Humour in Stories
Different kinds of humour:
Irony: soft mockery where a contrast exists between what people say and what is meant, or what other people understood of what was said and meant. The contrast can also exist between what is known to the audience and what is known to the characters; this irony is called dramatic irony. Also Socratic irony exists, which mostly encourages children/students to find answers to their questions by themselves instead of asking a parent/teacher.
- A man who is a traffic cop gets his license suspended for unpaid parking tickets.
- In Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare Romeo finds Juliet in a drugged state and he thinks she is dead. He kills himself. When Juliet wakes up she finds Romeo dead and kills herself. (dramatic irony)
- A child asks: ‘How do the presents end up under the Christmas tree?’ The Dad answers: ‘Find out yourself.’ (Socratic irony)
Sarcasm: harsh mockery. Sometimes funny and witty, sometimes hurtful and humiliating. Often sarcasm is defined as a severe form of irony.
- At a party a lady tells Winston Churchill he is drunk to which Churchill said “My dear, you are ugly…but tomorrow I shall be sober.”
- If someone can see you are plainly sick with a cold and they ask how you are feeling and you rudely comment “never better,”
Assignment 1. Usually we find humour in situations that are somehow awkward for ourselves or others. First, think of an example of an awkward situation. Second, think of a way to make this situation even more awkward. If possible, think of a way to make this situation even more awkward. Now write for about 10 minutes using the increasingly awkward situations.
Cynicism: mockery resulting from distrust in good intentions of people, or rather: a pessimism about human nature. In literature, cynicism is often displayed as a contrast to optimism, though a cynical person is not necessarily a pessimistic person. A person could for example have lost faith in a “God” because of negative experiences and develop a cynical attitude towards deities; it does not define this person as pessimistic.
Assignment 2. Exaggeration and understatement do also really well as humour devices. Think of two examples of cynicism by exaggerating and understating a person’s intentions. Think for 5 minutes. Now choose one of the situations and write for 10 minutes.
Black humour: humour that is based on the misery of other people, aiming to mock and amuse. Usually this kind of humour is exaggerated to relativize the misery or persuade people to take action.
The guarantee ran out while you were taking it home.
Satire: a story (or poem) in which people or situations are mocked, often situated in a historical or contemporary political, social, and economical context. Satire aims to show weakness or flaws in people or situations by using irony or sarcasm, but also parodies, exaggeration, understatement, and juxtaposition.
Example: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain was written shortly after the Civil War, in which slavery was one of the key issues. While Mark Twain’s father had slaves throughout his childhood, Twain did not believe that slavery was right in anyway. Through the character of Jim, and the major moral dilemma that followed Huck throughout the novel, Twain mocks slavery and makes a strong statement about the way people treated slaves. Miss Watson is revered as a good Christian woman, who had strong values, but she is a slave owner in the story. She owns a slave called Jim, who runs away upon hearing that Miss Watson might sell him to New Orleans.
Assignment 3. Nowadays many situations in our global society could be candidate for a satire. Think of one example of a contemporary political, social, or economic issue that could serve as the basis for a satiric story.
Self-mockery: (well-meant) ridiculing of oneself.
Assignment 4. Write a column of about 200 words about something awkward or stupid you did in the past few weeks. Write for 10 minutes.
Assignment 5. A contrast in what is said and done defines irony. A contrast in the topic of the story and the style in which it is written or a contrast between de mood of your character and their surroundings, also work really well to add humour. On the location, find an object to write about. Write a scene about the journey of this object to a second-hand store. Use a writing style that contrasts with the object, e.g. if the object is extraordinary, use a plain writing style; if the object is ordinary, use a flamboyant writing style. Write for 15 minutes.
Assignment 6. An unexpected turn of events or unravelling of information may surprise your reader, or shed another light on the preceding happenings. Go back to the first or second assignment and think of an unexpected turn of events or unravelling of information. Try to think outside of the box. Write for 15 minutes.