Writing comedy

I’m getting a lot of positive feedback for the new book, which is always greatly appreciated, and also one or two questions.
The first one concerns the timing: Given what is happening within the Roman Catholic Church, is now really the best time to release the book?
Answer: Well, maybe not. At the end of the day though, it’s a work of comedy fiction, and nothing I’ve written (or will ever write) is likely to bring the Papacy crashing down about our ears.

Question 2: What’s your formula for writing comedy?

I don’t think they qualify as a “formula”, but there are a few things I like to keep in mind when I’m working on a humour piece:

  1. Hang the “funny” around the story, not vice-versa. Above everything else, your reader is looking for a good solid story, so that’s the best place to start. If you try to build a piece around a series of humorous incidents or amusing chunks of dialogue then those parts will stick out like meat hooks; that’s not the best reading experience. Write the story, and the ‘funny’ will come along and slot right in. The other problem with being too humour-intense is that you are much less likely to remove parts that simply don’t work. Likewise, if you are spending days struggling to make a paragraph fit the story, the chances are that it just needs to go.
  2. People are amusing, but I’m not so sure about slapstick… I think action-based humour works better on stage an in the movies; long set pieces in books tend to lose the reader’s focus very quickly. I tend to build comedy around things people think or say or how they react to their situation. That’s not to say that action comedy doesn’t work in books; I just like to keep those sequences short.
  3. Don’t draw attention to it. Yes, there’s nothing worse than having crowds of characters laughing at something your protagonist has just said. If you think your reader needs a pointer like this then it’s probably best to leave that bit out.
  4. Don’t expect everyone everywhere to find everything you write funny. Nope, they won’t, which is another good reason not to draw attention to it. Make your point, then move on.
  5. For the love of all that is holy, get someone other than your family, friends, proctologist etc. to read the book! You’d do that anyway of course, but it when it comes to writing comedy then it’s even more important to have the book reviewed by people who are happy to give it an honest appraisal. If it’s not that funny then you need to know.

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