While you may never have thought about it, there are a lot of people who study humor. Psychologists, psychiatrists and neuroscientists have all taken a serious look at our sense of humor. Standup comedians and humorists study humor intently if they want to succeed. And now we’ll skip all others with the exception of the lowly statistician. I know that you’ve been waiting impatiently for me to add some math to this discussion.
Depending on which studies you believe, the average young child laughs 300 to 500 times a day. This number drops to approximately 15 for the average adult.
Tip: If a grown man is still laughing 500 times a day, don’t marry him.
Such studies highlight some important points:
1. We all laugh, regardless of age.
2. We enjoy laughter so much that it’s an integral part of our daily lives.
3. Adults have a more discriminating funny bone.
As a writer, you should be thinking about that much sought-after mythical creature, the avid reader with disposable income. So, what do you know about your readers’ sense of humor?
1. Readers laugh, regardless of age.
2. Readers enjoy laughter daily.
3. Readers know what’s funny. (They discriminate.)
Okay, that covers the real people. Now, how should you imagine a realistic fictional character’s sense of humor? Hint: One…two…
Humans have an innate desire for daily laughter. Therefore, ergo, ipso facto, whatever. . . realistic characters should never be humorless, unless by intent.
But I’m writing a serious story.
Serious stories don’t deserve realistic characters? Says who?
Consider a very serious real life example, that of a homicide detective. On a murder scene, he’s all business, but if you honestly believe that, once back at the station, cops don’t relieve their tension with a bit of wit and humor, then you don’t know any real cops.
Cops prank each other, sometimes enjoy gallows humor, have funny screw ups, and have been told some of the world’s most outrageous lies. “Honest, officer, I own this stolen car.”
Your character’s sense of humor
Granted, your characters are probably not standup comedians. Their style of humor can vary widely: a bit of irony, some witty banter, or a killer setup and punch. There are no rules; there are no limits when you’re writing humor. Your character’s DNA (height, width, shoe size, personality and IQ) is entirely up to you. His\her sense of humor is also. Normally, we’re accustomed to blaming our parents for flat feet, chunky thighs or no sense of humor, but fictional characters must blame the writer.
If in your entire manuscript there is not a single place for wit, a touch humor, or a great joke then you absolutely should begin to question the realism of your characters.
An enjoyable experience
Readers love wit. They love to smile. They love to laugh. If you ignore humor while writing, you’re missing opportunities to give your readers a more enjoyable experience. That leads us to another blatantly obvious, irrefutable truth: Readers repeat-buy from authors they enjoy.
Once again in this life, not rocket science!
Next Topic: Recognizing Successful Humor
Parting Funny: “If you shoot a mime, should you use a silencer?” – Steven Wright