Congrats are in order for guest poster Anna Staniszewski as her middle grade adventure My Epic Fairy Tale Fail releases today! Happy book b-day and welcome to the Observation Desk.
If you think about where we find humor in real life, you’ll notice that a lot of it comes through in conversation. When we recap real-life events to friends, for example, we often highlight not only what people did, but what they said, what we said, and what we would have said (if we weren’t such wimps).
It makes sense that, given how much time we spend talking to, about, and at each other, we’d see a reflection of that in novels. So how does knowing this help with writing funny dialogue?
Let’s break it down based on what I said above.
What people say:
You can help your characters’ personalities shine through by showing us how they react verbally to the situations you put them in. The more outrageous their reactions, the more potential for humor. If you find a character seems to be hanging back in a scene, try to get them to chime in more. The result might surprise you.
On the other hand, we can learn quite a bit about characters by what they don’t say. If Grandpa keeps insisting that he’s a happy duck—while he’s wringing a duck’s neck—we know there’s more going on than he’s admitting. And if the characters are saying one thing and doing the exact opposite, that can be downright hilarious.
What people wish they could say:
You know when you’re too polite or too chicken to speak your mind? Well, there’s good news. Characters aren’t in control of their editing mechanisms; you are. You can make your characters say anything you want! Maybe a normal person would be too afraid to speak up in a particular scenario, but your characters shouldn’t be too normal. They should be interesting, and interesting people say and do things the rest of us might not.
So when it comes to funny dialogue, by all means, use real life examples to help you make dialogue feel authentic. But remember that you’re not writing about real life; you’re writing about the appearance of real life, which means that the rules of the real world don’t necessarily apply.
Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston, Mass. with her husband and their adopted black Labrador, Emma. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. You can visit her at www.annastan.com.