Historical and speculative novelist K.M. Weiland offers tips and essays about the writing life to help other writers understand the ins and outs of the craft and the psychology behind the inspiration.
This week’s video Shows you the two important (but often overlooked) ingredients in figuring out how to write funny dialogue your readers will love.
Today, I’m excited to welcome you to the first installment in a month-long series featuring important writing lessons that I learned in the past few years while writing my historical/dieselpunk mashup Storming, which will release December 4th. To start off with, we’re going to talk about how to write funny dialogue. Funny dialogue can show up in all kinds of stories, whether you’re writing an outright comedy or, like me in Storming, something that’s not a comedy, but that has a lot of adventurous, light-hearted moments—or even a downright tragedy, in which the humor functions as irony or a contrast against the darkness of the story.
The trouble, as anyone who has ever deliberately tried to write humor can tell you, is that figuring out how to write funny dialogue on purpose is hard. Partly this is because of the subjective nature of humor, but mostly it’s because truly funny dialogue is not based on one-liners. In other words, as I was reminded and time again while writing the banter between my cocky barnstorming pilot and the mysterious non-English-speaking woman who falls out of the sky, the creation of funny dialogue relies on two very important—but often overlooked—ingredients.
The first of these ingredients is context. For me, the holy grail of great dialogue is Star Wars. But Han Solo’s classic line about “boring conversation anyway” is only funny in its context of his bumbling through an impersonation of a stormtrooper trying to reassure a superior officer. In short, you have to start with a setting and a situation that create the kind of conflict that sets up the opportunities for humor. Second ingredient is character. Let’s face it: some people are funnier than others. Same goes for characters. The best lines are always going to arise out of the heart of the character—whether he’s sarcastic, impulsive, mean, dumb. Readers are always going to be delighted by the kind of funny dialogue that hasn’t been forced into the character’s mouth, but rather arises naturally out of his personality.