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Kingsley Amis On Writing Humor

I keep going back to this Paris Review interview with Kingsley Amis, just because it has so many good nuggets of wisdom and insight. And, yes, I just used the word “nugget.” Be thankful I didn’t say “moist nugget.”

Anyway, here’s what Amis has to say about writing humor:

What are the pitfalls in writing humor?

There’s one obvious one: you must never make one character laugh at what another says or does. Dornford Yates’s “Berry” novels, which are quite good fun in a sedate sort of way, are ruined by everybody collapsing with merriment whenever Berry shows up. The other pitfall is: you must never offer the reader anything simply as funny and nothing more. Make it acceptable as information, comment, narrative, etcetera, so that if the joke flops the reader has still got something. Wodehouse understood this perfectly, even better than Shakespeare did.

That’s great advice.

And, you see, I didn’t even follow it within this very post. I tried to make a joke about the word “nugget,” and then I just went down a small rabbit trail. What does “moist nugget” have anything to do with Kingsley Amis?

As Amis says, don’t try and be funny just for the sake of being funny. Have a purpose behind the humor.

I think that’s good advice for writing in general. Every word and sentence should have a purpose.

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11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oddly, this links in with one of your previous posts about an Amis quote. Exactly the same thing is true of writing sex scenes. Having a sex scene in a book has to serve a purpose other than titillation (great word that). People accept it much more if all the naked thrusting and moist nuggets are part of the story.

    Neither comment applies where one is writing porn or stand-up comedy.

    Liked by 2 people

    November 25, 2014
    • ;D

      Like

      November 25, 2014
    • Great point. Hadn’t thought about how similar those two answers were, but it’s true.

      Like

      November 26, 2014
  2. Humour is a very serious business as we all know.

    Thracion – porn and stand up comedy ? Interesting combination.

    I’m not sure if Lenny Bruce would agree with you. Dirk Diggler, I’m not so sure about

    Like

    November 25, 2014
  3. Ted Fontenot #

    Kingsley is really perceptive here. I’m a big Wodehouse fan, and I agree that Wodehouse did that really well. It’s probably why he labor so on his plots. In his interview with The Paris Review not long before he died, Wodehouse is quite definite that feels that everything must hang on the plot and be conveyed through the action of the story.

    Like

    November 25, 2014
  4. I must say that was the nuggetest of nuggets.

    Liked by 2 people

    November 25, 2014
  5. Reblogged this on Bookworm Rrriot and commented:
    I nice companion to my blog on funny books, I think. Hope everyone’s having a humorous holiday weekend!

    Like

    November 28, 2014
  6. Kingsley Amis wrote one of my very favorite funny books, Lucky Jim. It actually makes me laugh out loud. I also have a blog post about funny books, and oddly enough, about writing sex scenes. Great minds think alike (you and Kingsley, that is!) 🙂

    Like

    November 28, 2014
  7. Here in San Francisco, moist nuggets are what’s left on the sidewalk in front of our home by irresponsible dog owners. Very glad you didn’t find them in the Amis interview.

    Yes, I would agree. Some of the best humor I’ve ever read was taken quite seriously by the characters on the page.

    Like

    November 28, 2014
  8. ganesh819 #

    Yes I agree

    Like

    December 4, 2014

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