does not only differ from country to country, but person to person too.
The written word is not a natural vehicle for humour, but there are some writers who manage to introduce laugh-out-loud moments into their work. Ironic and satirical are perhaps the easiest types of humour to weave into a book – note Jane Austen – but there are others, such as farcical, which often only work well in a visual medium.
So, just what are the different types of humour?
- Observational. Humour that is based on personal happenings. People find this funny because they have found themselves in similar situations and therefore ‘relate’ to the story being told.
- Blue. Rude and risqué, usually involving sexual situations and words.
- Gallows. Bleak, dark humour that often surfaces in dire situations.
- Dry. Also known as deadpan, this is humour delivered in a flat, impassive manner without theatrics or embellishments. The British are especially famous for this type of humour.
- Ironic. Humour where the opposite of what is said is true.
- Satirical. Humour where people or a society is mocked or their weaknesses and shortcomings are exposed.
- Farcical. Humour arising from unlikely coincidences and where the action is often hectic. Similar to screwball comedy.
- Situation. Humour that arises from a particular and static situation, hence the word ‘sitcom’.
Writing humour is not about telling a joke, but it does follow a similar pattern in that there should be a set up followed by a punchline. There are some elements that every writer can use to inject a bit of comedy into their work. Unlikely comparisons, exaggeration, misdirection and reversals all provide opportunities for humour. Offensive or bad taste humour is not likely to please the majority of readers and should be avoided, and if a writer is going to make fun of someone to get a laugh, then it is probably best that that someone is himself or herself.
Writing comedy is not easy – few people are natural comedians. It takes a lot of hard work and a great deal of redrafting. Once you have written and edited what you think is funny, give it to someone to read. Watch them closely – see if they smile, note how far up their face the smile goes, be pleased if they give out a good guffaw. Only then will you know if you have been successful in writing comedy.