I confess I find humour difficult to write. For one thing, it is so subjective. I'm afraid of sounding artificial or strained if I deliberately try to be funny. When I think about what makes me laugh, the humour tends to arise out of a combination of characters, rather than just being a witty one-liner. Take Basil Fawlty, for instance. Always in trouble and frustrated by those around him. However many times I watch Fawlty Towers, it always has me in stitches.
In fiction, there is a moment in one of Anne Tyler's novels where a character accidentally shoots his mother with an arrow. (Non-fatal, I must add!) I read Anne Tyler's books over and over, but every time I come to that particular section, I cry with laughter. It's not only the incident itself, but the way all the characters interact.
I've concluded that the challenge of writing humour is setting up that whole situation by going back to the basics of character building. What do these characters have in common, and how are they different? There you begin to see that potential for humour in how they will bounce off each other.
The reason I'm thinking about humour today is that I've been reading judges' reports on some of the bigger writing competitions in recent years. Several times I've seen judges comment on a general lack of humour in the entries. For example, Tracy Chevalier, after judging the Bridport Prize in 2007, said she wished the entrants had been "jollier about it"!
So why the focus on gloom, doom and death? Ok, we are in a recession and the news is pretty depressing. Maybe we think a funny story will be too lightweight for the judges and won't impress as much as a serious one. But every story needs some light and shade, and just because a story is humorous doesn't mean it cannot also have a serious theme.
If you are blessed with the gift of humour, making judges and editors smile could be a point in your favour. We all need a laugh sometimes, don't we?