The first two books I wrote were utterly devoid of humor. And everything else I penned was so dehydrated that a flood couldn’t relieve it. Then I started a story so kooky and ridiculous that I didn’t think anyone would like it—let alone be anything respectable I could show to an agent or publisher. That was when I discovered that humor was a dangerous weapon I could use to my own advantage.
But how can you tell if something’s funny? Obviously it’s hilarious when the postman runs over a mailbox (unless it’s your own), but how do you incorporate that into your writing? I thought it was impossible to use slapstick humor in writing. However, if you hold this weapon correctly, none of your readers will survive.
2 Mistakes to Avoid
Before I can give you a step-by-step evil plot to murder your audience, I must warn you of some pitfalls that can make your audience want to murder you instead.
Humor is good, but including too much will reveal your diabolical plans. How much is considered excessive? This largely depends on your novel’s tone and theme. You will probably want no more than 25% of your story to be humorous if it has serious overtones. However, over half might be all right for stories with a lighter subject matter, especially children’s books. Balance humor by sprinkling it between thoughtful scenes and dialogue. Pixar movies are predominantly comedy, but the filmmakers saved the hilarity from becoming ludicrous by introducing real-life struggles. For instance, in my WIP, my MC struggles with loneliness and grief, thus preventing the humor from overwhelming readers.
The second major pitfall is using corny or stupid humor. This is why I detest the TV show Mr. Bean. As utterly brainless as we humans can be, none of us are that stupid—and our characters shouldn’t be either. One way to prevent this is to never have your characters do anything a real person wouldn’t do. Take inspiration from your own flubs and other people’s (warning: if you do not wish to be strangled in your sleep by your family and friends, ask their permission before broadcasting their idiocy). My two quirky protagonists are largely based upon my own personality. The sidekick says the goofiest things because he can’t think around people—so do I. I hate coconut, so I had him refer to coconut juice as “liquid moth guts.”
The second way to block incoming cornballs is by putting some brainpower into your comedy. Don’t write down the first pun that strikes your mind, or the second or the third. Make your humor so clever that readers will have to stop and say, “I see what you did there!”
Now that we’ve covered those tripping hazards, let us rub our hands and form our evil scheme. If you follow these tips, I guarantee your victims will either be dead or dying by the end of this article.
Evil Plot #1: Execution by the Unexpected
I recently watched an episode of The Dick Van Dino Show where the father had to talk about his job for his son’s class. As a comedy writer, his job starkly differed from the other fathers who had previously spoken. He was talking and the kids weren’t laughing—he had to do something quick or suffer as a funny failure forever. He tripped, whether intentionally or unintentionally no one knew, but they laughed. “You see that?” he said. “You laughed—you know why? Because it was unexpected.”
Comedy is more than just jokes, puns, and hitting people with frying pans. Unpredictability is the life and breath of comedy. If you know someone is going to say something funny, you won’t laughed quite as hard. If your character trips over a bucket that you just mentioned a few sentences ago, it won’t be funny because readers will expect the fall. Whereas if your villain chokes on a banana while he is talking about world domination, that is a different story.
To usher in the unexpected, ask yourself what you expect to happen and scratch those off your list. Secondly, ask yourself what couldn’t possibly happen. Lastly, ask yourself how to make the impossible possible. However, just because something’s random doesn’t mean you should pull it from another universe. Even the unexpected must make sense. For instance, potato chips don’t fall out of the sky for no reason. On the other hand, if someone bombed a Frito-Lay airplane, then the situation might be probable.
Evil Plot #2: Death by Dialogue
If your readers haven’t died yet, cut their throats with a witty comment or two. A properly timed remark has slain more people than Captain Jack Sparrow, but watch your timing or you may accidentally slit your own gullet.
A humorous sentence helps lower pressure during intense scenes. In National Treasure, most of Riley Poole’s comments were either during or after an intense situation. For example, in my WIP, I have a character who has to retrieve his cell phone from the mouth of a sleeping Tyrannosaurus:
I sat down in front of the Tyrannosaurus’s nose. He opened his mouth, propelling foul breath into our faces.
I covered my nose and Perceval fanned his face. I rolled up my sleeve and started to reach in.
“You’re going to stick your hand in that germ-infested mouth? That’s repulsive!” Perceval grimaced.
“I’m reaching my hand into the mouth of a dangerous killer, and all you can think of are germs?”
“You could at least spray some anti-bacterial into his throat.”
If the pressure still needs lowered, have your characters argue. Nothing is as funny as verbal assaults, especially when the outside world is being blasted by cataclysmic forces. Do you remember the famed super suit discussion Frozone had with his wife? It wouldn’t have been funny if that robot wasn’t outside their window bombing Metroville. It wouldn’t have been funny if they had been arguing about something important. So toss a senseless argument in the heat of the action and you’ll be one step closer to your evil plot’s culmination.
Evil Plot #3: Decapitated by Descriptions
It is much easier to murder people by films rather than through writing, but books have one advantage over movies—descriptions. Unfortunately, saying someone fell isn’t half as funny as seeing them fall. However, you can word your sentences in such a way that readers can’t help but smirk. For example, “I attempted to escape but the light blinded me so that I crashed into the door and fell on the floor.” Or if you wrote:
I sighed and turned to see Perceval sprawled on top of a tree root.
You heard Perceval fall without me saying it. Also, certain words can induce your victims to smile. Words such as pickles, amputated, impaled, implode, bubbles, etc. are funny; no one knows why, they just are. And these words’ funniness can be amplified if you employ them unexpectedly. It isn’t funny when a person is amputated, but it is when a doorknob is.
Describing a character can be a humorous exercise too. To ensure your descriptions are giggle-worthy, be specific. Don’t write “the man’s eyes looked squinty,” type “I’m not sure whether he needed glasses or if he always looked like he had just gotten sauerkraut juice squirted in his eyes.” Don’t say “the man was lugging a bunch of bags into the store,” say “the senior citizen lugged two sacks full of duct tape and three bags of Gorilla Glue into Piggly Wiggly’s.”
Evil Plot #4: Poisoned with Peculiarities
If your readers are still resistant to your blows, there’s one last resort. Pour some quirks into your characters, and readers won’t outlast the chapter.
Besides adding comic relief, quirks also deepen your characters’ personalities. Maybe they’re neat freaks like Wasabi from Big Hero 6, or maybe they’re prejudiced against capes. Maybe they have a distinctive mode of dress. Whatever it is, keep it consistent and have the habit/quirk reappear throughout the book. Also, it’s wise to establish the habit shortly after introducing the character. That way it gives readers an identifying mark, sort of like a calling card, for that character. However, don’t give them a quirk just because it’s hilarious. Give them a reason for their behavior, even if that reason isn’t revealed until later.
You might think only comic relief characters can have quirks, but your MC can have them too. Even your villain could have some pet peeve or odd habit. Whatever it is, purposely write scenes that highlight and/or irritate that oddity. Maybe your MC can’t stand guinea pigs. Have his love interest have twenty of them scurrying around in her apartment. Does your villain survive on coffee? Board up all the Starbucks for thirty miles.
So whether they’re an eccentric mentor, a charismatic rebel, or a knight in shining armor, any archetype can have a peculiarity. However, minor characters should have little to no quirks. This keeps them from being overloaded with personality and from you killing your audience prematurely.
Our Evil Plot is Working
You can now commence the evil laugh. Your readers are dying…and they love you for it? That wasn’t supposed to happen! I cannot go on any longer. My audacity is forgotten, my advice has become rotten, and world domination I have not gotten.
I guess the next time I want someone to like me, I’d better stab them.