Saturday, September 22, 2007

Guest Blogger: Irene Perterson on Writing for Laughs

Today I'm handing over the blogging reins to writer Irene Peterson. And let me tell you about Irene: she is funny. Her wit and sarcasm spring naturally from her Jersey blue-collar roots and translates literally onto the page.

Irene's latest book is Kisses to Go, published by Zebra (ISBN-13: 978-0821780114 ). So if you need or even if you don't need another book for your TBR pile, try Kisses to Go.

And Heeeere's Irene!

One of the peculiar things about writing humor is that you can’t just force something to be funny. You either are funny, which rarely translates to words on paper, or you create a funny situation. If you happen to be naturally funny yourself, if you are lucky, it will show in your voice as you write. But, trust me, you can’t force something to be funny, no matter how much you make your friends laugh.

Your voice, the way you come across in your writing—that’s one of the best ways to show humor. You’re in the character’s POV. You have them witness something peculiar, out of the ordinary. Do you have them run away in terror? No, you have them feel the frisson of fear travel up their spines, then you have them think-- Uh,oh, this wasn’t in the brochure.

You as a writer need to put yourself in the character’s place and allow them to think in your voice. Force them to do or think something unexpected. It will surprise the reader and be funny.

But your voice, if you don’t already have one, needs to be sincere and realistic, down to earth. Think Jack O’Neill in Star-Gate. He had all these great lines. Sometimes his character appeared to be incredibly dense in comparison to Daniel Jackson and Samantha Carter, especially Carter. In one episode, he was filling out a crossword puzzle as part of a bet. He was so inarticulate, he just filled in anything most of the time. Nonsense words, words without enough letters to use all the spaces. Worlds are being blown up around them, the bad guys are causing imminent danger to the universe, and he’s trying desperately to fill in a crossword puzzle with his extremely limited vocabulary.

That’s funny. It’s even funnier when he starts filling in nonsense words that happen to be coming to him from some vast unknown source. And they happen to be the keys to holding back the bad guys and saving the universe.

The writers knew what they were doing. From the start of the show, they established the character of Jack O’Neill as the action hero, the mover and doer, not the intellect. When he can’t understand the workings of the smart characters’ minds, he makes goofy comments. The other principles in the series know he’s not a super-brain, but they look to him to get them out of their weekly fixes. Jack always comes through, dummy that he is, and saves their intellectual, overeducated bacon.

That’s funny.

So, make your characters believable, but give them quirks. Make them likable, too. Even the villains, if you want to be funny. Then put these characters in situations that will lend to humor. A sailor who can’t swim. A dragon afraid of fire.

Involve your readers in your story and characters. If you make them want to see humor, give them something off the cuff, something quirky, something extraordinary and let your characters react to it. The reader will follow the characters and face the same situation. When they love the characters and can’t wait to see how the characters react, surprise them with something unexpected. Let the characters laugh and the readers will laugh along with them.

And remember, if you can make the reader cry, you can make them laugh. It’s just harder to write funny.



  1. Wonderful post, Irene. And you're right -- you can't force funny. You also can't teach it. You either have it and the ability to convey it onto the page or you don't. As for me, I'm no comedian in person but something comes out of me when I write. I think I might be channeling Lucielle Ball or something.

  2. If Talia's intro hadn't sold me, the use of StarGate as an example would have done the job :). Great post!

    Jody W.

  3. You're right. It's hard to be funny on cue, but it's delightful when a zinger tumbles from a character's mouth. I'm adding your book Kisses to Go, to my must-read pile.

  4. Thanks for guest blogging, Irene! I agree, there is no forcing the funny. I guess that's the importance of learning the ins and outs of your own voice...humor is a wonderful tool if you're sure you have it in your writer's toolbox:-) And apparently I'm going to have to start watching Stargate. This is the second time I've heard how great it is in a week. Great post!