I’ll Be The Judge Of That!

Quite literally, I will. I have the honour of being a judge in the humour section of the Flash Fiction Rodeo Competition over at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. There are cash prizes, apparently. Follow the link for the details, I have to admit to being a bit sketchy on the finer points. Some far better fellows than I have done all the organising, my contribution amounts to ‘send me some stuff and I will tell you what I like best.’

If you have never tried writing humour before, now could be the time to give it a go. The phrase ‘Many a true word is spoken in jest’ is absolutely spot on. Humour is a marvellous device for imparting uncomfortable truths and tackling tricky subjects with a light, easier touch than straight drama. Whilst there is a fine line between this and being trivial, laughter is a strong emotional reaction and invoking reaction in readers is the aim of any writer. The process for provoking either laughter or tears is pretty much the same; getting to the very root of what it is to be human and holding up a mirror for the audience to see it in themselves. Tragedy and comedy are interchangeable, depending on your point of view.

Perhaps the easiest form of comedy to write is parody – providing you know your subject matter well enough. In real life, humour arises naturally from everyday situations and parody is the perfect vehicle for this. It does require a wry sense of observation and knack for characterisation, but other than that, it just sort of writes itself.

Venturing into the world of the absurd can provide fertile ground for humour. Ordinary things in extraordinary circumstances is a common theme, although I like it the other way around far better. Who doesn’t a witty character sharing their observations of the world around them, or a perfectly dull protagonist trying to make sense of the bizarre? Use the characters, their scenarios and dialogue to full advantage. Be careful not to confuse humour with nonsense. Nonsense has a well-earned place in literature, but it isn’t always funny.

Talking of things that aren’t funny, I would avoid too much slap-stick and physical humour when writing prose, if I were you. It often just doesn’t come across well on the page. Humour, like anything, is subjective, so keep that in mind. I like a good fart joke as much as the next man, but a torrent (maybe not the best word) of bodily functions is going to get cringe-worthy quite quickly. Biting satirical wit is most welcome, unnecessary nastiness is not. Like sarcasm, this shows a woeful lack of depth and creative intelligence.  If you find yourself resorting to clichés, you are on the wrong track.

Most of all, don’t force it. There is nothing quite so un-funny as someone trying to be funny.

96 comments

  1. Congratulations on your appointment!
    You’re spot on about humour. You have to be careful it doesn’t overwhelm the who work.
    I looked back of my humorous and rom-com fantasy trilogy (it was going to be ground breaking!) and realised I had literally lost the plot; lots of prat-falls and slap-in-eye with a custard pie stuff, some witty ‘bon mots’ along with wry observations on forms of government, and about every comedy cliché sub-plot ever used but Plot? What plot?

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