Tips for comedy dialogue

By: Helen Lederer

Tips / All, Comedy / All

1. Connecting factor

In order to make people laugh, the reader must connect immediately with the authenticity of the words. The more user friendly and real the dialogue – the more you will connect with the reader’s inner funny bone. The words must be plausible rather than alienating. For example, ‘forsooth my man, what yonder are you sitting on?’  is too “try hard”. Whereas ‘So… Brian… do you take your bean bag to most dinner parties for sitting on? We tend to use chairs’ is more immediate.

2. Juxtaposition and referencing the dialogue  

The fun bit – is the juxtaposition of the dialogue. It can help set up a funny scenario or refer to one that has already happened. ‘Gerard had intended his mild inquiry about the bean bag to sound curious, but when Brian began sobbing, he realised he may have failed…’  

Understatement and exaggeration are great tools in punching up the sense of the ridiculous in your comedy scenarios. In other words, the dialogue is the crème de la creme of all that hard work that you have put in for the plot, along with the build-up and climax of your comedy scenarios. It helps provide layering the humour in the prose as well. Double tick.

3. Engagement 

Comedy dialogue needs to keep the story going, reveal the character, be believable and natural – as well as interest the reader. Engagement is key, but there are lots of ways to achieve this. Your character may well be in denial about something (this is already funny) so have fun with this. The reader will sense the humour through the self-delusion…

For example, your character is trying to buy a smart suit, but nothing seems to fit.

‘Are all your trousers this snug? I mean… is it a look?’

4. Use dialogue to reveal complexity of the character and plot.

Funny novels require conflict desperation and unpredictability. Most comedy characters need a purpose, a foible and a connection factor. Allow your dialogue to embrace these elements by pointing it up or by stating the opposite so the reader can find it without being shown.


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