Writing the Midwest: On utilizing humor

“Writing the Midwest” is a recurring series featuring writing advice from today’s most prolific authors. Whether it’s dealing with writer’s block, knowing when a piece is finished, or how and where to find inspiration, we’re delighted to present to you the very best guidance to help you and your writing. You can find links to the authors’ full interviews below.

On utilizing humor:

Matt Mason: I love humor because it helps draw people in, disarms them, they come closer to you and don’t notice the mallet you’re holding behind your back until it’s too late.

Rebecca Adams Wright: Humor is such a natural defensive response. We’re all aware of when we’re laughing so we don’t cry, and we talk all the time about “black comedy” and “gallows humor.” I think humor plays a similar defensive role in fiction. Satire, especially, keeps violence and anger and grief just palatable enough that we won’t turn away. My most humorous stories are almost always the darkest, probably for that blade-dulling effect. It’s a balancing act for sure. The writer needs to be sure the humor is appropriate to the situation, keep a story funny enough to avoid melodrama or simplified pathos without overwhelming the emotion behind the comedy. I think about this balance while in the process of revision. Not so much while I’m drafting, because humor has to bubble up naturally. Force it onto the page, think about it too much, and you’ve already failed.

Kathryn Harrison: I don’t know how anyone without a sense of humor puts one foot in front of the other. I don’t know any reader who would put up with unleavened difficult-and-dark. And I’m the first among them—the first person I want to amuse is me. Because sometimes I have to laugh at what’s happening to me, on the page if not in the moment.

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