What makes a novel comedic? What makes humorous writing different than other forms of comedy?
Brandi Spencer (formerly B. C. Marine), CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Humor is subjective. We all have friends and family who will laugh themselves silly at things we don’t find funny in the least. And we’ve all been baffled to see someone greet a hilarious joke with a blank stare. How can something so subjective be used as a fiction genre?
Form and Intent
While people may not agree on what’s actually funny, most of us can recognize a joke, regardless of its quality. Comedy follows well-worn patterns and forms, most of which depend on what culture you belong to. For the sake of my sanity, I’m only going to look at Western, English-speaking humor. If you think there’s a lot of variation in sense of humor between your friends, the variation between cultures amplifies that!
Even if we don’t know the proper name for elements like irony or the difference between black comedy and blue comedy, we’ve been socialized to know that laughing is the expected response to them. In the humor genre, stories are packed with moments that are intended to be funny. While every genre (and I mean every genre) can be funny, in a humorous story, joke-telling is the primary purpose. For example, a romantic comedy tells the story of a couple falling in love, like all other romances, but instead of emphasizing feelings, it might escalate absurdity for the climax.
Types of Written Humor
Without the inflection and timing of a live comedian or the sight gags of comic strips, television, and movies, written humor has some limitations. Slapstick, physical, prop, deadpan, music, improvisational, and cringe humor can be difficult, if not impossible to translate into written form.
So what are some forms that work well?
Wit and Wordplay
This is the bread and butter of written comedy. Since the humor comes from the language itself, there’s nothing that needs be to translated to the page. In fact, clever wordplay can sometimes work solely in written form.
Satire and Parody
Most humor novels are cross-genre. They take a popular genre like fantasy, sci-fi, or romance and play with it by twisting the usual premise or exaggerating it. Satire is usually meant to be a biting mockery of society and may or may not actually be humorous. Parodies borrow popular elements from and require a deep level of familiarity with their genres that tends to come from a loving fan and are always comedic. Fantasy and sci-fi are popular cross-genres for parodies because they already push the limits of reality, and it doesn’t take as much effort to stretch them to the absurd.
Black and Blue
Both black and blue humor deal with taboos and can overlap, but are distinct. Black humor draws comedy out of tragedy, making light of serious and painful subjects like death or violence. It’s common in many genres but especially horror or action. Blue humor is vulgar and crude, using bodily functions or sex for laughs. Children’s humor and romantic comedies tend to have more toilet humor and bawdy jokes respectively.
Though the quality of humor is wildly subjective, it’s easy to identify. Have you ever read a humor novel? Let us know some of your favorites!
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