Whether you’re writing a comedic contemporary or just want a few notes of humor to add to your paranormal, comedy can improve your romance. Here’s five tips to consider:
1) A comedic scene must progress the plot, just like any scene in your novel. If the scene is dangling or disconnected from the story, it’s not going to leave the reader laughing. It’s going to leave them confused. I’ve read multiple novels where it’s clear the author wanted to make their character more likable, and so they threw in some comedy in an effort to do that. Instead of enjoying the scene, I kept thinking, “Why is this here? What does this have to do with anything?” Basically, the whole effort was wasted.
2) Don’t use clichés. We’ve heard enough jokes about airline food or watched enough sitcoms where one character is badmouthing another person only to realize that the person was right behind them all along. Unless you create a way to make a cliché something fresh and new, avoid them.
3) Comedy can make a character more likeable. Just like making friends in real life, we love characters we can laugh with. In Pretty Woman, for instance, when Edward snaps the jewelry box shut as Vivien reaches for it, we love the characters more for this funny little interaction. We love Vivien’s laugh and we love that Edward made her laugh. This five second interaction made us cheer for the couple and cement them in our minds as perfect for each other.
4) You can also use comedy to keep a scene from going to dark. Comedy can break tension. Using Pretty Woman as an example again, there are several scenes where Vivien is talking to Kit about other prostitutes and their hardships, the reality of which could go extremely dark for a rom-com. Humor, however, keeps those scenes from becoming absolutely depressing. For instance, when Vivien is trying to be realistic and pointing out the tragic outcomes (deaths and violence) for other prostitutes and tells Kit to name one prostitute whose life turned out well, Kit pauses, struggling to come up with a response. Viewers hold their breath, feeling the emotion of the situation and thinking the scene might end tragically. But Kit rallies and comes back with “Cinder-f##king-rella.” Scene saved! Viewers let out a tense breath and relax again. And the line works especially well because it fits with Kit’s established character.
5) Don’t let your inner clown get in the way of the romance. Getting laughs should always be secondary to the dramatic story you tell. On the one hand, I don’t think formulaic advice on when and when not to use comedy in writing in romance is helpful. If you want to have something funny happen at a funeral or during a sex scene, go for it. If you think it fits a scene, and it doesn’t take the reader out of overarching emotion of the scene, great. On the other hand, it is possible to use too much humor. If everything is a joke, the relationship between your characters won’t be taken seriously. Humor is more like a spice than a main course in romance–some writers will use it more heavily than others, but it should never substitute for the meat of the story.