Humor Hits Hook Readers by Margie Lawson

It’s like Christmas at More Cowbell today! We have the incomparable Margie Lawson here with us, plus:

  • An outstanding post! I know she’s always amazing, but today she really outdid herself.
  • Not one…not two…but THREE commenters will win a seat in one of her classes or receive a lecture packet.
  • Margie has agreed to answer questions and comments all week  while I’m away in Texas. Can you believe it?? And I’ve got Captain Awesome (my hubby) approving comments while I’m traveling.

I had to look at the calendar, just to make sure it wasn’t Christmas or some other stupendous holiday sneaking up on me. Nope, it wasn’t. So I’m putting it down to the Random Act of Kindness BLITZ sweeping the bloggy-verse.

Note: In keeping with this RAOK BLITZ, I’m sending you over to Natalie Hartford’s place for some sparkling Undies fun when you’re done here. Three words: Oh. My. God!

Fasten your seatbelts, and get ready to show Margie some serious comment love! Good luck in advance to the winners!!


Big hugs to Jenny Hansen.  I’m thrilled to be on MORE COWBELL again!

Humor Hits Hook Readers
By Margie Lawson

It doesn’t matter what genre you write, you can use humor to hook readers, keep readers turning pages, and entice them to buy your next book. Humor on the page can be in-your-face funny, make-your-belly-hurt hilarious, or so subtle you don’t realize you’re smiling. But you are smiling. And you are turning page after page after page.

Humor is as addictive as chocolate. And we all know too much chocolate can make you sick, sick, sick.

When writing humor, writers have to find that tricky teeter-totter balance. Only not keep the teeter-totter level. Imagine you-the-writer, sitting on one end of the teeter-totter, the reader on the other end.

You want to keep the teeter-totter moving, but you don’t want to lose control and have the reader hit the ground so hard they break their tailbone. Nor do you want to pop them up so fast, that they’re launched off the teeter-totter toward Pluto.

Here’s how some of my favorite writers use humor. Enjoy!

Cliché Play Humor:

Stephen White, THE SIEGE (4 examples)

Poe didn’t dig his heels in often, but when he did he set them in concrete.

With all due respect, you’re dead in the water without me. Miles from shore.

I’ll run over you and I will treasure the tire marks I leave on your neck.

Something to know about my friend:  Alan has never once in his life come across a sleeping dog he has ever allowed to just frigging nap.

Margaret Carroll, RIPTIDE, Margie Grad, 2011 RITA Nominee. (2 examples)

But when a guy with that kind of money drowns in his own swimming pool, at the height of tourist season in the Hamptons, it’s bad for business. Which meant you could bet your E-ZPAss the Suffolk County DA was going to keep an eye on it.

Maurice didn’t just sling mud. He supplied the dirt.

Darynda Jones, FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT, Margie Grad, 2012 RITA Nominee. (4 examples)

I could almost see the wheels spinning in his head. After several moments more, I began to think those wheels needed a good oiling.

Hard as I tried, I couldn’t help but get a little hot under my seven-dollar thrift-store Gucci collar.

I just prayed neither of us was biting off more than we could chew. I did that once with bubble gum. It wasn’t pleasant.

Maybe my trip to the big house would shed some fluorescents on the situation.

Humor in Dialogue Cues: 

Joan Swan, FEVER, Margie Grad, Golden Heart Nominee, 3 times

She didn’t attempt to quell the duh in her tone.

Jeri Smith-Ready, SHADE, Margie Grad

“I really have to go,” I whispered, like I’d hurt ex-Hazel less if I lowered the volume.

Jessa Slade, FORGED OF SHADOWS, Margie Grad

In her calmest pre-saloon-brawl voice, she said, “I don’t want any trouble.”

Tana French, THE LIKENESS (2 examples)

There was a different note in his voice, and not a good one.

I couldn’t read his voice; no one does neutral like Frank.

