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Is it possible to be too funny? : Conversation question • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

Is it possible to be too funny?

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
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DrG2
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Is it possible to be too funny?

Postby DrG2 » Wed Feb 19, 2014 10:34 pm

At my reader's group tonight I read a short chapter from one of my novels. It's kinda a thriller/romance combination, and with significant humor, but not in every chapter. This chapter was pure humor. It is set in a doctor's exam room and was (slightly) exaggerated from a real experience I had. It doesn't really further the plot directly, and has minimal effect on revealing character (it does show that the male main character would undergo a procedure for the benefit of his love interest).

so the question is: can being too funny throw the reader permanently out of the story?

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Re: Is it possible to be too funny?

Postby MookyMcD » Thu Feb 20, 2014 2:44 am

Absolutely. Just like a thriller that maintains the same level of tension for 100,000 words would get tiresome, or lit fiction that stayed at the same heightened emotional state from page 1 to 400 would suck. I don't think any literary device can survive with the petal to the floor the whole time.

My first attempt at a novel (well, my first novel, since it's finished) was basically a flamethrower of funny. For a first attempt, I'm pretty proud of a lot of aspects of it. I'm basically pleased with every page. But all those pages together made for a truly bad novel. The task of rewriting it was so daunting, I sat down and wrote a completely different book.

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Re: Is it possible to be too funny?

Postby James A. Ritchie » Thu Feb 20, 2014 8:58 am

There is no way of knowing without actually reading the novel. I've read humorous novels that were funny from page one on, and I've read serious novels that were serious from page one on. But even deadly serious novels can benefit greatly by some outrageous humor here and there, though an entire chapter of funny might be too much. I tend to keep the humor short in serious writing, and blend it in here and there.

The kind of humor you use in a novel also matters. Wisecracks are good, but narrative humor usually only works if the novel is written in first person.

Anyway, without reading it, I'd say you can't be too funny, but you can let the humor go on for too long. You might want to shorten the humor, and blend it in. This is just guesswork. It really is impossible to tell without actually reading the novel.

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Re: Is it possible to be too funny?

Postby robjvargas » Thu Feb 20, 2014 11:02 am

Slowly putting together a "replacement" forum at http://writerswriting.proboards.com.

It's still under construction, but come take a look.

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Re: Is it possible to be too funny?

Postby MookyMcD » Thu Feb 20, 2014 12:30 pm


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Re: Is it possible to be too funny?

Postby James A. Ritchie » Thu Feb 20, 2014 1:35 pm

I suppose a lot of this depends on how we each define humor, but I should have worded that better. I was talking about the kind of novel the poster is writing. In a serious novel, one that has a running serious tone, like the poster is writing, narrative humor generally is out of place, and does not work. Once you set the narrative tone as serious, the best you can do is lead the reader to character humor.

Now, again, it depends on how you define humor, but I've read ten humorous first person books for every third person book. This is probably because I actively look for first person humor, but it's true.

And, actually, Hitchhiker's Guide is first person. It's very clever first person, but it is first person. The Guide itself is telling the story through entries made into it.

I'm not sure that I consider the narrative in Catch-22 to be humorous. It's been a long, long time since I read the novel, but doesn't the narrator say everything in a flat, non-humorous manner? We see the outrageous humor, but the narrative itself isn't funny. But like I said, it's been a long, long time.

Confederacy is certainly a humorous novel, but I can't really remember how the humor was used. But in a humorous novel, there's nothing wrong with using humor in the narrative, be it situational or descriptive. Whatever it is, it's good, and it works. Mark Twain was a master at it.

What I'm saying is that if you want narrative humor, don't write a novel that has a serious tone for the narrative. Break that tone in narrative, and you're probably in trouble.

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Re: Is it possible to be too funny?

Postby MookyMcD » Thu Feb 20, 2014 2:16 pm

Oh, I see what you're saying, and I think I generally agree. If you are writing a serious book, the humor would need to be overlaid through dialogue (or monologue). It would be tough to have humorous narration overlaying a serious book. Well, that's actually a decent description of how I write. But the novel itself doesn't have a serious tone. Most of the characters just mistakenly believe it does.

I was not paying enough attention to G's comment about it being a thriller, and think I generally agree with what you're saying in that regard.

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Re: Is it possible to be too funny?

Postby James A. Ritchie » Thu Feb 20, 2014 3:51 pm


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Re: Is it possible to be too funny?

Postby DrG2 » Thu Feb 20, 2014 8:34 pm

The humor is all coming from a wise-cracking and easily confused geriatric doctor (the doctor is elderly, not the patient). It's a 1100 word chapter in a 80K word novel. The narrator isn't making any humorous comments, and in fact there is very little narration in the chapter - - it's almost all dialogue.

I think it's funny, and it read well at my writer's group, but I'm a pretty good reader and so it might not quite work as well on paper.

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Re: Is it possible to be too funny?

Postby rosebud » Thu Feb 20, 2014 9:10 pm

It's hard to say without reading the chapter you're speaking of. Personally, I enjoy humor in a story, especially in a dialogue. I recently read a book that was filled with humor. It was fast paced and I laughed reading every page.

So I guess my answer is no, at least in the context you describe.

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