Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Five Not So Simple Rules About Humor

Written By: Tracy - Apr• 03•12

A thousand apologies for posting this blog late today!  I’m discovering that with a child, everything takes twice as long as it did before.  (On a side note, baby swings are awesome!)

Today’s guest post is by Karina Fabian. Karina is the author of Live and Let Fly, a Dragon P.I. Mystery.

For a dragon detective with a magic-slinging nun as a partner, saving the worlds
gets routine. So, when the US government hires Vern and Sister Grace to recover
stolen secrets for creating a new Interdimensional Gap–secrets the US would like to
keep to itself, thank you—Vern sees a chance to play Dragon-Oh-Seven.

No human spy, however, ever went up against a Norse goddess determined to
exploit those secrets to rescue her husband. Sigyn will move heaven and earth to get
Loki—and use the best and worst of our world against anyone who tries to stop her.

It’s super-spy spoofing at its best with exotic locations (Idaho–exotic?), maniacal
middle-managers, secret agent men, teen rock stars in trouble, man-eating animatronics, evil overlords and more!

I never expected to write humor. My few forays into the world of stand-up comedy couldn’t even count as laughable failures. Stoney-silence-Lord-help-me-recover failures, sure. However, with my DragonEye, PI books and stories, I discovered that on paper, I can actually make people laugh. In fact, one of the most common comments I got about the first DragonEye book, Magic, Mensa and Mayhem was “I should not have been reading it while (eating/drinking/in the library/in public where people turned to stare)”. With praise like that, how I could I not write another?

Caption: Yes, I confess, I find it deeply satisfying to know I made someone snort milk out his nose.


I don’t think there’s a formula for humor—if there were, I’d be on the stage. I’m a ham—but I do think there are some guidelines you can follow when writing humor. They are simple to state, but not always simple to follow.

#1 Make yourself laugh. I say this for two reasons. Unless you are an incredibly abnormal person, others will laugh at what you think is funny, too—at least if you present it right. Regardless, the joy of writing is that it is enjoyable. Writers first and foremost are telling stories to themselves. You deserve to laugh at what you write. (Although if you are using the library computer, keep it down the quiet chuckles. Thank you.)

#2 It should be funny to others, too. Get your stuff critiqued, and ask them to mark where the jokes fall flat—or read it aloud to some people and get their reaction. (Preferably people in your target audience rather than your Mom who loves everything, your kids who know they’ll get ice cream if you’re happy, or your wacky friend who laughs at Hallmark commercials.) If a joke falls flat, then you need to decide: did the set-up fail? Was the punch line not punchy enough? Or is the joke one of those that just isn’t as funny outside our own head or mood?

#3 Not everyone will get all your jokes. Some people adore puns. Some find them annoying. Some people think the Three Stooges is the height of comedy while others wince with every eye poke. Kids will have different ideas of humor from adults, and sometimes humor doesn’t cross socio-economic boundaries. So what does this mean for you as a writer?

* Know your target audience and write for what they’ll enjoy. For example, in Live and Let Fly, which is
a spy spoof, I’m thinking the Austin Powers audience along with the Terry Pratchett/Discworld readers
who would enjoy my DragonEye world. As a result, I have some slapstick and even a nod to the sharks
with frickin’ lasers, but I declined the sex jokes (which I don’t find esp. funny, anyway), and I have a lot
of character-based humor, puns, twisting clichés, and the like.

* Have a variety. To reach a broader audience, have more than one kind of humor. Sometimes, get
your audience to burst out laughing (in public is cool); other times, give them a mild chuckle. I usually
have puns, physical humor, sarcasm (hard to avoid with a dragon as the narrator), and twists of cliché. I
include in jokes that I know not everyone will get. In fact, I had a couple of discussions with my editors
about these, as they missed the joke as well, but I knew a part of my target audience (here spy genre
aficionados) would get them.

#4 Don’t cross the line. I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and I saw a lot of movies that I’m now
embarrassed to admit to having found funny. However, that is my past and it did influence my humor.
Sometimes, a scene will make me chortle because it triggers that 10-year-old watching some horrid
movie I won’t even name because with my luck, a movie producer will read this blog and think, “There’s
one we haven’t remade!” I do not want to be responsible for that! Sometimes, too, I’ll be feeling
especially snarky about something (usually political) and will satirize it, but I end up with more bite than
laugh. Fortunately for me, I have a wonderful husband who shares my humor but also knows when to
rein me in.

My dear, do remove that paragraph before Barlow brings in “the jacket.”

#5 Don’t write a novel that’s just about the jokes. Remember Piers Anthony’s Xanth series? They were loaded with puns; I think there had to be at least a pun a page and I suspect the goal was a pun a paragraph. I loved the books, but some of them seemed to be nothing but a pun fest; while I enjoyed the hyucks, I never cared about the characters or the trials that made up the plot, and those bored me quickly despite the jokes.

Really good novels have characters you love (or love to hate), stories that keep you reading to find out what’s next, and a roller coaster of highs and lows.

I write a lot of different styles and genres, from devotionals to serious science fiction and fantasy. Even my DragonEye, PI short stories can get a little dark. But I have such fun when the story calls out for puns and humorous twists.

That brings us back to the original point: have fun with your fiction, whether serious of comedic.


If there’s such a thing as ADD of the imagination, Karina Fabian has it—in spades.
Craft books, devotionals, serious science fiction, comedic horror and chilling fantasy—
she follows her interests and the characters that tell her their stories.

Even before she could write, Karina strung tall tales about everything from making
human pyramids in Kindergarten to visiting alien worlds. Her first attempt at novel
writing was in fourth grade; she completed her first novel in college. However, her first
published work was an anthology of Christian science fiction, Leaps of Faith, an EPPIE
finalist for best anthology in 2006. Her next anthology, Infinite Space, Infinite God,
featured Catholic characters and themes and won the EPPIE for science fiction. The
second Infinite Space, Infinite God anthology came out in 2010.

Watching the comedy improve show, Whose Line Is It, Anyway, inspired her noir-style
dragon detective, Vern. Vern and his partner, Sister Grace, have solved mysteries and
saved the Faerie and Mundane worlds numerous numerous times in the DragonEye,
PI stories and novels. Their serial story, World Gathering, won a Mensa Owl; and the
novel, Magic, Mensa and Mayhem (Fabian’s first published novel), won the INDIE for
best fantasy in 2010.

At a friend’s request, Karina wrote a funny story about a zombie exterminator, which
grew into the Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator novels. The first, Neeta Lyffe, Zombie
Exterminator, won the 2011 Global E-Book award for best horror.

She also writes serious science fiction. Her first SF novel, Discovery, is currently under
consideration, and she’s working on a second on, The Old Man and the Void, based
loosely on Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, but taking place in the accretion
disk of a black hole.

Karina has a strong faith, which she explored in her devotional, Why God Matters: How
to Recognize Him in Daily Life, which she wrote with her father Steve Lumbert, and
which won the 2011 Christian Small Press Publisher Award. She also writes Catholic
school calendars and has written three craft books for the Little Flowers/Blue Knights

Fabian is married to Colonel Robert A. Fabian of the USAF. They have four children,
a dog and a cat. When not writing, teaching writing, or chatting about writing, she’s
hanging out with her kids or swinging a sword in haidong gumbdo.


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  1. Thanks so much for having me on your blog today! Enjoy those baby days–they go way too fast. (My little guys preferred the jumper that hung from the door. Before that, it was many, many hours of doing things one-handed. Miss the cuddly, though.)

  2. Looks like I’m going to have to read a couple of these Dragon PI books. They sound great and I love a good ‘laugh aloud in public’ books.