Thursday, April 1, 2010

How to Write the Humorous Novel

by Libby Malin

So, did you see that episode of The Office where Dwight gets a knock on the head and ends up with a concussion, and on the way to the hospital, Jim keeps spraying him with a plant spritzer bottle to keep him awake? Man, was it ever hysterical!

But chances are you're not laughing. It's awfully hard to describe humorous scenes in a way to make the reader laugh or even smile. Writing comedy is tough work, I tell ya, tough work. Not for the faint of heart.

But I love it. I love it so much that I can't stop doing it. My Own Personal Soap Opera, my latest entry into the humorous women's fiction genre, releases today. Publishers Weekly says it's "heavy on humor . . . Malin coaxes plenty of laughs." Booklist says it's a "world of wit and chaos . . . smart and insightfully written."

And I didn't even pay those folks to write those things.

Well, not much anyway.

No, really, I didn't.

Many people I know (well, maybe none) ask me how I write humor, what writing tools I use, what secrets to constructing a successful humorous novel I employ.

This is what I tell them . . .

Writing humor is like weaving an intricate tapestry. Some of the threads are all shiny and easy to see, so that you can immediately know where to place them in the scene, while other threads are dark and get lost in the background (which, in tapestry weaving, is called Ye Olde Background) causing you to go cross-eyed trying to find them so you end up dropping your needle and then knocking the whole contraption over when you get down on all fours to find the danged thing but then you prick yourself with the needle when your glasses fall off and the needle blends in with that Antique Blonde Straw Mat pattern you picked out for your family room floor over your husband's objections, who said it looked like, well, a barn floor, and you insisted it didn't, even though, deep in your heart, you thought it did once you saw it covering that massive expanse beyond the kitchen, but heck if you'd admit it to him now after he gave you such grief about your choice and you didn't say a word when he, in his virtually color-blind state, picked out a mustard green shade for his new car making you feel like you're riding around in a giant pickle every time he takes you somewhere. . . .

No, wait, I digress. That's not what writing humor is like.

The secret to writing humor is . . . well, it's a secret.

If you get very, very close to the computer -- no, even closer -- I will whisper -- no, closer still, right up against the screen now -- the secret to writing humor is -- you have to be very close, with, like your nose smashed into the screen because I'm going to whisper it in a few seconds if you just be patient . . . The secret to writing humor is . . . really close, with your cheek like a pancake on the screen

Shh . . .

Shh . . .

Shh . . .



it . . .

.... THERE. IS. NO. SECRET.....

Well, none that I know of anyway. Although I'm sure somewhere some college professor is teaching a course right now, at this very instant, on Contextual Analysis of the Humorous Novel as PostModern Metaphor and Solipsistic Trope.

Perhaps you yourself have taken that course.

As for me, I like to laugh. I can forgive many faults in a person, movie or book if they make me laugh. I try to return the favor by writing humorous stories (although I have some serious tales in me, too). I don't have a formula or a secret, just a hope that what I'm putting down on cyberpaper is funny.

I worry that it isn't funny enough, of course. I worry that one novel won't be as funny as the previous one (not unfounded, given how zany the premise was in Fire Me, my 2009 release -- it's hard to top a story where the protagonist is trying to get laid off). But my hope is that My Own Personal Soap Opera at least provides a lot of smiles while still telling a very real story about a young woman figuring out who she is and what she wants from life.

And now for the Big. Sales. Pitch.

In My Own Personal Soap Opera, daytime drama head writer Frankie McNally has her hands full as she struggles to keep her failing show on the air -- a leading man who broke his leg on Dancing with the Stars, staff writers who all want to be doing something else, and a real thief imitating a character on the show. If that weren't enough, she finds herself torn between two men, one who can give her everything she wants and the other who gives her everything she needs.

Want to read more? You can order the book (please oh please oh please oh please). Or you can get a flavor of the book by going to my website and looking at the first chapter posted there. Or you can comment on this post and I will select one person to receive a free copy by the end of tomorrow EST.

