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Adding Humor to Serious Fiction

Many people seem to be of the belief that humor has no place in a serious fiction novel, like a general thriller or a political thriller. Good fiction, especially thrillers, should be reflective of the real world and real life and that means injecting humor where necessary. There is a way to do it though or five ways at least and this is how:

Write a Character That Has a Good Sense of Humor

Don’t turn them into a comic full of cliché’s but do have a character that is ready with a quip; someone who can see and tell the funny side to an otherwise serious situation. The one thing you should NOT do is use that character too much and only use them in a situation where a little humor will provide a modicum of light relief. Unless, of course, you are writing an intentionally dark story, in which case the world is your oyster.

Don’t Use Puns. Just Don’t.

Puns are awful things and there is a really good reason why people refer to them as “groaners”. There is no reason to use them so don’t. Unless you are an eight-year-old author then it’s absolutely fine. Otherwise, just don’t.

You Need to Know What is Funny

And many authors try and fail spectacularly at this. Of course, everyone has a different sense of humor so what you find funny, others may not. Analyze jokes and humorous repartee; you need to understand that, in most cases, the words are not the important part. It’s about context and who is saying those words.

Your Character Must Be The Subject of Your Humor

If your character can take the fall, it will often be funnier than it is when the spotlight is on someone else. Your characters need to be very self-aware, self-conscious and just a little bit sarcastic. Their jokes should be self-deprecating, making them far more relatable and identifiable as characters. Make their idiot moments as real as possible so your readers can relate to them and will find them funny.

Quality is Always Better Than Quantity

Unless your book is all humorous, like Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, then don’t try to fill each page with jokes. Instead, concentrate on scattering a few well-timed and high-quality jokes throughout the book, especially if it is serious fiction. People don’t pick up a serious book and expect to find every page peppered with one-liners; it detracts from the story and spoils it completely. How many jokes you include will depend on you and on the story itself; there is no right or wrong way to do it.

Never be afraid of including way more humor than the book calls for – you can remove it later. Plus, you might find that one line works better than another so having more to choose from is always a good thing. If, when you are writing, the opportunity arises to include some humor, do it. You can always change your mind before it goes to publication.  


Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Anne-Marie Reynolds