Although “laugh out loud” humour is one of the best types of comedy around, don’t underestimate the power of subtle humour when you’re writing a story or making a comic. Subtle humour is useful for a vast number of reasons – it can make parts of your story more memorable, it can make funny jokes even funnier and it can also keep your audience interested during slightly less amusing parts of your story or comic.
But, how do you add subtle humour to your story or comic? Here are a three very basic ways to do it:
1) Alliterative names: Although this works best in prose fiction, one way to add a little bit of humour to your story or comic is to come up with alliterative names for some of the things that you are describing. If you’ve never heard of alliteration, all it means is a series of words that all begin with the same letter (eg: comedic comic, terrible television, stupid smartphone etc…).
This can take a bit of creative thought, but using alliteration occasionally can add a certain light-hearted playfulness and/or sarcastic cynicism to your story or comic that can help to keep your audience amused between major jokes.
To see a good example of this, check out a computer game called “Deponia“. At the beginning of the game, the main character is in his ex-girlfriend’s house and she has left a series of instructional post-it notes around the house.
On their own, these notes are pretty funny – but what makes them especially memorable is the fact that most of them have alliterative names too- there’s a nagging note, a severe slip and a chiding chit. This is a brilliant example of subtle humour.
2) Background details: This is probably fairly self-explanatory, but a good way to add subtle humour to a comic is through amusing background details. You can put silly or surreal things in the background, you can replace adverts/movie posters etc… in the background with parodies, you add a silly background character in a crowded room etc… I’m sure you get the idea.
These kinds of jokes are especially good because they reward the audience for reading your comic closely and/or for re-reading it. In other words, if done well enough, amusing background details can add a second layer of humour to your comic.
For a good example of this, it might be worth looking at Warren Ellis’s “Transmetropolitan” comics. Because of the highly detailed artwork used in many of these comics and because of the information-dense cyberpunk setting that the comic uses, there are all sorts of silly/surreal things in the background that you might miss if you read these comics too quickly.
3) Explanations: Sometimes, a good way to add a subtle joke to a story or a comic is to include a vaguely amusing explanation for something in the story.
This works best if you’re writing in a more imaginative genre like sci-fi or fantasy (where there will be lots of strange things that your audience will probably be curious about), but you can still do this in more realistic stories if you’re clever about it.
After all, we all have strange things in our lives that have a funny story behind them, or we have “ordinary” parts of our lives that have a vaguely amusing explanation. So, yes, this kind of thing can be done in more “realistic” stories too.
Examples of using explanations for subtle humour can be found in pretty much anything by Terry Pratchett. I’ve only read a couple of his comedic fantasy novels, but they’re often crammed with amusing “explanatory” footnotes about many of the stranger things that appear in his stories.
Sorry about such a basic article, but I hope it was useful 🙂