Why humour in writing matters
I grew up with a father who kept reminding us, “Life is not a joke,” whenever the five of us resorted to overt silliness, in his eyes an abomination, in our eyes, a saving grace.
Noticing the humorous, the comedic, the lighter side to life, is a gift, an art form that can, with practice, be developed and will serve us well—lifelong.
Humor is appropriate and can be applied to any genre and form of writing. Infusing humor into suspense, thriller, romance, historical or literary fiction, memoir, poetry, or nonfiction, can add depth (and heart) to your writing.
Humor is an intimate part of life. Laughter, like the spoken word and song, can relay our innermost longings and feelings. Even in the midst of great sadness, of calamity, humor can save us—seeing the lighter side in the middle of pain can make the seemingly impossible bearable.
With humor, we are not referring to cheap slap-stick comedy, that dwells on banality, but to sharp wit and satire, leaning on critical observational skills and sharpness and swiftness of mind.
Learning to laugh at ourselves and our dire situations is vital and can help us find new insight, nurture our stricken souls, help us find our bearings and keep us standing—and in the process, help others see the light (and the lighter side) too!
7 Reasons to use HUMOR in your writing or look for it in the books you read:
1 | It brightens stories—fills it with life and lightness—with effervescence.
But remember, don’t “try” to be funny—be real. Write about characters in real-life situations, applying sharp observational skills. The element of surprise is vital.
“It’s no use going back to yesterday because I was a different person then." – Lewis Carroll
2 | Offers an emotional escape and alleviates pain.
Emotional & physical pain can become unbearable. Laughter can be the best medicine—without potential disastrous side-effects. Humor and laughter have medically proven benefits—it increases a sense of well-being and boosts the immune system. Humor and laughter decrease the risk of stress-related diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases. Mirthful and therapeutic laughter is a thing—it has proven therapeutic benefits.
“I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.” – Bob Hope
3 | Humor enables you to speak the truth in hidden form.
By allowing your character to be the court jester, your reader (audience) will forgive him or her the apparent overstepping of boundaries when offering truth, tongue-in-cheek. Use the jester to poke fun at the hypocrite in ourselves, in others, and in society.
4 | Self-deprecating humor endears you to the reader.
It can be a useful tool, especially in nonfiction, by distancing yourself from being seen as a ‘know-it-all.’ By poking fun at yourself and your failures and mishaps make you relatable. Without necessarily trying to shock, you can also tell things as it is, direct, very directly, without mincing words and be refreshingly funny, making people laugh when they realize the farce under which we all often live. By applying sharp wit, you can disarm the skeptic reader. The best advice is to poke fun at yourself, more often, much more often, than at others.
“Self-deprecating humor and brutal honesty is a really freeing thing.” – Margo Price
5 | Using humor more often in your writing forces your hand toward better word choice, toward better writing.
Writing strong and compelling prose, imbued with humor is not easy. It requires practice. Adding humor to your writing teaches discipline. In writing humorous, you don’t have the advantages of in-person delivery with combined voice and gestures and body language. Each. Word. Matters. Be specific—humor dissipates in generalizations.
“The secret to humor is surprise.” – Aristotle
6 | In fiction, using humor can be a useful tool in between scenes, acting as glue, strengthening your storyline.
As the tension keeps mounting, humor allows the reader to catch their breath, and they will better stick with the narrator or protagonist or antagonist, before being hurled along for the rest of the rollercoaster ride!
7 | Using humor in writing and teaching improves memory and recall of the subject matter.
Using humor in your (nonfiction) writing elevates it to mere sharing of information and knowledge—humor can foster a relationship with your reader (and student), strengthening the human connection, and creates an environment conducive to learning. It makes you relatable, more human. Studies show that humor and laughter stimulate multiple physiological systems that decrease stress hormones such as cortisol and activate the dopaminergic reward system.
“I think humor is a very serious thing. I use it as a way of weakening the reader’s defenses so that I can more easily take him to something more.” – William Collins
A day you haven’t laughed lacks something vital, you will fall asleep poorer, some may even say, it was a day wasted. Put it on your to-do list every day—incorporate it in your writing and look for it in your reading.
Dad was right to some extent: life is not a joke, but for our own sake, and that of the rest of the world, it is crucial to see the lighter side, look for the humorous, the silly, the absurd, study it, and learn to laugh at ourselves (and others) from time to time. Deep belly laughs. Heartfelt laughter sets endorphins free. It heals our hearts. It heals our souls. It also heals relationships. Laughter is the best medicine.
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
Thank you for reading!
A slightly different version of this article was posted on Medium.com.
- Brandon M. Savage. Humor, laughter, learning, and health! A brief review. Advances in Physiology Education. 5 July 2017.
- Dinty W. Moore. True Wit. The Writer’s Digest. July/August 2018.
- Elizabeth Simms. Funny People. The Writer’s Digest. July/August 2018.
- Jorjeana Marie. Laugh Track. The Writer’s Digest. July/August 2018.
- Robert R. Provine. Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.
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