Sunday, April 10, 2011

Humor Writing

What makes a story funny? Misunderstandings? Deception? Secrets? Yes, these same devices many authors use to add suspense to a serious story can effectively add humor to a light story.

In my book “Stolen Son” the hero is keeping a major secret: His five-year-old adopted son is the heroine’s birth son, the one who was kidnapped from her when he was an infant.

There’s certainly nothing funny about that! “Stolen Son” if full of drama.

In my most recent release, romantic comedy “Male Fraud,” however, the mighty big secret the heroine is keeping from her hero is a hilarious one--at least to us readers it’s funny.

Heroine Terry Fiscus has disguised herself as a man in order to get a job as a trainer for the hero’s pro football team. Dan, the hero, is the coach for the Chicago Cyclones.

Terry’s deception in “Male Fraud” sets up all kinds of humorous situations. They may not be funny to her, but they have readers grinning from ear to ear.

Deception, secrets and misunderstandings can be great devices for generating humor in stories. Remember “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days?” Or “Maid in Manhattan?” Secrets and deception drove the humor in the plots of those movies.

Confusion is also an effective device for generating humor. A quick pace can add to the fun too. “Seinfeld” frequently used a fast pace to enhance the humor of the very clever writing for that hit show.

Take a look at this snippet from “Male Fraud” which illustrates the use of both confusion and a quick pace in generating a funny scene.

Setup: Terry is crying and upset because she’s just learned something awful from Dan who is the man she loves (and is dating as the lovely Teresa outside of work) and her boss (when she’s posing as a man at work). Her friend, plastic surgeon Jean, is comforting her.

“You look like your puppy just died.” (Jean)

“I don’t have a puppy.” (Terry)

“Never mind.”

“I’m crying because Dan loves me, but he wants to get rid of me. I completely misjudged him. I thought he was the kind of guy who stuck by a woman he loved no matter what.”

“He wants to dump you? What makes you think such a thing? Did he tell you your relationship is over?”

“Sort of.”

“Sort of?”


“You’re going to have to be a bit clearer about what you mean.”

Terry wiped her nose again and sighed away her tears so she could speak distinctly.
“I went to Dan’s office today to talk with him, and while we were speaking, he told Terry he has to find a way to get out of his relationship with Teresa. He says she’s--I’m--Teresa’s consuming his every thought. If he’s thinking about her--me--he can’t focus on his team the way he needs to.”

Jean pressed her fingers to her forehead. “I don’t believe this. He’s confiding in you about you behind your back?”


“He’s confiding in you about you behind your back?”

“What? You’re confusing me.”


“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about you and Dan. Your whole situation has gotten ridiculous…”

I bet you’re smiling….

Using devices such as irony, puns, and caricatured characters can contribute to humor just as effectively as the devices illustrated here.

Humor writing is as challenging as suspense writing is. No matter how “light” the prose may appear the work required to make them that way is “heavy.”  And worth the effort.

Fran Shaff, Award-Winning Author

For more information on “Male Fraud” go to:


I.J. Parnham said...

Ah, irony a tricky concept to master until you accept that it's like woody and goldy except it's made out of iron. Now that was a joke that was so awful I just had to get in one of my books, except I had to write it several dozen different ways before I finally found a way to make it work. It takes a lot of heavy effort to come over as light and effortless.

Oh and then there's timing. Although I can't remember now what the point about timing is. I'm sure there is one. No, it’s gone. Wait, wait, it’s coming. Ah yes, always remember timing is everything in written comedy too.

Sandy Cody said...

Love it, Fran! Like all really wonderful things, humor is impossible to pin down, but you've done - by the illustration you've given. I have to agree with Ian. Timing is everything and when you're dealing with the written word, it's even more tricky.

Fran Shaff said...

Very funny, I.J. Thanks, Sandy. Humor, like any other type of writing is complicated. But when humor is done well, just as when suspense and mystery are done with a perfectly sprinkling of clues to the solution, is a pleasure to read.