And that's no April Fools joke!

All authors get excited with the launch of a new novel, and I'm no exception. I hope Soap is successful because I want people to read and enjoy (and possibly learn from) Frankie's story. If you do happen to read the novel, let me know what you think and don't be bashful about posting reviews at online booksellers!


  1. Congratulations Libby on your release! Sounds like you had a fun time writing it and I bet it will be a fun read as well! Wishing you fabulous sales!

  2. Hey, Libby, super post! I love humor in stories, even in suspenses. It helps to break up the darkness. Also, a hero and heroine who have a sense of humor are worth their weight in gold. :)

  3. Congrats on the release, Libby! I so hear you on worrying that it won't be funny enough... and I never started out to write humor - go figure. :)

    and I love the THERE.IS.NO.SECRET.

    Sadly, it's true. Imagine how easy life would be if there was one...

  4. Thanks for the good wishes, ladies. I'm very excited about MOPSO (I love that acronym!) and hope soap fans will gobble it up.

  5. Congrats on the new book, Libby. It sounds great. Please include me in the giveaway.

    dlodden at frontiernet dot net

  6. New book! Congratulations, Libby.

    Romance became my number one choice for reading matter when I observed how much humor even the most heart-wrenching books contained.

    I'm sorry you said there is no secret to writing humor. I was hoping to pick up some tips. Nothing pleases me more than when readers tell me they laughed out loud at sections of my books, but when they ask me how I thought of it--I can't tell them, and I certainly can't predict where the humor is going to occur in the WIP.

    What you're saying is you don't know either. Oh well.

    Loved the needle dropped on the carpet that looks like a barn floor in need of sweeping--that's what DH says, and you agree, but you can't tell him that...etc Smiled, then chuckled, then laughed out loud.

  7. Congrats on the new release, Libby! May it sell billions and billions of copies!

  8. Billions, trillions, bazillions -- I'm up for any of those!

    Thanks again, ladies.

  9. This sounds like such fun! Laughter truly is the best medicine!

  10. I, like Mary Margret, was hoping to find out some secret tips! Your books are SO funny and always leave me smiling. Congrats on your new release and kicking of a great month of humor and (fingers crossed) MAJOR books sales :)

  11. Libby,
    I agree that humor is so important to books, movies and!

    Thank you for sharing some of your gift of humor with us.

    Here's wishing you much, much success!


  12. SUPER CONGRATS, Libby!
    MOPSO sounds like such a FUN book, can't wait to read it!

    I'm with Terry, I like a bit of humor even in suspense-y stories like mine. I usually find my characters saying snarky things at the most unlikely moments... (I wonder how that happens?!?!)

    And you had me ROLLING on the floor with the dropping the needle in the carpet scenario! Been there, done that, which is why I laughed so hard.


  13. You gals are great. Thanks so much for all the good wishes and comments.

  14. Congratulations, Libby! May you have tons of sales. I love laugh-out-loud books and I for one really hopes Comedies make a come back. Lord knows, life is depressing enough, sometimes you just need something to laugh at.

  15. Congratulations, Libby! MOPSO sounds terrific and I'll be picking it up next time I hit the bookstore. Can't wait!

  16. Congratulations on the book release, Libby! Can't wait to get my hands on this one.

    Mary Margaret, I don't have any tips on how to write humor either, but I did blog yesterday about what NOT to do :)

    Love the blog, ladies!


  17. This was very funny and useful. I'm trying to write romantic comeday so can use any tips I can get!

  18. I think writing humor is a gift. I have a good friend with an incredible sense of humor but she writes better drama than humor.

    Me, I'm just twisted.

    I got to meet Danny Simon, Neil Simon's once, and he was great in talking about writing humor.

  19. Huge congrats on your new release, Libby! Wishing you all the success in the world!

  20. I used to write lots of tearjerkers in high school and thought I was doing so well till the teacher told me how much harder it is to make people laugh.

    Congratulations! Sounds like you've had fun and made people laugh.