Writing Humor
I consider The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy to the funniest book ever written. Douglas Addams breezes from one humorous concept to the next. Yet, the movie and television show was awful. Why? Funny books are difficult to translate into funny movies because authors must take different humorous approaches. Jokes in books require long setups, visual humor does not work and comedic timing is impossible to convey.
For example, The Hitchhikers Guide contains a funny reference to the number 42; the answer to life the universe and everything. It took several chapters to build up to this funny conclusion. Yet, when the TV show unveiled the answer, it didn’t make me laugh. Why? The movie presented the number as an inconsequential fact without buildup. Of course, the result would not be funny.
Media depends on subtle nuances. For example, in the Monty Python TV show, the actors do a comical goose-step walk. A riot to watch and terrible to read. “Bob walked in using a comical goose-step.” Not funny at all; nearly an insult to readers. Media takes advantage of timing, facial expressions, sounds, comical voices, strait person impact, and audience laughter.
Humor may be used in several ways. For example, a protagonist uses humor to display cruelty, intolerance, stupidity or arrogance. It also breaks up a scene to keep the plot moving. A comical scene may reveal a character’s depth. Even telling a bad (not funny) joke may be funny, revealing, insightful and character defining.
I have written several funny scenes. Unfortunately, they rank at best 30% on the Douglas Addams humor scale. In-person, I consider myself funny but I find it difficult to write humorous scenes. As an example, the character Grace discusses how her old house could become popular and another character calls it Grace-Land. During an actual conversation, a real person would at the very least smile. Yet this mild humor took a lot of effort to create and isn’t too funny to read.
Well, can an author fill a book full of jokes? “Why did the police arrest the turkey? They suspected foul play.” Ha! Really funny. Well, no. Joke books have been available for years and don’t fly off the shelves. Are jokes and funny scenes required? In all the Tom Clancy books, I don’t recall a single humorous moment thus proving that an author can do well without humor.
However, we clearly see that humor is important. It adds to the flow and rounds out characters. On a subconscious level, humor tugs at the reader’s heart and adds to the experience. As an author, I need to stretch my boundaries and introduce more humor. Now if I could only find a funny way to end this blog…


You’re the best -Bill
November 13, 2019
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