I am deep in a revision where the request is for more humor, funnier situations–specifically, more laugh-out-loud humor. I am working on this problem in multiple ways.
Looking for Bright Spots or Mentor Texts. I am reading other funny books, watching Men in Black, watching cartoons, trying to brush up on anything that is funny. This is a hit and miss thing for me, because I’ve never learned anything by mere exposure, osmosis doesn’t work for me. Instead, I have to analyze things and ask why they work.
In Men in Black, I noticed a running gag that interest me. Every time someone sees something alien, the MIB pull out a neuralizer thingy with a red light. When it goes off, the person’s memory is wiped clean and the MIB can suggest an alternate memory. Of course, K (Tommy Lee Jones) makes boring suggestions that J (Will Smith) has to jazz up. The neutralizing occurs several times and each time J escalates the replacement memory into something crazier than before. The running gag is a small example of humor in MIB, something that could easily be overlooked in the overall story. Yet, I think the attention to detail in MIB is one thing that makes it work.
Note to self: Attend the details of my story. Add a running gag that might seem quiet and not important. It will be important!
Humor Techniques. I’ve written before about three humor techniques: Setup/Setup/Payoff, Doorbell Effect, and Call Back. I am reviewing these techniques to see if they can point toward other funny moments for my novel revision.
Going back to the best book on writing humor, The Comic Toolbox, by John Vorhaus, I see there are other humor techniques that I may be able to mine.
- Clash of Context. The key here is to put a character in a place where they don’t ususlly belong. It’s a square character in a round hole. Think Gulliver’s Travel in Lilliputia. Or think Tom Hank’s character BIG, where a young teen is thrust into a business world. It’s why we remark upon a wedding held at a rodeo. Or a water theme park. The potential for humor must be mined, of course, but half the work is done for you when you put a character where s/he doesn’t belong.
- Wildly Inappropriate Response. Similar to a clash of context, the wildly inappropriate response asks you to create plausible reasons for why a character would do something–well, stupid, crazy, inappropriate. Use exaggeration to reach for the strangest response. In the middle of an aerial combat, the pilot is calling his bookie to find out a point spread on a game. At a funeral, everyone is given kazoos to play. This goes beyond just a crazy context discussed above and emphasizes an action in response to something.
- Law of Comic Opposites. Here’s the classic odd couple. Again, we are putting together a strange combination but this time, the focus is on the contrast in characters. It’s Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen.
- Telling the Truth to Comic Effect. Comedians use this technique when they tell a joke that falls flat, then remark, “Well, that didn’t work.” The admission of failure always gets a laugh. Where can your characters fail and then confess it for a laugh. Or perhaps, the character is bald. Can you use his baldness as the basis of a joke? “I’m so bald, I took a shower and got brain-washed.”
- Telling a Lie to Comic Effect. On the other hand, let the character lie like crazy. For a woman who has gone bald because of chemotherapy, she could joke, “I’m so bald you can see what is on my mind.” It’s a lie and is funny only because she is trying to use humor in a difficult situation.
I have not yet begun to fight the battle of funny! That’s because when I think of myself as being funny, I am ROTFL. (For those of you who don’t know this lingo: Rolling on the Floor Laughing.) I just hope I get the last laugh, when this revision is done.