Because A Joke Is a Serious Thing...
"Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it."
E. B. White
So, yeah, let's not mince words (or frogs) and "hop" straight into this. We're going to talk about the big picture and some general trends with humor, and then I'll give you some pretty specific writing tips at the end:
WHO CAN WRITE HUMOR?
Firstly, you don't have to be the "funniest person you know" to write humor. A good number of people who write humor well are not necessarily head comedians at their lunch tables. Written humor is light years away from verbal humor. Along these lines, not everyone who is a "real hoot" to their friends will translate in prose. It's sorta like a foreign exchange student trying to say curse words. You can try and write that, but it won't ever be as funny as the real life experience of hearing someone butchering the foulest combinations of syllables in your language. It just won't.
Secondly, some people have zero funny in them. If something as ridiculous as a "funny bone" existed, they'd be suffering a massive hernial implosion. In fact, sometimes a person has so little funny in her that it becomes funny—do keep this in mind.
Humor, we thus conclude, is a tricky little bitch.
TICKLING THE TRICKY BITCH
"Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing."
E.B. tells it like it is. Trying to come up with a formula for writing humor is like trying to store soap bubbles in a jar. You can't define it for longer than a second or two before it pops and is never funny again. So, yeah, something that’s dead funny at one point may not be funny at all in the next, but then sometimes a subtle change can make a joke hilarious all over again. Timing is a variable. Thus, humor = moving target (and still a tricky little bitch).
There is the black and white, however. Like, I can tell if your "humor" would make a drunk man stoic or a tin man cry with laughter. Therefore, there is the inane drivel and there is the sleight of wicked wit. This being the case, I will attempt to chisel out humor's tricky edges in this article. Attempt.
THE BIG OVER-ARCHING GENERAL RULE: SHOW DON'T TELL
Now, this is pretty simple. Telling someone that "OME. So FuNNy!" is boring. Getting the hilarity in your head to come alive on paper is about details. It's about process. It's about building the mood, the tone, and the suspense. It's about taking the reader through the process step by step until the joke reveals itself.
Vampiric Peaches by LlamaMama23, is a masterful example of physical humor.
I watched Emmett carefully, desperately needing to know if he was really going to eat it.
After he sunk his teeth into the peach, I saw his back spasm slightly, indicating a grimace. He quickly set the peach back down on the floor surrounding him, and I dared to hope that he had just temporarily lost his mind and was now going to throw all the peaches away like a good little vampire.
He picked up another peach and bit into it once, before setting it aside and picking up the next one, and biting that one.
I blinked rapidly. This was not making any sen—
It hit me then like the bolts of lightning starting to flash outside.
Emmett was trying to turn the peaches into vampires.
I must sigh happily now. Just brilliant, no? Like the story concept—Emmett turning peaches into vampires —is not far from being the most ridiculous plot idea ever, and yet the step by step—the spasm of his back, the bite, the tossing it aside and picking up another one—builds the suspense. We wonder what the hell Emmett's up to, and then, when Edward accepts it—we accept it, too.
Try to imagine this if the author had told this to us instead of showing us.
HUMOR AND CHARACTERS
Characterization when writing a funny fic is twofold, being that, sometimes having shallow, less-developed characters is better, while at other times, the forward thrust of the humor depends on having complex characterization and inside jokes and complex innuendo, etc. Satire, for example, is a comedic writing in which the characters are typically simplified "stock" for the sake of focusing on the theme instead. Perhaps the most famous of all satirists would be Jonathan Swift, see A Modest Proposal.
My favorite example of this comes from New Beginning by don'teatmycookie. Characters are taken to extreme in the best way on the morning of Edward and Bella's wedding...
Maid of Honor (Alice): Flipping out over last-minute details, throwing things, and shouting “WHERE’S THE SALMON?” at a man who may or may not be the caterer. Maybe just a frightened usher? Who knows.
Bridesmaids (Esme and Rosalie): Doing their best to sedate Alice, answering stupid questions, like “Yes, Emmett, the bowtie goes on top” and “No, Bella, I will not shoot you”, and screaming “WHERE’S THE SALMON?” at the caterer/usher.
Mother of the Bride (Renee): Fussing over the Bride, asking every five minutes “Are you absolutely SURE about this?" telling stories of her own multiple wedding nights (i.e. making the Bride violently ill), and screaming, “WHERE’S THE SALMON?” at the terrified man who I’m now certain is an usher and may have possibly just wet himself.
