Write, Edit, Gag

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Writing a novel is not for sprinters; it’s for long-distance runners. There are so many rules to consider concerning story arc, character development and descriptive passages. To top it off, you also have to consider nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, punctuation and all the other grammar goop. It’s just so… Well, it’s an incredible amount of fun is what it is!

If a character annoys me, I kill him in the next chapter. I wish divorce court was this easy.

Telling a good story is paramount, as are a few other necessities, like finishing your manuscript.

He hangs around the train station with a sign that says, ‘The End Is Near!’ Must be a novelist.

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"However, let’s assume that you have completed writing your first draft (Kudos!) and are now addressing either a rewrite or an edit. Revising your work is a process unique to each writer, however there is one constant: This is your opportunity to transform good work into great work. There is no easy way to describe this process, but you have many tools available, perhaps the most important is excision. That is, deleting both the ‘not so good’ as well as that passage that you ‘just love’ but is not moving your story forward.

How many times you revise your manuscript is also unique to each writer, however let’s assume that the proper number is somewhere between one and infinity.


Let’s add one more.

The Final Gag Read
Everyone wants to add a touch of humor to their writing in order to gain that extra bit of editor and reader appeal. It’s likely that you made such an effort while writing the first and each subsequent draft. However, post editing is the ideal time to give your prose a humor boost.


  • Immediately after intense revisions you know your story (plots and subplots) intimately.
  • You are now more familiar with your character(s) than you will ever likely be in future.
  • You can probably recite by rote much of the dialogue that you bled over while writing.
  • Every scene and situation is familiar. Without looking, you can probably list the scenes that would benefit from a little comic relief.

You are now an expert on your manuscript. Put that expertise to good use BEFORE you move on to the next project and lose yourself in another story.

Gag Placement
A good joke cannot, despite our desires, be placed just anywhere, even in a humorous novel. There are a few caveats that one should consider:

  • Story Flow – No matter how good the joke, it can never be permitted to disturb the flow of your story. Beef up the humor only where it enhances your story.
  • Character – Your character has his\her own sense of humor. Humor must be in character. That is, a minister does not tell risqué jokes, no matter how good the laugh.
  • Dialogue – Good dialogue has a rhythm that flows, never jarring the reader (other than intentionally). Never disrupt that rhythm for a joke.

That’s a lot of don’ts!

You’re not my mother. You can’t tell me what to do!

Be mindful of the negatives, however a final gag read of your manuscript can pay huge dividends if done well. That touch of humor that you add to your writing will be perfectly placed, and your editors and readers will thank you for it.

Special Note
Every once in a while, I come across a book, article or video that I think is exceptional. The following link was posted by a member of Goodreads’ The Humour Club, Dan Martin:

Chuck Jones – The Evolution of an Artist

This short video is nine minutes of advice from a master of visual comedy. Thanks, Dan!

Parting Funny: Do you know why it’s so hard to solve a Redneck murder? ‘Cause there’s no dental records and all the DNA is the same.Jeff Foxworthy

Next Up: Are Facts Funny?

Holiday Greetings to One and All!
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