Genre Lessons: Humor

Laughing face.I belong to a librarian book club that reads a different genre every month to improve our reader’s advisory skills. The idea is to get us better-acquainted with the types of books we may not normally read. In addition to improving my recommendations, I’m also studying these books from a writer’s perspective. Just because I don’t write a certain genre doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those who do. If you want to see other posts in this series, check out the “genre lessons” tag.

Since Summer Reading is in full swing, librarian book club is taking two months to prepare for our next meeting, where, like more traditional book clubs, we’ll all discuss the same title. Since starting a new job and scrambling to put together the entire teen Summer Reading Program at the last minute mean a crazy amount of stress, I thought I’d balance that out with some comic relief. Here’s what reading humor has taught me about writing.

1. Specificity creates humor. A big, broad-shouldered security guard driving a VW bug, hunched over the steering wheel so they don’t hit their head, may be funny. But that same guard driving that same bug with lashes on the headlights and a “DIVA” glamour plate is even funnier. You don’t want to bog your prose down with description, but the right detail at the right time can take a sentence from one that makes a reader smile to one that makes them laugh out loud.

2. Surprise creates humor. The guard driving the bug in the example above is funny because it’s unexpected. You can lighten a tense scene and develop richer characters by giving them an unexpected hobby, like a football player with a collection of My Little Ponies or a ballet dancer who does taxidermy. I’m not a fan of stereotypes, but they can be used — and subverted — to great effect in situations like these.

3. Humor and depth are not mutually exclusive. You can explore really heavy, really dark topics and still sprinkle humor judiciously throughout. Sometimes humor can even help you delve deeper into a topic by providing pockets of relief for readers, so they don’t get overwhelmed.

Those are my takeaways from reading humor. Do you read or write humor? What would you add to this list?

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