Editing Rant: Laugh Here

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Humor is tough. Ask any actor – drama may be a challenge, but timing a laugh is a unique talent which has to be honed into a skill. This is why you might see comedic actors do drama, but rarely will drama actors do comedy. Same with writers. The best comedies will make you cry, but dramas with laughs snuck in are fewer. And comedic genres mixes (fantasy, sci-fi, etc) are as rare as unicorns.

Humor comes in many forms: slapstick/physical, snide remarks, comedic characters, comedic situations (sit-coms), straight-up weird (surreal), puns/wordplay, topical/current events, observations/every-day-life, and fart jokes. Some authors writing comedy will attempt every single type joke one sentence after another, never stopping – like the movie Airplane. Exhausting reads, and often side-splitting, except when they are not.

The problem is some writers aren’t funny, and they are trying so hard.

A recent book I read had constant joking between characters, snide and straight-up humor versions. Normally I like this type of thing, but these read like a sitcom with canned laughter. Anytime someone said something snide or “funny”, the people they were talking to laughed and smiled at the jokes. Every.SINGLE.time. It’s like the author did not trust the reader to find things funny and lit up a big sign “laugh here” to make sure the audience knew when a joke was said.

This is not what funny is.

Comedians do not laugh at their own jokes. They tell a joke and wait for the audience to laugh. If it doesn’t work, they strike the joke from their repertoire.

Don’t tell readers when to laugh. Have them discover the funny on their own.