Humor in Writing

Humor in writing can be a good thing. Humor can also be overdone. The problem as an author is finding that line between “good thing” and “too much.”

For instance, let’s say that our good friend Jack is in the story. You remember Jack – he was the one that found a body in the garbage a few posts ago. The head was rolling under the garbage truck. If you were to start cracking a joke about rotten melons, that could be in bad taste – unless it was from an established character that was shown to be rude and crude.

The guy that was with him in that post, Odell, didn’t get a lot of backstory in this snippet. I’ve imagined him as a jolly sort, an ex-Army infantryman that did a bunch of gruntwork in the service for four years and got out. If he cracked a joke, it could be dark humor or not much at all.

Say there’s this one guy that nobody likes to work with, who keeps them all on edge. He’s the rude and crude type I mentioned beforehand. Let’s look.

“Hey, Jack.”

Jack ignored him as best he could, but there wasn’t much question about who he was addressing. The young man sighed, still rattled by his discovery. He didn’t like the other man.

“What, Tommy?”

“Heard you had some excitement earlier. Found some deli special in the trash, huh?”

Jack’s face went white. He had held himself together as well as he could, but the jocular remark tipped him over. The young man grabbed the trash can and vomited noisily into it.

“Jeez, man, that was just a joke. Didn’t mean to set you off or anything. Whatsamatter, you can’t handle it?”

Still wiping his mouth, Jack pushed past the other man roughly and left the room. Tommy shouted after him, “Sorry you got your feelings hurt, you little snot!”

Odell came in, and looked around.

“Hey, man, maybe you should button it. It’s a shock to see something like that, and he’s young.”

“Aw, stuff it. I can’t help it if he’s just a widdle delicate baby.”

Odell stared at the other man.

“Look, he’s a hard worker. I doubt you would have done any better. You’re all talk, but I don’t see you offering to clean up. You just shut your mouth.”

So, one ill-advised joke from a character set up a scene there. Actually, if I had kept going, that would have been some physical stuff going on. Even as I write these words, I can see Odell beating the living crap out of Tommy. Hmm… maybe we’ll see that in another post.

Let’s put Jack somewhere else.

His day had been rough, and Jack decided that he was going to stop at the BBQ joint for dinner. The waitress took his order and started to turn away, when she looked at him again.

“Hey, sugar, you don’t look too happy. You ok?”

He smiled weakly.

“Just a bad day at work.”

She clicked her pen, and put her pad back in her pocket.

“You look like the south end of a northbound mule just sat all over you. Want to talk about it?”

He smiled again, a little stronger.

“Just some rough stuff I don’t normally see.” He looked up and saw that the TV over the bar was playing the news. He directed her attention to it. “Look at that.”

She watched, then shook her head.

“That’s just terrible!” He grimaced at her tone.

“I know. I’m the one that found it. Nothing like finding a body to make you want to lose weight.” She stared at him, her eyes wide.

“You poor man! I’m so sorry!”


“Lose weight?”

“Yeah, after seeing that, I didn’t want to eat anything. I’m not really sure I want to eat anything here, but I haven’t eat all day.”

“Honey, you can’t go all day without eating. You’re already skinnier than a board. You remind me of a strip of wood instead of a board. Come on, I’ll get you some bread on the house.”

“You don’t have to do that…” he protested weakly.

“Sure I do. I like my men healthy and well-fed. Otherwise, they can’t keep up and I run them down.”

So, you see, humor can help a scene along. And sure looks like Jack’s going to be going to this BBQ joint more often. That waitress is either really interested in him or she wants a good tip.

If you as a writer are good with puns, use them, but don’t go crazy with them. Bad jokes, same thing. Limericks, haiku, koans – all of that.

To use a food analogy, humor should be like mustard (or wasabi sauce if you’re like me and like spicy.) A little bit of mustard goes a long way, and a few lines of humor does, too.

Happy writing!

-JB Steele

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