Humor in Body Language:

Stephen White, DEAD TIME

I thought I saw Alan nod as I was talking.  Alan’s nods weren’t much. Sometimes you’d need a motion detector to be sure he’d actually shifted his head.  I’d developed the right radar while we were together. I could tell. 

Sam nodded in a way that was intended to be unconvincing.

She was fidgety.  Not pathologically so, like Jonas’s Uncle Marty.  But Stevie was taut, like an overstressed string on a violin.  She carried the tension of someone who just realized she’d run out of nicotine gum.

Alan’s eyebrows floated when I said that. Just a few millimeters, but still. 

I opened my hands, encouraging her to take in the scene around me. She reacted by opening her eyes wide. They flashed rage. If lightning had erupted from her nose at that moment, I wouldn’t have been completely surprised.


He watches my face . . . studies my eyes as I look to Clementine . . . 

No. I shouldn’t look at her.

Too late.

All Around Humor:

Harlan Coben, CAUGHT

From the Prologue, page 1

My body displayed all the classic symptoms of impending menace: Chill down my spine? Check. Hairs standing up on my arms? Yep. Prickle at the base of the neck? Present. Tingle in the scalp? Right there.

From the Prologue, page 2

When Chynna called I had just finished coaching the inner-city fourth-grade Newark Biddy Basketball team. My team, all kids who, like me, were products of foster care (we call ourselves the NoRents, which is short for No Parents — gallows humor), had managed to blow a six-point lead with two minutes left. On the court as in life, the NoRents aren’t great under pressure.

From the Prologue, page 9

She had woken up at six AM, early for Saturday morning, feeling pretty terrific. Ted, her husband of twenty years, slept in the bed next to her. He lay on his stomach, his arm around her waist. Ted liked to sleep with a shirt on and no pants. None. Nude from the waist down. “Gives my man down there room to roam,” he would say with a smirk. And Marcia, imitating her daughters’ teenage singsong tone, would say, “T-M-I” — Too Much Information.

Some writers have humor hits on every page, at least 99 pages out of 100.

Harlan Coben, Mario Acevedo, and Darynda Jones are Humor Hit Heroes.

(I couldn’t type Humor Hit Experts in that line. I had to go with the alliteration.)

You already got a taste of Harlan’s humor smorgasbord. Here are some gems from my friends Mario and Darynda.

Mario Acevedo, THE NYMPHOS OF ROCKY FLATS, Margie and Mario, long-time critique siblings

The titles of Mario’s books share more humor than some comedians.

Continuous Passage:

He stood barefoot, his trouser cuffs rolled up to mid-shin, his crooked toes dusted with white powder, the source of the miconazole nitrate smell. He was a short man so I didn’t know why Tamara had called him Big Wong. If it involved the doctor dropping his pants, I didn’t want to find out.

“Where’d you get this?” he snapped, oblivious to the comb-over hanging from his head like an open pot lid.

“In my desk, out there.” I pointed to the cubicles beyond his door.

“Well, Mister Gomez, I mean, Felix,” he camouflaged his distress with a smile, “I wouldn’t be too concerned about this.”

“It looks serious to me. I’ve been in this business a while,” I lied. “British Nuclear Fuels. DoD. The EPA. Lawrence Livermore.”

Dr. Wong strained to keep his toothy grin while his eyes seemed ready to burst like the bulbs of over-heated thermometers. “This summary is nothing to worry about, believe me.”


Dagger thumbed the lighter. It sparked and the gas fumes went whoosh. His clothes on fire, Dagger screamed and tripped over the sprayer, tumbling him and the sprayer on top of the zombie. They tangled together, their flailing bodies sandwiching the sprayer. Flames jetted from the pile, followed by a roaring fireball that mushroomed into a column of black smoke.

The heat slapped Mel and me and we were surrounded by the stink of burning compost. We stepped back. He said, “Awesome. I would’ve paid good money to see this.”

