Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rachel Coker on Adding Humor to Your Books

Hi, there! Rachel Coker here again.

I was really encouraged by all the kind comments following my post last month. I’m looking forward to contributing to Go Teen Writers regularly! I love the atmosphere here and would love to answer any of your questions and offer as much advice as I can. ;)

Today I want to talk about developing humorous situations based on your life. Imagine your story is a recipe. You have so many little ingredients that give it texture and flavor. Romance, witty comments, suspense, surprise… The list goes on and on! But one of the most overlooked ingredients to potentially great stories is humor.

Every situation, no matter how grave or sad, needs something light thrown in, just to keep things interesting. Think about it—isn’t that how our lives are? Even on those days that we feel very depressed or uninspired, something comes along that makes us smile and feel a little less crummy. Humor is so much a part of everyday life that the two are somewhat inseparable in my mind.

Just about every funny instance in my books was inspired by something that happened to me in real life. Many of the strange little character quirks came from people that I’ve met or even just seen in the grocery store. Several of the awkward conversations were encounters I overheard in movie theaters or waiting in line at the pharmacy. Inspiration is found in everywhere in life.

In my book, Interrupted, Allie’s mother is dying of a brain tumor. Now that is a very serious and tragic thing. She begins to lose her memory and falls out of touch with reality. When I first wrote the scenes where Allie’s mother unravels, everything was very dark. Allie cried all the time and there was little joy in their interactions with each other. Several months later, when I was re-reading what I’d written, I found myself dissatisfied with the tone of those chapters. It didn’t fit the way Allie remembers her mother later on in life. 

That’s when it clicked in my mind: Her mother wasn’t always a morbid, crazy, depressed woman. She was full of life and color. They loved each other and showed it in the way they viewed their life together. So I went back and rewrote the scenes, making her strange behavior more humorous than depressing.

So how did I make something as terrible as memory loss seem almost rosy tinted and happy? I remembered a story my mom had told me about a man who lived next door to us when I was a toddler. He had Alzheimer’s, and was slowly losing his memory. One thing that defined his life was the fact that he thought it was Christmas all the time. He constantly listened to holiday music and made sure the house was decorated. When my mom asked his wife what she thought about that, she just shrugged and said, “If you have to be stuck somewhere, Christmas seems like the happiest place to be."

It made sense. So I made Allie’s mother the same way. She thought it was Christmas, even in the middle of July.

She was as cheerful as that crazy old man who used to live next door to me. It was exactly what her character needed to come across as happy and sad at the same time. And I didn’t even make it up myself. 

Why is stealing ideas from everyday life so wonderful when crafting stories? Because life is funny. Seriously. There are people all around you that do the craziest, funniest things that you might not even notice. Until you take the time to look.

I remember one night I was sitting in church and this crazy red-headed girl walked up to me started talking. I half-listened for a few minutes, before noticing something strange on her arm. She was wearing four different watches. I interrupted her to ask why she felt the need to wear multiple watches. She only shrugged and said, “Well, I’m always sure at least one of them will be off.”

That definitely made me laugh. It made me laugh so much that I came home and wrote it down. I haven’t used it in a story yet, but I just might someday. Another humorous instance was when my mom backed our minivan into a tree the day after Christmas, only after my dad had been up all night with food poisoning. Or the time I was baking an apple pie and the insides bubbled over, catching the oven on fire and setting off every smoke detector in our house.

That is life. These are the things that stories are made of. Every day people doing everyday things with surprising results. There are going to be days when your character is going to catch ovens on fire. Or back cars into trees. That’s not necessarily what’s funny. What makes those types of events and people amusing is the way that you, as the author, depict it.

That old man with Alzheimer’s had a sad life. He didn’t remember events, or friends, or anniversaries. But he also had a happy and humorous life, because of the way he and others viewed it. I dare you do to the same. Throw your characters into funny situations or give them quirky trademarks. Think about the strange things that have happened to you and transfer them to your writing. If you’re a teenager like me, I’m pretty sure you can think of some pretty hilarious, awkward, embarrassing, or confusing things that have happened to you recently. So write that down. I think that you will find it will only strengthen your stories and make them more relatable and enjoyable to read


P.S. Thank you to everyone who posted comments to my blog after my post last month. I enjoyed reading each and every one of them! My book is coming out on February 28th, but you can still preorder your copy from Amazon if you’d like!


