The #1 Tip for Writing Humorous Stories by Christopher Fielden
Humour is a genre that should bring a smile to a reader’s face, enhancing a strong story. It’s challenging and fun to write.
Many writers are drawn to using humour, but many fail to use it effectively. Maintaining the balance between the plot, characterisation and use of amusing witticisms within a story is difficult.
When used well, humour compliments a story, making it more enjoyable for the reader. If written badly it can detract from a story, spoiling the flow and believability.
The Most Common Mistake in Humour Writing I run a humorous short story competition called To Hull And Back.
The contest receives hundreds of entries – 582 last time it ran. I’m the head judge and, therefore, I read a lot of amusing short stories.
The most common mistake I encounter is writers trying to be funny for the sake of being funny. This leads to characters acting out of character, melodrama and an overuse of exclamation marks. Yes, I’m infamous for my vocal and (I am told) unreasonable dislike of them…
Like any other genre, the story is the key. Strong characters, conflict, interesting themes and an exciting plot are essential. The humour is simply the style that enhances the story as it’s told.
Tip: Look on it like a meal. The story is the steak (or protein packed veggie / vegan alternative). The humour is the sauce that compliments the feast.
The Advantages of Writing Humour
While challenging to write, humour does have its advantages when written well. I find it can be used very effectively to tackle sensitive subject matters in ways that readers can relate to.
Subtle humour is often used in real life to broach awkward subject matters. I use it in this way as it can take the edge off discussing something very serious and can allow issues to be talked about openly and rationally.
For example, I used to use this technique at work, when other people were upset. (I was the Operations Director of a digital marketing agency and dealt with a lot of staff management.) Humour can stop tears and relax people,
allowing them to talk. I’m not saying I would sit there telling jokes and laughing while someone was crying but, when appropriate, I would say something that might draw a smile. A smile can lighten difficult situations just enough to allow someone to feel comfortable discussing sensitive subject matters.
When writing, I find humour works particularly well in dialogue. You can allow a character’s sense of humour to become apparent to the reader. This means you aren’t trying to write something funny, but an amusing situation can develop naturally, pushing the story forwards.
Where to Find Inspiration for Writing Humour
I find reading other authors’ books a great source of inspiration. There are many examples of writers that use humour well. Terry Pratchett is a great place to start.
His stories have excellent characters and plots. They are simply enhanced by his amusing writing style. You can learn a lot by reading his work and that of other funny authors, like Douglas Adams, Sue Townsend and Tom Holt.
I also find watching sit-coms is a great source of inspiration. You can learn a lot about using humour effectively through dialogue from TV. Only Fools and Horses and Porridge (yes, I’m old) are great examples of quality comedy writing. The characters are strong and they often talk about emotional subject matters or are involved in tense situations. The humour shines through when appropriate, enhancing the story and making the characters even more likeable to the viewer.
Humour Writing Tips
1. Give Your Characters a Sense of Humour
As a writer, I often introduce humour into my stories via my characters. I give them a sense of humour, so what they say or how they see and describe things is amusing.
Sue Townsend was a master of this technique – try reading her Adrian Mole books.
2. Don’t Force Humour Into a Story
Don’t try to force humour into a story when it doesn’t belong – it might seem contrived.
Sometimes, you’ll start a story off intending it to be funny, but find it doesn’t develop that way. If you find yourself in that situation, accept it and do what’s best for the story.
3. Bodily Functions
Avoid using bodily functions to get a laugh. While many people find them amusing in real life, especially children, they are overused in stories and have become clichéd.
What Is My #1 Humour Writing Tip?
My advice is to practice your writing, edit carefully, develop a unique style and voice and, when appropriate, use humour to strengthen an already powerful story. Tease a smile from your reader’s lips. Give them reasons to bond with your protagonist. If you do that, humour can only make your writing stronger.
Chris is an award-winning and Amazon bestselling author. His work has featured in books published by independent press, established magazines and renowned competition anthologies.
In November 2019, Victorina Press published Chris’s humorous short story collection, Book of the Bloodless Volume 1: Alternative Afterlives. The book was an Award-Winning Finalist in the ‘Fiction: Short Story’ category of the International Book Awards.
Chris runs a popular fiction writing blog, judges the To Hull And Back short story competition and publishes thousands of writers’ stories in support of charity via his flash fiction writing challenges.
He’s a member of the BFS, Stokes Croft Writers and Clockhouse London Writers.