Mario Acevedo, WEREWOLF SMACKDOWN (2 excerpts)

  1. I have seen werewolves before. As long as they stayed out of my way, I stayed out of theirs. I never bothered mentioning them for the same reason I never said anything about skunks or cockroaches.
  2. Gullah sat in an Aeron executive chair centered on a Persian rug with a border of that slate blue color. 

I asked, “What’s with the blue cloth?”

“The color’s haint blue,” he replied.  “Keeps the haints, the boo hags, our local ghosts away.”

“Why blue?”

“Haints confuse the cloth for water.  They won’t cross it because they think they’ll drown.”

“Does it work?”

“You see any haints?”

FYI:  Mario Acevedo is teaching an online course for Lawson Writer’s Academy in June:  Fang It to Me: Writing Vampires, Fantasy, and the How-to’s of World-Building.

Darynda Jones, THIRD GRAVE ON THE LEFT, Margie Grad, 2012 RITA Nominee

FYI:  Third Grave on the Left hit #26 on the NYT Bestseller list!

1.  I was so dead. I was so amazingly, inarguably dead.

I called Cookie. “Hey, Cook,” I said, my voice light and airy.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. Apparently I was a little too light and airy.

“Well, Reyes held me at knifepoint, but that was just a ruse to get Garrett’s gun away from him, which he did and then proceeded to hold the gun to Garrett’s head point- blank right before he kissed me, then jumped through a freaking window.”

After a long moment, Cookie said, “So, it went well?”

2. I steered Misery in the general direction of south until we came to a crumbling group of apartments behind another crumbling group of apartments behind an abandoned group of apartments that made the first two look like the Ritz.

3. Reyes hit me! He’d actually hit me! It didn’t matter that hitting me wasn’t really like hitting a regular girl and I’d be completely healed in a matter of hours. I was still a freaking girl, and he damned well knew it. I’d just have to hit him back. With a lead pipe. Or an eighteen-wheeler.

I hope you all enjoyed these examples. I did!

Think of Lake Superior as humor, and this blog as a flat rock.  A rock that skips across the surface of humor and disappears into the depths of the lake.

I hope the blog leaves ripples in your mind. Ripples that motivate you to use humor as a tool to hook your readers, and keep your writing fresh.


This blog will be up the rest of the week while Jenny is at the DFW Writing Conference. Please post a comment so I’ll know you’ve been here. 

Feel free to say Hi, or share a short humor hit from your work.

We’ll have THREE WINNERS this week! Three people who post comments will win a Lecture Packet , or one of my online courses from Lawson Writer’s Academy!

I’ll draw names on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, at 9PM Mountain Time. 


Online Classes offered by Lawson Writer’s Academy in June:

1. Fang It to Me: Writing Vampires, Fantasy, and the How-to’s of World-Building ~ Instructor: Mario Acevedo

2. Write YOUR Way with Liquid Story Binder ~ Instructor: Lisa Norman

3. Fab 30 in 40 Days: Advanced Deep Editing, A Master Class ~
Instructor: Margie Lawson

4. Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors, Power Punch 1 ~
Instructor: Margie Lawson

Margie Lawson —psychotherapist, editor, and international presenter—developed innovative editing systems and deep editing techniques used by writers, from newbies to NYT Bestsellers. She teaches writers how to edit for psychological power, how to hook the reader viscerally, how to create a page-turner.

Thousands of writers have learned Margie’s psychologically-based deep editing material. In the last seven years, she presented over sixty full day Master Classes for writers in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

For more information on Lawson Writer’s Academy, lecture packets, full day master classes, and the 4-day Immersion Master Class sessions offered in her Colorado mountain-top home, visit:

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
This entry was posted in Amazing Writers, Techie Tuesday and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

110 Responses to Humor Hits Hook Readers by Margie Lawson

  1. Gene Lempp says:

    Great examples (and hints)! This makes me want to go through my WIP and be sure I’ve included enough humor. Thanks for sharing with us 🙂


    • Hello Gene!
      Glad you’ll check your WIP for Humor Hits. It doesn’t matter what genre, every book needs some goodies to give the reader a smile.
      Thank you for chiming in!


