So, I’m in the final edits of my first novel, an Arthurian parody, when I come to the climatic hostage exchange my novel’s been building up to for three chapters. It’s a 3-way exchange between two men (prior enemies) and one zealous geocacher for a girl, a key, and a dented up cup. I realize, when the exchange goes waaaay too smooth that this is not satiric at all. I’m left thinking, is that it? Where is the velociraptor riding a shark while holding a machine gun and a lit stick of dynamite? I mean, that’s what comedy is all about, right?
Writing a humorous novel is like walking a tight rope between two skyscrapers. There is a thin line between going too far and not going far enough, and if you do fail, the fall is a long one. That is probably why there aren’t as many humorous writers out there. It takes a great deal of skill to successfully incorporate humor in writing. With humor, you always run the risk of offending someone, of not reaching a broad enough audience, of falling flat. It can be very daunting.
I’ve spent a lot of time reading the works of other humorists, and from them I’ve learned that humor doesn’t always have to be blunt; sometimes it’s more successful to subtly incorporate it into the sentences via creative syntax or word choice. For example, using the word “gallivant” is much more amusing than the phrase “go around” and provides a better mental image for the reader. This is something I know I do well in my writing, according to my beta readers.
Dialogue is probably the easiest place to work in humor. Characters can tell jokes, make sarcastic observations or remarks, and say off the wall things that don’t fit as well into the narrative. This is where I really shine! Writing dialogue comes easy for me, especially humorous dialogue. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to lean too heavily on character exchange, forgoing atmosphere and movement. With that being said, I move on to situational humor.
Situational humor is where a humorist can really make or break their novel. The point of satire and parody is to inflate the reader’s expectations and blow up everyday situations. A regular novel might include a scene with a man going on an adventure. He would ride a horse, pack the usual provisions, and experience dangers like bandits and hazardous weather. A humorous novel might contain a similar scene, but the man would be going to the store, riding a cat-pulled sleigh, armed with a Nerf gun, encountering homeless men pushing shopping carts full of discarded cans.
So, when I’m evaluating my hostage situation, I’m disturbed by how “normal” the scene plays out. Everyone meets, sets the terms, and makes an exchange, nothing special. It’s boring, and it’s the climax of my novel. I have to go back and look at the scene from a new perspective, think outside the box. The situation needs to get a little more out of hand for the sake of excitement and humor. There needs to be more . . . more . . . something . . . along the lines of a velociraptor riding a shark while holding a machine gun and a lit stick of dynamite.