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.