  2. Waving “HI!” with a big grin and sigh of relief. So good to hear your voice again. Precisely what I needed to ramp vamp up my writing glee. The first hot encounter with a humor hit twist stands center stage in All Inn today.

    A note of no interest to anyone but you me, we may sell our house today. What does that mean? It means I’ll travel more, tip my SBUX guys more, and practice patience by not bonking John with a teapot when he verbalizes his pre-move dread.

    Non-stop. For hours. Day after water-weighted-teapot day.

    Wishing you a Zeugma filled triple-pass day. [I always get a visual of slamming back a shot of Ouzo after I type that word.]

    Thanks for the examples. I may steal some of them. Not the words. Just the subtle-hit concepts.


    • Gloria —
      Kudos on selling your house!
      You share plenty of make-your-belly-hurt humor on your pages! Have fun slipping in more subtle, made-you-smile, humor. 🙂


  3. Absolutely wonderful post Margie. Thanks so much for swinging over while Jenny is away. Your examples, as always, stand out and really showcase how it’s done right. I love it. I never thought of myself as someone who could write humor until I really started running with it on my blog. And I have to say, I love it. I can’t wait to put it and everything else I am learning into the WIP.
    Have a FAB day and thanks for sharing your expertise. Much appreciated.


    • Hey Natalie —

      I did have a fab day! Just got back up the mountain.

      Now I’m interested in your blog! I’m guessing if I Google your name, I’ll find your blog. 🙂


  4. Always terrific Margie! Love the examples. When you first started talking about humor, authors like Stephen White and Harlan Coban did not come to mind, but as always, you are so right. Humor for me is tough to work in, and sometimes it falls flat, but I keep trying!


    • Jessica —
      Great to see you here! I love seeing you in person too. 🙂
      Glad you enjoyed the examples. I should create a HUMOR HITS page on my web site, and post examples from Margie Grads. Fab idea!


  5. M.L. Guida says:

    Hi Margie, I loved your post and got a chuckle so early in the morning. I thought I’d leave a little line of humor from my book, Dark Promise.

    She must have been all of sixteen and gaped at Eric as if he had been voted Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine. Little did she know, the ass nominated himself.

    My brief attempt at humor. Anyways, good blog.


    • Hey Mary!

      Thank you for dropping by. Yay! You laughed!

      When I read your example, I laughed. 🙂

      You’re the only one who posted an example, so far. Kudos to you!


  6. Great post Margie! I am currently working through your EDITS course, as well as ECE and BLDC, and have already seen a huge improvement in my writing. These examples of humor in writing are fantastic and another piece to fit into the puzzle of my WIPs! Thanks again Margie! 😀


  7. Great post, and fantastic examples. I see I need to catch up on some humor reading. I really like Janet Evanovich’s over-the-top humor a lot, but these more subtle examples are great, too.


  8. Awwww…thank you for the FAB shout out Jenny – luv it!! MUAH!


  9. Another helpful post 🙂 I do have a question. How does humor tie in to genre and the author’s unique voice? Is it appropriate for every work or wouldn’t there be some types of books where it would simply feel awkward?


    • Marcy —

      In real life, humor happens whenever, wherever. At a track meet. During a job interview. During a church service. At a funeral. While a flight attendant runs his/her spiel. In the middle of a wedding ceremony..
      The potential for humor is ever-present.

      The writer decides if humor would make a scene stronger. In tense scenes readers need a chance to breathe. A subtle humor hit may work well.

      Here’s an example from Elizabeth Essex’s historical, THE DANGER OF DESIRE, published by Kensington.

      This historical is set in London, November 1799. This excerpt is from page 3.
      Meggs is a pickpocket. 😉

      Meggs flexed her hands on the handle of her basket and wiped her fingers dry on the inside of her apron, swallowing the jitters that crawled up her throat. It would work. It always worked. Drunks were easy. Easy as taking gin from a dead whore.

