Write Good Jokes
Write Good: An Absurd Storytelling And Adventure Blog
Jokes are THE most humanizing thing a character can do. Don’t care what the industry experts say. Them experts ain’t wrong, but there’s a reason the straight-laced character is the one readers identify with least. B.O.R.I.N.G.
Got a villain, a side character, or an anti-hero you want the reader to connect with?
Give. The character. Good. Jokes. Satisfying ones. Ones that attach book to reader.
Putting my foot down right now: More people would read if more books entertained the way stand-up comics do. Quote me. How do you get people laughing with your story? Opening lines can be a great way to deliver character, voice, and world all in one sentence. Joke about that. Your character’s been in their book’s world long enough to address the ridiculousness of a piece of it. Joke about that. Their world shares enough in common with ours that readers can see familiar aspects of their lives in it—and the ways the book differs from real life. Joke about that. Jokes are based on shared experience, and that can mean shared between characters OR shared between characters & reader. Connect that way.
Famous opening lines that are also jokes (or at least clever) include:
-Being absolutely fucked
-Not realizing you’re doomed for all time
-Claiming sanity & claiming the hallucinations are the crazy ones
-Fighting naked (OK, that’s from one of my yet-to-be-published manuscripts)
-Claiming something over-the-top absurd is normal
-A recreational drug being used in the most scientifically impossible place
Each of those famous opening lines (email me or Twitter DM me if you’re wondering which books) delivers character voice + world elements + humor all in one. If you’re a new writer still getting to know your manuscript’s world, be ready to go back and write a new opening line a whole buncha times until one comes out that does all three of those things at once. You might even come across some jokes to use later in the writing.
Chances are your protagonist, antagonist, or relationship character ain’t new to the world they’re living in. Whoever’s narrating (or whoever the “camera” follows most closely) can call out the most absurd thing about their world and establish a connection with the reader.
Possible examples of the weird and insane could include:
-“Why would dragons need to get drunk? They’re rich, they breathe fire, and they fly.”
-“That spell makes things grow and you didn’t try any Rated R shit?”
-“The mandrake opera singer had stadiums of people falling at her feet. Totally unearned if you ask me.”
-“Zero gravity’s good for nothing but backplanet tourist attractions. Now double gravity, that’ll get a lot of work done for you.”
See what those types of lines do for readers? They deliver a lot of information about a world/reality AND they have a piece of our reality tied in. Readers understand moments when a drink is needed even if they might not understand your dragons yet. Readers have experienced enough Rated R shit to know when something could be used that way, so once they understand your book’s magic, that kind of joke can humanize and connect reader to story. Basic human emotions like jealousy, love, fear, and a frick-ton of others can draw the connection between reader and story even if they don’t know what a mandrake is yet. How ridiculous is it that something rare to US is common to the characters? That connects people to fictional characters so hard they’ll struggle for weeks to get the joke out of their head.
Other famous examples of bestselling books with jokes that humanize:
-Necromancer dick jokes
-“God” getting buddy-buddy enough to do, “Your Mom” jokes
-Supervillain dad jokes said as though they’re genuinely a dad
-Witches with magic that’s far beyond our understanding, but joking about being so broke they need to use “generic brand” spell ingredients.
What ELSE do those jokes do? Establish SHARED EXPERIENCE. We’ve all groaned at bad genitalia puns, heard horrible jokes from unexpected people, and been stuck getting the cheapie-versions at the store. The fact that your book’s fantastical characters or planet-hopping celebrities have similar experiences to an average Earth person is your connecting factor. Watch for those shared experience connecting factors. Use them in your writing.
LAST THING BEFORE YOU CLOSE THIS WINDOW AND GO BACK TO RE-HYDRATING YOUR DINNER IN THE SPACE STATION’S HYDROMATIC:
DON’T USE JOKES TOO OFTEN.
GET TO KNOW WHAT FLAVOR OF BOOK YOU’RE WRITING AND SPACE THE JOKES OUT SO THEY DON’T BREAK THE MOOD.
WRITING SATIRE OR COMEDY? THOSE CAN HAVE MORE JOKES.
WRITING SCI-FI OR FANTASY? A FEW JOKES ARE GOOD. TOO MANY MAKES READERS NOT TAKE YOU SERIOUSLY.
WRITING HORROR? MAYBE ONE OR TWO JOKES TO RELIEVE TENSION ARE OK. ANY MORE AND IT AIN’T SCARY ANYMORE.
You got sick of those all-caps sentences, didn’t you? Look at that sick-of-it feeling. That’s what happens when a serious book has too many jokes, or a satire has too much seriousness.
“Look how clever I am” doesn’t sell books.
“This book was so satisfying and enjoyable” sells books.
Add jokes accordingly.