Christopher Fielden

Tips on Writing Humorous Stories 

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Christopher Fielden

Humour is a genre that should bring a smile to a reader’s face, enhancing a strong story. It’s challenging and fun to write. Many writers are drawn to using humour, but many fail to use it effectively. Maintaining the balance between the plot, characterization and use of amusing witticisms within a story is difficult. When used well, humour compliments a story, making it more enjoyable for the reader. If written badly it can detract from a story, spoiling the flow and believability.

I run a humorous short story competition called To Hull & Back on my website. I receive many entries and therefore read a lot of humorous short stories. The most common mistake I encounter is writers trying to be funny for the sake of being funny. This leads to characters acting out of character, melodrama and an overuse of exclamation marks. Like any other genre, the story is the key. Strong characters, conflict, interesting themes and an exciting plot are essential. The humour is simply the style that enhances the story as it’s told. Look on it like a meal.

While challenging to write, humour does have its advantages when written well. I find it can be used very effectively to tackle sensitive subject matter in ways that readers can relate to. Subtle humour is often used in real life to broach awkward subjects. I use it in this way as it can take the edge off discussing something very serious and can allow issues to be talked about openly and rationally. For example, I use this technique at work, when other people are upset. It can stop tears and relax people, allowing them to talk. I’m not saying I sit there telling jokes and laughing while someone is crying, but when appropriate I’ll say something that might draw a smile. A smile can lighten difficult situations just enough to allow someone to talk openly about something sensitive.

When writing, I find humour works particularly well in dialogue. You can allow a character’s sense of humour to shine through. So in my story, Love of the Dark, Nina’s a sassy, quick-witted, no-nonsense kind of gal, and one of the first things she thinks is about Jason’s stubby fingers fumbling with her bra strap. This shows that you aren’t trying to write something funny, but an amusing situation can develop that pushes the story forwards.

Many writers use humour well. Terry Pratchett is a great example. His stories have excellent characters and plots. They are simply enhanced by his amusing writing style. You can learn a lot by reading his work and that of other funny authors, like Douglas Adams, Sue Townsend and Tom Holt.

I also find watching sitcoms on TV is a great source of inspiration. You can learn a lot about using humour effectively through dialogue from TV. Only Fools and Horses and Porridge are great examples. The characters are strong and they often talk about very emotional subject matter or are involved in emotional situations. The humour shines through when appropriate, enhancing the story and making the characters even more likeable.

The key to writing amusing stories is not trying to be funny with every word.

Simply allow humour to develop naturally through the situation and characters and try and tease a smile from your reader’s lips.


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Chris lives in Bristol, UK with his cat and Harley Davidson FLSTFi Fatboy 1584cc V-Twin air cooled 95.25 mm x 111.25 mm bore stroke fuel injected 6 speed cruise drive motorcycle (listed in order of importance, obviously). His short stories have been published through a variety of competitions and magazines including InkTears, Scribble, Word Hut, Writers’ Forum and Writers’ Village.
He is addicted to writing stories, riding motorcycles and playing drums in rock bands. You can read some of Chris’s published stories on his website, where he uses them as case studies to try and help other writers achieve publication.

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