      It’s subtle — but it made me laugh.

      FYI: Elizabeth Essex is a multi-multi-multi Margie Grad, and an Immersion Master Class grad too. PLUS — She’s a 2012 RITA Nominee. Yay!



    I bet you all noticed, I didn’t analyze the examples this time. I opted to skip the analysis and share twice as many examples. You all can see how those writers used humor to add power.
    Similes, understatements, description, dialogue, backloading, intentional authorial intrusion, . . .
    Humor works!

    Fresh writing works too.

    Feel free to share YOUR ANALYSIS of one of the blog examples. Or share backloaded words. Or rhetorical devices.

    I’d love to read your teaching points. 🙂

    I’ll be back online this afternoon. I’m looking forward to seeing more examples posted!

    Kudos to Mary Guida. Loved her humor hit!


  11. Laura Main says:

    Hi, Margie! *waves*

    I always love it when you guest blog. It’s like a mini Margie class or workshop. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing 🙂 I use frequent humor in my WIP, sometimes overdoing it. Thank you for the reminder about balance. Here’s a little something to make you smile!

    Angels can’t lie. I get what an important virtue honesty is, but living in the modern world without the benefit of the little white lies that grease polite society is a bitch.
    Though bitches are notoriously easy. Nuns not so much.
    Not being able to lie is a nun.
    A big, beefy Mother Superior.


    • Hey Laura —

      Ah — Thank you!
      I liked your example. And I think you typed a wrong word or two. But I see how strong it could be with the correct wording. It has a strong cadence, and it’s backloaded too.


  12. Hi Margie!
    I loved all of your examples – especially the subtle humor because that is more my style. I’m a naturally serious writer and I need to work on adding a few more humor hits to lighten the mood once in a while. Now you’ve got me thinking…


    • Hey Haley!
      Great to see you again.
      I agree. You could slip in more subtle humor hits. 😉
      I’m looking forward to digging deep into your WIP with you in Fab 30 in 40 Days – in June!


  13. Brilliant examples, Margie. They really worked for me. Thanks for today’s humor dose.


  14. Sheri Fredricks says:

    Jenny and Margie – What a great post! Your examples hit the spot and understanding opened. I use humor in my romance books – subtle, yet there. I would love to take your classes and learn all there is to know. Here’s to dropping my name into your hat!


  15. Carrie says:

    I love finding those odd bits of humor in books I read. I think it makes the characters come alive, especially if the subject matter is more serious. A little deadpan humor can really shake things up.

    Thanks for the examples!


  16. I am bookmarking this page to visit between work spurts today. Your blog is one of my favorite places to hang out and gain tips and laughs, Jenny! I’ve enjoyed Margie’s insight before here, and can’t wait to dig in. 🙂 I love her use of examples.


  17. Karen Rought says:

    These were fabulous! The last one has to be my favorite. Every time I see something new from Darynda Jones (Third Grave on the Left) I get more and more excited to find myself a copy!


  18. K.B. Owen says:

    Hi, Margie – fab post! Thanks so much for the pointers and great examples.

    I’ve got a question about how to use humor when one is writing historicals. I like to put humor in my work (historical mysteries), but it’s very subtle, and not as sustained as the examples above. I’d like to do a better job of it.

    However, in all of the examples you use, the humor works because the language is modern-day colloquial: “I would’ve paid good money,” “shed some fluorescents,” and “you could bet your EZPass,” for example. That slang won’t work in my novels, and the unfamiliar slang of the 19th century can’t often be used for comedic effect with a 21st century reader.

    Here are some examples of humor I’ve used. I would really welcome your suggestions for improvement, and for creating more humor opportunities in general! Thanks so much! –Kathy

    Example 1: The triple-chinned matron gave a smug smile, enjoying her role as bearer of ill tidings. In her enthusiasm, she made an abortive attempt to lean forward, only to be thwarted by her corset, which gave a mutinous rasp of coraline and elastic stretched to the breaking point. She resettled herself, and the danger passed.