  1. I love reading your blog. You're so funny; I can't wait to read your book. My favorite bit was about the Top 10 Quotes you say all the time. HYSTERICAL! I say the same thing about the Boiled Potatoes.

    I slip a lot of humor from my life into my stories. Like this one time- We were at an airport, and there was a plane from Alaska with an Eskimo painted on the side. Somebody from the group I was in was convinced it was Jimmy Hendricks xD And they were completely serious. They thought it was cool that Alaska would paint that to the side of a plane. So it's just funny moments like that that I love :) the innocent, genuine humor.

    I love life and the funny moments it throws at us :) <3
    Have a wonderful day!

    1. Aw, thanks! Yep, things like that definitely make great stories! ;)

  2. Wow, I love this, Rachel! I think that using real life experience in writing is something that gives so much richness to the story, as well as humor. It connects the author with her story even more.

  3. Thanks so much for posting! I've actually employed a couple of character quirks from real life in my stories - it's so much fun. There are some books where the humor is really fake, but when you use things that happened for real, it can be really funny.

    Good advice! Thank you again.

  4. Loved this post, Rachel! I think that's what makes living life as a writer so much fun, because we can take delight in some of the littlest things that others might miss.

    I'm looking forward to reading your book! :)

  5. You've really got me thinking about queer characters now. There's a man in our area who always wears three watches, has his grey hair tied back in a ponytail, and has a long grey beard. I've never seen his without his backpack either. Someday I'm going to write a character based on him.

    I always manage to forget humour when I'm writing. There might be humour in the story, but I never plan it. I get too wrapped up in the big events. Yet another thing for me to work on!

    1. Wow, that guy sounds so weird! But in a good way. :) He would definitely make a great character!

  6. Oh my goodness! Thank you so much for this post. I consider humour to be the weakest aspect of my writing, but I'm about to write a story that requires a few laughs in the darkness. Thanks again!

  7. Humour and funny things are pretty important to me when it come to a book. I'm reading The Hunger Games right now, and some of those lines just make me giggle. Not outright hilarious but the voice is so right-on, you know?

    Something I love to include in my writing, humour is -- I would be bored without it.

    1. Emii, I know what you mean! Haymitch is the one who always made me laugh. Especially in book three. I thought he had some of the best lines.

    2. Yes, good old Haymitch just told Katniss that he ate her lunch. And in District 13, that's not much to begin with!

  8. There are two kinds of books that always grab my heart and don't let go: the ones that make me cry and the ones that make me laugh. Both are hard to find, but Karen Witemeyer and Kelly Eileen Hake do a great job of sending me into giggle fits just when the house gets quiet. :)

    Great post, Rachel, and I love that everyday life can inspire some of the greatest stories!

  9. Hilarious! :)

    I'm off to check out your book right now!

    - Elisabeth Greenwood

  10. Thanks Rachel for a smile. If I had to get stuck on one day, I think I'd pick Christmas too. I'm in the midst of writing a dark manuscript right now where the main character is going through a major trauma. What a great reminder to infuse humor into the story to protect the reader and the character from a black hole.

  11. Humor is definitly nessecary :) My grandpa has, or had before he died, Alzehimers and one of the last times I saw him and he didn't remember me he kept on vaguely pointing to my toes sticking out of my sandles and saying that they were hot dogs. :) :'(
    I think I'll definitly use that one day...
    I love Chirstmas, in my mind it IS always Chirstmas. Afterall, that is part of the Code of the Elves.

    1. I love what you shared about your grandpa, Morgan. Simulaneously sad and sweet things like that are always powerful in books because they both make you smile and grip your heart at the same time. You should definitely use that. And ever since I saw the movie "Elf", it's Christmas in my mind all the time, too! ;)