And last, but not least: The Bride (Me): Icing her ass. Oh, and shouting, “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, FIND THE SALMON!” at the usher who looks as if he might faint dead away any second now.
Thus, Alice is the crazed planner, the caterer is the pathetic human, Renee the anti-marriage mother of the bride, and Bella is the beleaguered bride. Are the characters complex? No. Should they be? No. It's just perfect, as is. Also, you'll notice a few commonalities with this piece and other similiar pieces—there are the crazy characters whose actions are over the top (Alice, Renee), and then there are the straight characters whose reactions make us laugh along. In the books in-character Emmett (goofy) and Jake (snarky) are the two funniest characters in Twilight. Edward, Carlisle, Esme, Charlie, and Bella are straight characters. Rose and Alice are in-between.
More examples of these sort of characters include Esme in D.I.D. by Dolle girl, the monster in Midnight Desire by Twilightzoner, and almost every character in Cullenary Educaton: Forks Sex Ed by MarcyJ.
Characters in humor can also be extremely complex. They can be witty, snarky, or just plain odd. In particular, I want to focus on snark. Snark is humor that attempts to trivialize some aspect of society or other people in a funny way—AKA humor with an attitude. The targets of snark are often those subjects or people which bothers the character in a comical way.
For example, in A Rite of Passage by Caracol , Bella is going through some tough times—she manages them with snark, and we laugh along with her:
“And then of course you were holding hands. So pretty much everybody is speculating if you are pregnant,” Alice finished informing me.
“Well, that explains why people are looking at me like I’m the Queen of the Damned… Anyways… It’s not like I wasn't already in the freak side.”
“Well, do not forget that you are the weird chick that was knocked up by her ‘brother,’" Alice said gesturing quotation marks with her fingers as she said the word "brother."
A smile started creeping in. And soon I started laughing.
Wit is the combination of word play and irony, meaning that there's often a clever twist on words or phrase involved. I only have my own to offer in this case, though it's not because I'm a narcissist. It's because I'm a lazy narcissist and couldn't come up with anything until I ran out of time. So, here's a Jasper-Alice exchange from m'own work, Candle.
Or bite her.
“Ain’t a doubt she’s tasty—sometimes it’s just better to git these thangs over with.”
Alice had hit him and threatened to incinerate his cowboy hats.
“This is what I git for hoppin’ the twig with a Biloxi sibyl.” Jasper pursed in his lips and shook his head, even as his eyes smiled at his wife.
“Woe is ye,” Alice teased with an exaggerated Southern Belle intonation. “And how is it that a girl with a proper sense of hauteur ended up with Texas Jack instead of Rhett Butler?” She plopped in Jasper’s lap and popped a finger on his chin.
Jasper snorted. “Sir Rhett can kiss my Texan jackass.”
So, anywho, the word play on this is that Texas Jack was a real person; thus, it's mildly funny because Jasper has just turned Alice's words on her.
Sometimes you just need to bitch-slap someone with a hot dog (The Bella Swan Diaries by Ninapolitan), give Emmett blue hair and put Carlisle in a Tarzan suit (Notes by LlamaMama23), have an otherwise celibate vampire Edward try his hand at prostitution (The Price is Right by Princess Bertha), or have Bella staple her boss's tie to his chest (Wilting by Guineau Pig Barbie).
Humor, like most good storytelling, centers around conflict and how we react to it. The writer needs to take things out of the ordinary. Bad things needs to happen. Mortification needs to occur. Really, the line between humor and tragedy is somewhat narrow. That being said, humor does not have to be action-packed. It can subtle conversation. In fact, some of the best stuff is downright droll. For example, you can have two irascible Romanian vampires discussing the slaughter and impaling of millions like they're discussing tea. If well done, the incongruence between the violence and the good manners will garner some chuckles.
HUMOR CAN BE TIT FOR TAT
One subtopic on this is funny SMUT, because in our fandom—with the pervasive romance—there's a lot of funny smut. You might ask, "why?"
Because sex can be awkward, nerve wracking, and—in the case of clumsy people—possibly injurious. Moreover, sex is not formal dinner party conversation (though it depends on the dinner party, I know). We don't even call it SEX half the time. We call it lemons or smut or pr0n. Uh-huh. Thus, one suggestion, if you want to try your hand at the funny, consider starting with clinking teeth, weird O-faces, and strange fetishes or phobias—because that shit is funny.
