On The Bench

Humor — it’s all about the timing…or is it?

Humor is often an essential element in cozy mysteries. How do you infuse humor into your writing without detracting from the suspense?
  • Terry Ambrose:

    Creating a funny moment in fiction starts with building suspense. I like to create scenes where the characters are in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation and put them into a state of high tension. This could be through physical danger, emotional stakes, or even something as subtle as revealing secrets or answering riddles. As the tension builds, it’s important to keep the reader guessing and unsure of what will happen next. Then, when the reader least expects it, something unexpected happens that shatters the tension and produces laughter instead of fear or dread. This could be anything from a stray thought to words to physical comedy, but no matter the form it must surprise the characters and the readers alike.

  • Nancy J. Cohen:

    The humor may be situational, stem from the sleuth’s unique voice, or can arise from the quirky characters. A humorous slant mixes well with a lighthearted whodunit without distracting from the mystery. But the murder itself is taken seriously. Someone has died, and even though this person might have been universally disliked, it’s still a life cut short. The humor must be balanced with respect for the dead.

  • Debra H. Goldstein:

    Humor comes through from the characters’ behavior, elements of the scene (ex. a strange noise turns out to be a cat strolling across a bar tinkling the hanging glasses with its tail), or even the concept of the books – that Sarah Blair is more frightened of the kitchen than murder. All of these humorous aspects compliment the story and often help build the suspense.

  • Cheryl Hollon:

    I use humor to release tension in a scene so that I have room to ramp it up again. This is not unique to cozy mysteries but is usually broader and more expected. Certain characters are likelier to laugh at an inappropriate time or say the wrong thing. I enjoy setting up the roller coaster of tension.

  • Diane A.S. Stuckart:

    I don’t consider myself a “funny” writer, but I’ve found that my cozy mysteries do tend to have quite a few moments of humor. Mostly it’s situational or ironic (I don’t do slapstick) and I think this helps ground the story in reality…that is, as much as you can with fiction. But I never make fun of anything having to do with the actual murder. In fact, my rule is that I (and hopefully my readers) must cry at least once toward the end of the story, or I haven’t done my job.

  • Maggie Toussaint:

    Humor is subjective, and my sense of humor is a little offbeat. Even so, I enjoy most situational comedies. For example, one scene from the I Love Lucy show is when Lucy has a job in the chocolate factory and can’t keep up on the assembly line, so she starts eating chocolates… My scenes don’t reach that hilarious level of funny, but I use subtle humor to deflect the tension at times. For instance, when someone spills hiccup powder that my sleuth inhales without knowing, every time she hiccups she goes invisible, which creates humorous situations

  • Lois Winston

    I’ve never been one who enjoyed slapstick or pratfall humor. I prefer more cerebral humor, and I love puns. The humor in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries comes from my sleuth’s unique way of looking at life and how she uses her sense of humor to cope with murder, mayhem, and a communist mother-in-law. In that respect, she’s very much like her author (minus the murder!)

Those are our answers (and we're sticking to 'em). But we'd love to know if you have a favorite author who handles this extremely well!


3 thoughts on “Humor — it’s all about the timing…or is it?

  1. I would say Jen Turano handles physical humor very well. Her character Gertie made me laugh out loud when she fell over a couch. I also really enjoy humor when the author may not have intended it. Sometimes a character’s natural behavior reminds me of someone and makes me laugh. aprilbluetx at yahoo dot com

  2. Cheryl’s concept of infusing humor to lighten tension before ramping it up again is also something I use in my books. Usually, the lighter touch appears through dialogue, or a scene with a quirky character.

  3. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series has lots of humor infused in it. Stephanie keeps getting Ranger’s cars blown up or wrecked, Lula has clothing and hunger issues, and Grandma Mazur is a hoot going to funerals to hook up with guys and she’s always packing. Her mysteries might not be considered cozies, but they are closer to the lightheartedness in cozies than to serious mysteries which can get gruesome. I think many cozy authors use humor well to help with the tension and to make the character more like us.

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