Alexa is a woman who values honesty, fidelity, and a good nature. She’s good people, always there with a kind word and a helping hand. But don’t get her angry; she’s a firecracker.
She goes for a business lunch, and as she comes back from the bathroom, who does she see, but her boyfriend, Todd, eating with her best friend, Cindy. That would be okay, if she hadn’t left him at their apartment that morning, plied with Hay fever medication to combat the treacherous pollen that decided to wreak havoc on his delicate system. It was so bad, Todd called in sick.
When Todd and Cindy lean in for a kiss, Alexa interjects, “What the hell is going on here?”
And for a second, Todd and Cindy look very guilty. But slowly, Todd cracks a smile. The smile sets off Cindy’s giggles.
Surprise! It’s a cheating prank.
Alexa is hella pissed at the Todd (after finding out it’s a prank). She resents him for thinking infidelity is a laughing matter, and punches him in the face.
The look on Todd’s face? Priceless.
At least she hadn’t grabbed his steak knife.
I am sure as you read the above scenario, you were on the edge of your chair, full of sympathy and nervous anticipation. You were gearing yourself an, “Oh, shit!” drama-filled reaction. Maybe even feel vindicated that she punched him good, laughed as you imagined his befuddled expression.
This shows that knowing what someone values is important in anticipating what their emotional reactions will be.
You therefore have to consider what your characters’ values are when writing comedy because they define what the characters will and will not find amusing, how they perceive people who do find what is a hard limit for them something to joke about, and how they’ll respond (or retaliate). The same also applies to comedic situations or contexts with no identifiable prankster, per say.
Importance of Character-Centric Humor
Character-centric humor is distinctively unique comedy based on how a character behaves, acts, thinks, feels, and what they value. The goal then becomes to write a scene that makes readers laugh with or at the character, anticipate their reactions in specific situations, and deliver the anticipated reactions with a surprising twist.
Consistency to who the characters are is important, because your humor will fall flat if the reader is too busy contemplating how out of character the situation is. You want your reader to laugh with a “that is so typical of Jack” or a “Yep, that’s the way Janie would phrase it” fondness for your characters. Humor where the surprise stems from out-of-character behavior or actions should be used sparingly, and only if the situation calls for it.
Figure Out Your Character’s Values
If you’ve already completed your draft, then chances are you have a good sense of who your characters are. You just need to put their actions, thoughts, and words into a cluster of words that describe their character.
If you are still working on your first draft, try working backwards, and use the characters’ envisioned GMCs to inform you what their core values are. (If you want them to strive for X, because Y, and despite Z, it takes a person with descriptive traits and values A, B, and C to do that.) Make sure you keep your character arcs in mind, especially if you want to break-to-make your character.
Be Indiscriminately Savage
It’s also important to note that nobody wants to read a book where one (or more) character(s) is consistently the butt of the joke—it strays to far to bullying, and then the reader wonders if this is some revenge fantasy you hold…enter the dark rabbit’s hole of bad reviews. You want to make sure to balance humor from the POV character’s and other characters’ experiences, to give a somewhat balanced, indiscriminate book.
To use an example from the video, Anita (and Edward, since they are kind of similar people) have their own brand of hardass, vampire executioner humor. They bond over painting their belt buckles black when they try to kill each other. Or deliver deadpan commentary on the size of the entry and exit wounds their weapons make (“In like a penny, out like a Pizza.”). It surprises the reader and the characters around them with their somewhat humorous callousness (’cause how do you call someone your friend, when you tailor your accessories to make sure that you’ll be able to hunt them in the dark?).
But equally is Anita the butt of jokes from other characters in the books, such as Jason exclaiming that it must be ventriloquism when Anita is polite and a peace advocate in a politically tense situation. For a shoot first, ask questions later character, the irony in Anita’s actions shocks the characters who know her, and the reader laughs at the honesty and exasperation in Jason’s comment.
Writing character-centric humor is a key way to make your story, the character’s narrative, unique. There isn’t one definition of what is and isn’t funny. But sharing what your characters’ brand of funny is with your reader, is like letting them learn more about a new friend.
Books referenced in this post: Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton.
Got examples of characters with unique humor? Tell me in the comments!