I'm preparing to give my humor workshop for RWA Nationals in DC this July. To do that, I have to study with deadly seriousness just what makes something funny. It's harder than it seems.
There is a whole science to laughter. Researchers have discovered that laughter is not a learned behavior. It's innate. Laughter is universal. It's the first tenuous social glue that binds us to others.
We all do it. But we don't all laugh at the same things. So what makes something funny? And how can a writer incorporate that into her story?
There are tons of different types of humor--from sight gags and slapstick to puns and malapropisms. But at the heart of every joke, there's a reversal. You're set up to get X and you unexpectedly get Y. Here's an example from the opening of my DISTRACTING THE DUCHESS:
“I’m going to have to shorten his willie.”
The artist stepped back from her easel and regarded the offending member with a critical eye.
I've set the reader up to think, "OMGosh! A Victorian Elaina Bobbitt!" Then I deliver the switch. She's a painter concerned only with symmetry and perspective.
I use a different sort of "bait and switch" in my upcoming MY LADY BELOW STAIRS novella in A CHRISTMAS BALL. Lady Darvish, a notorious "black widow," is calling on Viscount Eddleton, who's about to be betrothed to Lady Sybil Sommerville.
“Oh, that will never do! ‘Madam’ sounds so old.” Lady Darvish laughed gaily as she removed her hat, signaling that the visit would be an extended one. “You must call me Leticia for I predict we will be great friends. May I call you Bertram?”
Eddleton’s mouth opened and closed wordlessly several times before he managed to sputter, “But my name is George.”
We go on to learn that Leticia has had 4 husbands, all of whom she called Bert because it kept things "uncomplicated."
One of the things I abhor in workshops is when the speaker uses only their own work as examples. So, I need your help. Please send me some short examples of something funny you've read in a romance novel that requires miminal set up. And bear in mind, there are differing degrees of humor. Sometimes, writing that gives you merely a knowing smile performs its function better than the writing that causes soda to spew out your nose.
A soda spew will yank a reader out of the story every time!