If you’re like me, you’re drawn to humor. We’ve all heard the saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” In fact, studies have demonstrated health benefits related to laughter, such as lowering certain stress hormones, lowering blood pressure, and improving alertness, creativity and memory, among others.
Laughter is fun, makes us feel good, and allows us a break, however brief, from the stressors in our life that work against our good health. We love humor in all forms, casual conversation with family and friends, comedy in films or television, and in books. As writers, we lack some of the tools available in other media. Standup comedians and actors have the added advantage of bodily and facial expressions. We must rely solely on our words.
Some believe you must be born with an innate funny bone to write humor, but others, including myself, believe you can develop and nurture it. There are different kinds of humor: the innocence of childhood (one of my favorites), slapstick (which is often funny when it happens to someone else but not to us, but still a good source of humor in books if done well), wit (such as a play on words, especially fun in romance novels). I find that once I’m able to develop a solid character to the point where his/her personality takes over as I write the story, their humor shows through. I find myself laughing at the character, which originally made me wonder if I’d gone completely over the edge until I heard other writers say the same thing. You need to lose yourself in your character. Here are a few examples from some of my favorite children’s books:
JACOB HAVE I LOVED, by Katherine Patterson – Every summer morning, thirteen-year-old Louise goes crabbing in a skiff with Call Pernell, a pudgy, bespectacled, and totally unsentimental boy who doesn’t share Louise’s appreciation for good jokes. Here’s an example:
(Louise to Call as they’re rowing in her skiff) “Do you know why radio announcers have tiny hands?”
“Wee paws for station identification,” I would whoop.
“Don’t you get it, Call? Wee paws. Wee Paws.” I let go the pole to shake my right hand at him. “You know, little hands—paws.”
“You ain’t never seen one.”
“One radio announcer.”
“Then how do you know how big their hands are?”
“I don’t. It’s a joke, Call.”
“I don’t see how it can be a joke if you don’t even know if they have big or little hands. Supposed they really have big hands. Then you ain’t even telling the truth. Then what happens to your joke?”
“It’s just a joke, Call. It doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not.”
“It matters to me. Why should a person think a lie’s funny?”
“Never mind, Call. It doesn’t matter.”
Call’s response to Louise’s joke is funnier than the joke itself. And we get a glimpse of both personalities. Despite Call’s reaction, Louise doesn’t give up and continues to tell him jokes, which he continues to analyze. Wonderful humor in the first chapter of the book.
A SUMMER OF KINGS, by Han Nolan – Great situational humor beginning on page 2 as fourteen-year-old Esther and her male friend Pip are in an old 1947 Ford Super Deluxe station wagon driven by Esther’s Auntie Pie:
Broken down bus was right. The car only ran backward and the passenger door swung open whenever it made a sharp turn, forcing the person inside to hold on to the open glove compartment for dear life. It was the only car Aunti Pie could drive without having to worry about causing too much damage, though, so off we went, traveling backward down the street, past the many stately homes on either side of us, barely missing hitting drivers in their shiny new station wagons and sedans heading in what most people would call the right direction, as we kept a lookout for dead animals.
Can’t you just picture this wild scene!
MOCKINGBIRD, by Kathryn Erskine – Ms. Erskine has managed to weave wonderful innocent humor into this heartfelt story of young Caitlin, an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome who has lost not only her mother, but a beloved brother who had been trying to help her interpret her world. Caitlin is left with a grieving father. At school, Caitlin’s counselor is beginning to make progress with her, so Caitlin is disappointed one day to learn Mrs. Brooks has had to leave town.
Mrs. Johnson (Caitlin’s teacher) says, “Oh Caitlin. I almost forgot. Mrs. Brook isn’t here.
“I know. She’s in her room.”
“No. She had to go out of town.
“Her sister is having difficulty with her pregnancy.”
I Look At The Person.
Mrs. Johnson looks at the floor and then at me. “She’s having a lot of trouble with her twin babies who aren’t born yet.”
Later, Caitlin writes a letter to Mrs. Brook:
Dear Mrs. Brook, I’m sorry about your difficult sister and the babies who are still inside of her causing trouble…”
Wonderful innocent humor. It not only makes us smile, it provides a break from the tension in this heart-wrenching story.