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Add a new dimension to your writing with humor

Let’s face it. This world can be difficult and confusing at times. Writing or doing any art or creative endeavor (even cooking or taking photographs while out walking) can help us figure out the difficult things.

I’ve written before about how writing poetry is like working a puzzle for me. That’s true on another level as well—not just finding the perfect word for a line but also as a way to puzzle out my world.

As a result, some of my poetry can delve into heavier subjects–illness, death, grief, etc.–which is why I love using humor in my writing. A bit of humor can not only serve to give the reader a reprieve, but it can deepen an emotion I want my reader to feel or an insight I want them to have. Humor can also take your reader on a journey they didn’t expect.

Below is an example of using humor in my poem “The Art of Flow” from my poetry book The Dragon & The Dragonfly (I’ve underlined the humorous bits):

The Art of Flow

The Feng Shui practitioner suggests I place
live fish or a fountain in my entryway

to stimulate chi and bring good luck.
I tell her that my fish tend to die.

She says to put 3—or is it 9—plants
in my bedroom for intimacy. I tell her I have

the same luck with plants I have with fish.
She tries to teach me Kua numbers, the five elements,

my lucky direction. She asks if I can handle
a compass. “No,” I say, “but I can tell left from right

and up from down.” She walks outside to smoke,
to look up at the stars, at the moon,

at the cavernous black sky. “Not everyone is
meant to be lucky,” I say.

“Maybe some of us need to be unlucky
to balance out the energy.”

I want to tell her that I can write poems—
that I can arrange words like stones

in a river—syllables that swell into images,
rushing from simile to metaphor,

spiraling like a song stuck in my head,
like a star riding the wind.

*****

As you can see, even subtle humor can add another dimension to the poem.

I used humor to also bring out the dichotomy of doing something serious like hiring a Feng Shui practitioner and, at the same time, making a bit of fun of myself for doing so. This allows room for a certain playfulness that then allowed me to end the poem on a more surreal serious note that fits the mood of the poem and brings the reader to a place they did not expect to go.

If I’d kept it serious, the poem wouldn’t have been as fun and probably would have failed.

For an example of humor in prose, see the beginning of my fantasy novel:

My granddad is the devil. I don’t mean a devil. I mean The Devil— as in Lucifer, Satan, Bezelbeb, Belial, Abaddon, Apollyan and the thousand other entirely-too-glamorous names he’s been called throughout time. Currently, he calls himself Lucian and lives with my grandmother in a blink-and-you’ve-missed-it little town on the Olympic Peninsula.

Weird thing—gay marriage and pot were legalized in Washington the same year the news broke about Granddad being the devil.

Thank God we didn’t live in the Bible belt.

If Granddad’s claim is true, that he’s really Lucifer, then so many things make sense to me now, like mahjong tiles clicking into place. Little things. The strange, brackish hairs in the laundry. The crazy number of garden snakes in my grandmother’s flowerbeds. How every cat I ever owned always hissed at Granddad. And all those spontaneous combustions—chimney fires, kitchen fires, garbage can fires, even a recliner fire with Granddad still in the chair.

This fun beginning will hopefully draw my reader into my story so they’ll want to continue reading. My story isn’t necessarily humorous but my main character’s voice often goes there as a way of protecting herself and not letting people get too close.

You can use humor in your writing to deepen your characters and affect mood, meaning, and emotions. Subtle humor is also a great tool for allowing your readers access to a heavier subject such as death, divorce, abuse, or illness.

For tips on how to add humor to your writing, read Leigh Anne Jasheway’s post How to Write Better Using Humor.

Exercise: Choose a short piece of prose or a poem that you’ve already written. Read it and make a list of possible humorous additions. Rewrite the piece with these bits of humor and see what you think. Do you like it better? Does humor give it another dimension or a different meaning entirely? Sometimes humor isn’t appropriate. Does it work with your piece? Explore and have fun!

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