ON EDITING AND WRITING
1. Edit your humor. Setting the tone with a good introduction is essential. Transitions are essential. Good grammar is essential. A grammar snafoo can distract a reader's attention and ruin the entire thrust of an otherwise good joke. Also, if you decide to write your shit while a. drunk b. high or c. in the middle of a panic attack DO NOT think it will be peas & carrots. Do not assume other people will find your lack of sobriety funny. (And if you have looked at your story the next day after such an event, you know what I'm talking about...)
2. Show it to other people. Ask them to tell you WHERE they laughed. They can use the highlighter or comment functions to mark the good spots. Also, ask several people. (If it's full of inside joke, your best friend doesn't count.) People are weird about what they find funny. If you have some lines that are supposed to be funny but that no one laughs at, ask people if they're "limp." Flaccid humor takes away from the experience. So figure out where those lines are, then axe 'em.
3. Break up your lines. Use emdashes "—." Use line breaks. They speed up the pace of your story and contribute to the timing.
4. In general, put the punch line last, at least when your first starting out. This tends to work out better.
5. Repetition is good. (Like WHERE'S THE SALMON? above.) Why? Because your readers get focused on the humor going a certain direction, and then when you switch it up, and make the big switch, the readers get to laugh 'cause you sent a twist their way.
6. Use rich language. Yes, a thesaurus can help you with your humor—goofy phrasing is excellent to keep the reader on their toes. I recommend http://thesaurus.reference.com and http://www.urbandictionary.com.
7. Speed is important. Short words with less syllables and repetition speed up your pace. Long paragraphs, with post-collegiate words, and dense writing naturally slow it down. Fragments are wonderful for throwing on the brakes.
8. Don't be afraid to start out with your first line being a bit shocking, or with something just horrible to imagine. Like, someone getting run over by a blue van or a vampire falling from the sky is sure to get your readers attention.
9. Where to get inspired? If you don't have something specific in mind, I recommend going grocery shopping or standing in line at the post office and just observing people. First of all, people are unbelievably rude in real life. They just pull the most awful shit. They also do the strangest things in public. You just never know... Really, just be observant is all. Second, I recommend reading other funny stories.
And yes, I have a C2 for some really super humor.
NOW, YOU HAVE TO WRITE IT, TOO
THE SPARKLE AND SNARK-FULL TWILIGHT HUMOR CONTEST
“So, a Vampire, a Werewolf, and a Human Walk into a Bar…”
Rules and Regulations:
- Um… it should attempt to be funny. HUMOR. Like if it’s all drama and then someone laughs inexplicably... No. And it needs to be about Twilight. Canon, AU, All-human are all fine. This isn't a lemon contest, but lemons are just fine.
- Length is limited to 7k. This does not include title, any end notes, etc.
- This contest is ANONYMOUS. If you violate this to pimp your own entry on your thread, profile, or whatever, I will DELETE you. That being said, pimping the contest is totally cool. Just don’t tell folks what you wrote.
- The story must be original for this contest—no continuations or outtakes from other stories … otherwise it’s not really anonymous, is it?
- Stories need to be emailed to PastichePen@TLYDF.com. Send it and I will post it the twi_humor LJ community with sparkles.
- Contest opens June 7. Entries will be accepted until July 19 11:59 PM EST.
- Voting for the "funniest fic" via poll will begin July 22 and will close July 23 11:59 PM EST.
- There will be special awards, too:
The Snarky Jake Award. Jake has a lot to be pissed off about. He was also one of the few characters in the series that was actually funny. Let it rip, ladies.
The Angry Jane Award. Jane Volturi decides that she wants to seduce one of the Cullens. Take this as you will. There are so many scenarios playing out in my head…
Funny Vampire Award. Just so you all won’t just write AH.
Other random awards may be assigned depending on the number of contest entries and the judges’ penchant for insanity. Who are the judges? Some of the Ficster ladies plus yours truly.
- Authors names and their associated stories will be announced immediately after polls close and before winners are posted.
- Winners will receive an ego boost, adoration, and something random. Probably a banner.
- It's LJ, so all bold and italics and underline and strikethrough must be formatted, e.g. bold and italics. AngstGoddess003 has already written an article on LJ formatting here. Also, submit with the following headers:
Author: (either LJ, Fan Fiction, or Twilighted or all of the above)
12. If you want submit any funny art, that’s cool, too. We’d love to post it.
If you have questions, ask me. Either email me a the address above or send me a message via my LJ or FF account.
Pastiche Pen is a propagator of fanfic reader and writer love and a fellow believer in fandom hippie values. You can find her here. Go review her. Become her friend and others, because she would agree that it's all about spreading the love. But not that big, grossly gratifying inbred orgy love. That's just wrong.