    Example 2: Miss Hamilton chuckled after he left. “Poor man. He wouldn’t know a bolt of French lawn if it flattened him on the street.”

    Example 3: The good doctor followed closely on the heels of the maid’s announcement, saying, “Ho…Miss Wells! Good to see you, my dear!” in the sort of jovial voice that seemed much too loud for the sickroom. Concordia wondered if he startled his near-death patients back to life through sheer volume.

    Example 4: Just as Concordia set down her case to help disperse the crowd of students, the air was pierced by the sound of a metal whistle. All turned toward the stairwell. In the stunned silence, the white-haired Miss Jenkins, coach’s whistle around her neck and hands on hips, called out:

    “Basketball practice in ten minutes, ladies! What are you doing there, gawking? Get moving!”

    Before one could say “foul shot,” the hallway was cleared. Miss Jenkins, a satisfied smile on her lined face, followed the girls out.

    “That woman is a gem,” Miss Pomeroy murmured.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Kathy, you know I don’t write historicals, but I do read them. For example, I read a ton of Julia Quinn because she makes me laugh with her byplay between characters.

      In fact, the ones I’m most attracted to are the ones with humor. These authors do so much with their characters’ interaction with each other, rather than with the language itself.

      Does that make sense?


    • Kathy —
      Please scroll up and see my response to Marcy. It includes an example of subtle humor in THE DANGER OF DESIRE, by RITA Nominee (and Margie Grad) ELIZABETH ESSEX.
      It’s set in London in 1799.

      Regarding your examples, I liked the first three best.

      Here’s my feedback from a quick pass:


      Example 1: The triple-chinned matron gave a smug smile, enjoying her role as bearer of ill tidings. In her enthusiasm, she made an abortive attempt to lean forward, only to be thwarted by her corset, which gave a mutinous rasp of coraline and elastic stretched to the breaking point. She resettled herself, and the danger passed.

      I’d nix the TELLING, and wordy: made an abortive attempt.
      I’m keeping the TELLING that kicks off the sentence. I like it! 😉

      You SHOW it in the next line.

      Here’s how the second sentence could read:

      She leaned forward, only to be thwarted by her corset, which gave a mutinous rasp of coraline and elastic stretched to the breaking point.


      Example 2: Miss Hamilton chuckled after he left. “Poor man. He wouldn’t know a bolt of French lawn if it flattened him on the street.”

      Ha — I love the content, the imagery, the cadence, and the backload. Well done!


      Example 3: The good doctor followed closely on the heels of the maid’s announcement, saying, “Ho…Miss Wells! Good to see you, my dear!” in the sort of jovial voice that seemed much too loud for the sickroom. Concordia wondered if he startled his near-death patients back to life through sheer volume.



      It’s what I call a LINEAR LOAD ISSUE. Read your first ten words;

      The good doctor followed closely on the heels of the . . .

      I pictured the doctor following someone across the room, or out the door.

      The next word is MAID’S. My video saw the doctor following the maid.

      But the next word was a COGNITIVE SPEEDBUMP — ANNOUNCEMENT.

      It jerked me in a different direction.

      I recommend nixing those words. You could rewrite for clarity, but it’s a prediction. I’d nix.

      One more comment. You could backload the last sentence. Here’s how.


      Concordia wondered if he startled his near-death patients back to life through sheer volume.


      Concordia wondered if his sheer volume startled his near-death patients back to life.


      KATHY — Thanks for posting. Great voice. Fun examples!

      BLOG GUESTS: I don’t have time to deep edit very many examples on the blog. I could deep edit a few more. 🙂


      • KATHY —

        I invited ELIZABETH ESSEX to chime in about using humor in historicals.

        Please check back for her response!


