With The Adventures of Sir Edric to be published on 31 March (initially as an e-book and signed limited edition hardback, which can be pre-ordered here, paperback to follow), I thought a piece about writing comedy might be apt. [I’m toying with the term mirthjape as a counterpoint to grimdark].
A consistent level is important. You can’t have cunning political satire one moment, and then expletive-ridden slapstick the next because readers will feel like they’ve been enjoying Yes, Minister only for the tape to be changed halfway through. At the same time, variety to the jokes will help the book feel less like a one note gong.
Why I Don’t Like F-Bombs
F-bombs, as the Yankee Doodles say, are not to my taste in writing. The problem is that the word and its various forms are so useful that you can shove them in anywhere. Personally, I prefer trying to come up with more varied and original terms. Plus, ye olde insults like rapscallion and scallywag are a bit more charming.
The Hidden Joke
I don’t do this too often, but sometimes I like to include a hidden joke (maybe once or twice a story). A hidden joke is either one that only makes sense in the context of a later event, or one that is subtle enough for a reader to miss it entirely. The advantage is that if you see it, it’s amusing, and if you don’t then you don’t miss out on anything because you don’t know it’s there. Obviously, this means they might not be visible to all readers, which is why I only do it once or twice in a story, so people who re-read might get something they didn’t see the first time.
Not Everybody Will Laugh
Along with music, comedy’s probably about as subjective as things get. And some people don’t like satire, others dislike slapstick, and so on. Not everybody will like your style. Some are very politically correct, others (who are handsome and from Yorkshire) are not. So, don’t worry about it if some people don’t like your particular style. Unless everybody hates it, of course…
Satisfy Yourself First.
It’s important to be at least slightly amused by your own stuff. If it doesn’t (the first time) make you smile, then why will anyone else enjoy it? The first person you need to satisfy is yourself. Then beta readers/editors and, finally, readers.
Get A Second Opinion (And Then A Third)
It’s all very well laughing at your own jokes [in private], but what really matters is when Other People like your stuff. Beta reader feedback is even more useful, I’d venture, for comedy than serious writing precisely because it’s so subjective. Just be sure your beta readers are brutal enough to be honest if your jokes are terrible.
So, those are a few basic suggestions for writing comedy.
Do give The Adventures of Sir Edric a look. It’s more amusing than a mongoose wearing a fez. If you’re unsure, here are some free short stories for a taster.