Writing humor in fiction

Although I’ve write mostly in the mystery/suspense genre, my literary voice has evolved to a blend of humor with mystery and suspense.  Nelson DeMille is an absolute master at it. Now, after seven published novels, readers expect humor from a Michael Murphy novel.  I find a lot of wonderful writers tend to avoid humor, as if it’s some mysterious method of writing.  Don’t shy away from it, life is full of humor (thankfully), and so should your writing.  How does one make humor work in a novel without making it appear forced or contrived?  What works for me is focusing on what drives plot, conflict.

Drama does not exist without conflict.  Same with humor.  There are essentially three types of conflict to generate humor; a character’s conflict with setting, conflict with themselves and conflict with the other characters.

A climactic scene in Scorpion Bay demonstrates humor resulting from conflict between characters.  Parker Knight, a kick boxing expert, sweeps the feet of one of the villains who falls face first. With a bloody mouth, she spits out one tooth then another. The scene is suspenseful and full of conflict between the good guys and the bad. The next line is a one word dialogue that injects humor into the scene when Parker’s friend Justin watches the woman spit out first one tooth then another.  He looks at her and says, “Chiclets.”

One of the funnier scenes in the novel happens at a Phoenix Suns game. Parker has implemented a carefully orchestrated attempt to listen in on a remote conversation so he can learn information about who is behind his wife’s murder. To Parker’s consternation, he’s seated next to Justin’s high maintenance girlfriend, Tina Banks. While the plot moves along and Parker learns valuable information, Tina’s series of demanding requests add conflict and humor to the scene.  Though Parker finds no humor in the girlfriend’s unending requests, the reader does.

Plot is driven by conflict and so is humor. Humor adds an additional dimension to a novel, so look for opportunities: to enhance your next manuscript by extracting humor from conflict, as well as drama.

2 Comments

Filed under Humor, writing

2 responses to “Writing humor in fiction

  1. christinehusom

    Yes, I like to implement hmor in my mystery thrillers also. Some are a bit on the sick side, but people working in high-stress professions do need to break the tension at times. One I can think of off the bat is in “Buried in Wolf Lake”. The medical examiners are performing an autopsy of a dismembered female. They have all her parts except her head. One of the docs says, rather dryly, “If I only had a brain.” Maybe that’s not funny to everyone, but it is to me.

    • That’s funny. I remember a scene from a Dirty Harry movie where a pathologist, during an autopsy, lays down a sandwich on a dead body. Sick, but funny!

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