      • K.B. Owen says:

        Margie –

        THANK YOU for the fabulous (and incredibly time-intensive) deep edits. I really appreciate your time and talent! Looking forward to reading Elizabeth Essex’s comments, too.

        Margie, in your courses, do your students typically have a completed draft that they work on revising, or can writers take your courses as they are working on their first drafts? My first novel (where the samples came from) is in the agent’s hands for the time being, although there will be edits later, I’m sure, but I’m working on the first draft of the sequel, and I’d love to learn more as I go!



        • Kathy, JUST in case Margie doesn’t get back to comment…

          I took all of Margie’s courses and attended an Immersion Master Class while working on my WIP. Others in the on-line courses (and at IMC) came with completed novels. Margie’s Magic works during draft, in progress, and rewrite.


      • Jenny Hansen says:

        Holy cowbell, Margie…this is an awesome edit. (Kathy, you lucky girl!!!)


    • Hey Kathy:

      Since Margie used my DANGER OF DESIRE as an example I thought I’d chime in. 🙂
      I think the most important factor to writing humor is making it specific to the individual character. Or, to use one of Margie’s key components for fresh writing: Character-themed word choice.

      The example Margie gave from Meggs the pickpocket works because she’s very low-class, and would have had a sort of gallows humor. And the world she lived in—the streets of Georgian London—give her a different perspective for her experiences.

      At the risk of making a fool of myself—because humor is very hard to gauge, and is very individual—I’ll give you another example. This is from ALMOST A SCANDAL which will come out at the end of July. Our hero, Lieutenant Colyear has just come across some sailors at ‘play’ and needs to break up their fun. The scene, and the humor are from Col’s point of view:

      ” ‘Entertainment’ was probably not the best word to describe the frantic action on display. Indeed, the first sight that greeted Col as he stepped off the companionway ladder was the bare naked arse of a sailor oscillating away like a bilge pump. The fellow—Griggs, one of the quarter gunners, he thought, from this view—was pumping away into a woman who had backed up to a deck post for better leverage.
      In the middle of this affectionate display of commerce, the cheerful doxie looked over the quarter gunner’s shoulder, and tossed Col a wink. “Wanting a turn, love?” ”

      This is funny (to me) because it’s funny to Col, and gives us both his world and his unique view of that world.

      So my advice is to find what your characters find funny, and have them share it with the readers in a way that conveys both their personality and their historical world.

      Hope this makes some sense. 🙂 Cheers, EE


      • Elizabeth —

        Excellent tips for incorporating humor in historicals. I love the way you slide in the humor. Your scenes are so smooth and powerful. Your strong writing keeps me turning pages faster and faster.

        LOVED your example from ALMOST A SCANDAL! Love the imagery — and the cadence too.

        When you were in Immersion class, you intrigued me with the first several scenes from ALMOST A SCANDAL. I can still picture Sally Kent standing in the rain — wearing her brother’s uniform. Sally was so intent on impersonating her brother in the British Royal Navy. I have to find out what happens!

        Thank you for sharing your expertise today. I appreciate you!


        • No trouble at all! I know full well that almost everything I learned about writing commercial fiction I learned from you Margie, so I am happy, happy, happy to share anytime. 🙂


      • bronjonesnz says:

        Elizabeth, thank you so much for sharing your historical novel humour. I loved the Meggs pickpocketing example that Margie uses in her excellent classes. And this new one is great too. I’d love to see Col’s reaction to the doxie’s invitation so we can enjoy his amusement through his POV.
        I can see you write good humour into your historical novels and I’m going to Book Depository (or Amazon if I get it on Kindle) right now to buy your books!


        • Thanks so much bronjones! And does that NZ in your id mean you’re in New Zealand? If so, and you can’t get the books on your Kindle (although you should be able to), Rosemary’s Romance Books in Brisbane Australia carries my romances, so that might make it a wee bit easier to find them. Best of luck with your writing, and thanks for reading. Cheers! EE


      • K.B. Owen says:

        Great example, Elizabeth! Loved the “bilge pump” reference, along with the “affectionate display of commerce” – LOL! It keeps it light and funny. You’ve given me a lot to think about – thanks bunches! 🙂


  19. I love the lecture packets I’ve gone through of Margie’s! Great teaching. Humor is hard and I’m a constant student of it. It’s balancing the humorous with the suspense and learning when to hold back. I love reading other novels to see how other authors do it!

