How to Write Funny Dialogue (What I Learned Writing Storming)

How to Write Funny Dialogue (What I Learned Writing Storming)

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.

Video Transcript:

Storming K.M. WeilandToday, 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, lighthearted 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.

Funny Dialogue Ingredient #1

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.

Funny Dialogue Ingredient #2

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.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Do you have any methods for how to write funny dialogue in your own stories? Tell me in the comments!

How to Write Funny Dialogue (What I Learned Writing Storming)

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Kinza Sheikh says

    It all boils down to colorful characters. Once they are on their place, their different outlook and say would make funny dialogue. 🙂
    Nice advice.

  2. So true!
    I would add something extra: humour comes out of building up an assumption then destroying it. The watcher assumes Han Solo will keep trying to impersonate a Stormtrooper, otherwise they’ll die… but he gives up – and it’s very funny.

  3. Great points! Thanks for sharing. I’ve actually been reading a blog dedicated to adding humor because I want to be more purposeful in writing funny (https://fyfunny.wordpress.com/), but this is still new information. I find that sometimes I write funny things without realizing it, so I’m also working on trying to recognize it when I do that. 😛

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I definitely find that my best humor comes when I’m not trying to hard. Thanks for the link! I’ll check it out.

  4. This is so hard! I´m right now struggling with this and finding my WIP rather boring. That is totally NOT good!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Throw a totally wacky (or grumpy, as is my favorite technique) character in there and see what happens. Humor is born of the unexpected.

  5. I might try that (thanks). This is certainly not going as I expected!
    M.

  6. I read a lot of space opera/military fiction and the funniest moments come out of the toughest situations where the lovable but (crusty/grumpy/gruff/brusque/etc.) character drops a laconic comment. It’s always funny when bullets and laser beams are flying around and the character drops a non-sequitur about staying in bed that morning or things being “a little testy” at the moment. Understatement during explosions is one of my favorites.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree. Those are always my faves as well. And it’s never so much that the comment itself is funny, so much as the *character* is funny. The line has to be built up to through everything else the character does throughout the story.

  7. The best laughs come when a reader unconsciously expected something to happen but didn’t realize they expected it.

    I think that’s explained by your thought that dialogue has to come naturally from the character’s personality.

    I also thought it was worth noting that some authors seem to find the winning formula and then run it into the ground within a novel. The first few times the character is in a serious situation and makes a completely inappropriate comment, it’s funny. But if the author uses that same formula too many times, the reader stops unconsciously expecting a line and starts consciously expecting it. That’s when it stops being funny.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree that formulae can get dangerous fast. It’s much better to just let the character be spontaneous within the ever-evolving landscape of the story.

  8. Wonderful. C3PO, the culturally sensitive protocol droid, always had some of my favorites lines from Star Wars:

    “I’ve just about had enough of you. Go that way. You’ll be malfunctioning within a day, you nearsighted scrap pile…” “How ruuude.” “I don’t like you either,” “This is madness. We’re doomed…” “Don’t get technical with me!” “I’ve just about had enough of you…” “I’m going to regret this…” “I don’t know what this trouble is all about, but I’m sure it must be your fault.”

    I think the always offended, seemingly upper-class British accent added some humor for me when compared to the tooty, lower-class bleeps of R2-D2. The contrast between the two characters was great comic relief. Glad to hear that others think the Star Wars dialogue was noteworthy.

    Apparently, Harrison Ford does not share the opinion: “I told him quite simply, ‘George, you can type this [expletive] but you sure can’t say it.'”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Threepio is awesome. He’s a total pansy, really. But, honestly, he’s the voice of sanity and realism most of the time! That’s what makes him so funny.

  9. I really enjoyed funny dialogues. For me, it adds more interest from readers, depending on the genre also.

  10. Strange, I have written a lot of funny dialogues along the years but I have absolutely no idea about a pattern that one can emulate. The lines just came randomly as I was writing and I simply made sure they were consistent with characterization. Beyond that, I don’t know. Maybe I should re-read my stories and figure out what made my dialogues funny.

  11. Funniest thing I ever read was due to the set-up, essentially the entire novel. In Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying”, the family has gone through hell to bring their dead mother to a town to bury her. They almost die doing it.

    At the very end of this masterpiece, you learn the father, who had seemed to show such remorse, actually has some fresh new false teeth and a new wife, which he introduces by saying, “Meet Mrs. Bundren!”

    I love the dark humour pointing out the ironic flaws within humanity. In my own writing, I like to employ Faulkner’s trick at the end of scenes sometimes, where they are very dark and seem to be moving toward a nihilistic mood, and then someone out the blue says something jarringly out of place and unintentionally ironic.

  12. Hi there!
    I can really use this for the novel I am writing, especially for a character that is really sarcastic and Ironic. There is, though, a thing I worry about; I’ve got a bit of a weird kind of humour. To prevent making like ‘useless’ jokes can I get some tips or something?
    By the way, do you have Dutch relatives? (I do, and I speak the language and ‘Weiland’ means ‘meadow’ in Dutch…)

  13. I like to look to the great overlord of hilarious dialogue, Dean Winchester. Though he does mainly just spit out oneliners, his referances to pop culture and good music have made me, along with many other fans, laugh uncontrollably many times. His words give me lots of inspiration.

  14. My biggest beef with humorous characters is that every character is outright hilarious/sarcastic/snarky. Not everybody is witty, and I know very few people who can banter back and forth for more than two or three sentances. Make this apply to characters!

  15. Thanks, it’s a good set of ideas, although I am afraid they won’t help me much.
    I am afraid to set up funny dialogue, because I am myself a very, very dull person. I’ve honestly no clue how to be funny. I’m not even sure I know how to make my characters funny, although I think some of them are (in the kind of ruthlessly sarcastic way).
    Lately I’ve been feeling like it has been crippling my stories a lot as I am very fond of lightheartedness in the dark (the Hobbit kind of mood) – and those stories just don’t work without humor. But sparking it myself?
    It’s a hard one, but you wouldn’t by any chance be able to conjure me a piece of advice anyhow?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      First of all, don’t be hard on yourself. It’s hard to be funny when you’re being hard on yourself. 🙂 Second, the best way to get a feel for humor is to observe in it in stories you like. What makes you laugh? Can you figure out what about it you find funny? See if you can identify concrete principles you can use in your own story. You might also find this post helpful: The Hilarious 2-Step Plan for Writing Humor in Fiction.

  16. I know I am a little late to the party..
    But I always went with how would I see a friend in real life respond to the scene I played out in my head. (One of my proudest moments while writing was my dad telling me that my characters seemed organic, like he knew them.) Even my “bad guy” (not really just a cocky jock) I had inappropriate humor (people were thought to be dead.) my dad wanted to deck the guy.. but laughed.

    That’s what I liked about Harrison Ford’s Solo.. the greatly under appreciated scene was Leia says: “I love you.” And what does he say: not the classical I love you too. But a kinda smart Alec (kinda funny) response: I know…

Trackbacks

  1. […] Two Quick Reminders for Writing Funny Dialogue (This post is a super quick read, and the reminders are great to remember) […]

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