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Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: Donald Maass on Humor in Fiction

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Excerpt from Chapter 7, “Hyperreality,” in The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass


It’s one thing to crack a joke or be occasionally witty; it’s another thing altogether to be funny for four hundred pages. But that is what it takes. Humor is cumulative. Laughter builds. Have you ever enjoyed a comedian’s routine? When do you laugh the hardest, at the beginning or the end? Toward the end, of course, because the comedian’s outrageous outlook takes a while to overwhelm you.

So it is with fiction. For humor to come through in a novel, it needs to be bigger and more relentless than most authors realize. You can crack yourself up at the keyboard but barely raise a smile on your readers’ faces. To slay those readers, you need to hammer their funny bones like Noah nailing the Ark.

The malnourishment of comic manuscripts is a shame, too, because the methods of mirth are so plentiful. They’re even free. Here are a few of them, on me:

  • hyperbole
  • wit
  • biting comment (think insults)
  • ironic juxtaposition and reversal
  • escalation of the mildly ridiculous
  • being extremely literal (“Who’s on first?”)
  • funny name and word choices
  • deadpan delivery of dumb remarks
  • deliberate misunderstanding
  • unlikely points of view
  • extreme personas or voices
  • stereotyping
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    Work Cited:

    Maass, Donald. “The World of the Novel” in The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 2009. 169. Print.

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