    And I’m in for another lecture packet! 🙂

    Here’s an excerpt from my newly released YA novel, A Spy Like Me.

    I sniffed the air and sighed. Blueberry coffee. Yum. I stared longingly at the steam rising in the air hoping he’d get the hint, hoping I’d live long enough to drink coffee again. Then he went one step too far. He pulled a cream puff from the fridge. Kill me now. I couldn’t stand any more torture. He sat in the chair, crossed his legs, and sipped his coffee. I studied the chipped white paint on the walls. I’d been meaning to drop a few pounds anyway.

    Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, and my eyes wandered over to him. As he bit into the flaky pastry and licked frosting off his upper lip, his eyes raked over my body. My heart rate spiked. Jiminy crickets, he was spying on my family and could kill me at any time. How could he look at me like he wanted to kiss me? Or was that the look of I’m-about-to-murder-you-and-dump-your-body-in-a-river? I couldn’t tell. But I needed to use it to my advantage.

    “You’re quite cute when you blush. What’s wrong?” he asked, with a sly grin.

    “He talks. Amazing,” I said, my voice dripping with sarcasm.

    I hated lies. And the number one reason to hate him was that he’d lied to me from the very start. Number two? He was eating a cream puff and I wasn’t.

    Love all the examples so far. Thanks for sharing everyone!


    • Laura P – Hi there! I’m Margie’s daughter (also writing instructor and editor extraordinaire) mom is flying to the East coast today and wasn’t able to get on and reply – so sent me to do her commenting.

      I’m so glad I did – I dig your voice!

      Very cute humor hit and you took time in building it.Smart.

      Fun writing!

      Thank you for popping over here to share.

      maybe I’ll see you in one of my classes sometime 🙂


  20. darynda says:

    Fantastic post, Margie! I always love reading your examples, even my own that you’ve included. Sometimes it’s nice to see where we went right. LOL. Thanks so much for including me. What an honor it is to be in the company of such great writers. TY!!!!


  21. Love the post Margie. Even with historicals there can be plenty of humour. Water for Elephants is a great example. That’s set in the 1930s Depression era.

    I think having slightly quirky characters with foibles helps. I’m writing a mainstream historical and have similar issues as KB Owen above. Modern rip-it style speech doesn’t work. Finding ways to organically slip in humor is a challenge.


    • Hiya Bron! Mom is flying today and asked me to pop over and comment – and looky – I found you are over here 🙂

      As someone that has read your fab writing, I think you work well with the little understated giggles here and there. Admit it – you have style!

      Nice to see you on here.


      • bronjonesnz says:

        Hi Tiffany, great to see you pop up! Thank you for your kind words, it was just what I needed as I sit here grinding away on editing my WIP. I think I’ve struck a slow section and was feeling grumpy but when I read your words, it made all the difference. Loved your Triple Threat class and your extremely helpful feedback!


  22. tomwisk says:

    Great post. I like to find humor in a story that is there as as aside, something natural. The writer isn’t yelling “Here’s something funny!!!!” but rather “Oh, you caught that joke? Let’s move on.”


    • Hi there Tom! I’m Margie’s daughter (also editing extraordinaire) she is 12 thousand feet above the earth right now flying to the east coast – I am here to comment in her place.

      Yes. I totally agree with you. The understated humor is where it’s at. The jokes that sneak up on you. I especially like the ones that bring out more of the character or give me a wickedly vivid image to snack on for later giggles.

      Thanks for posting today!


  23. bronjonesnz says:

    Another really good historical that has natural humour for the times is The Crimson Petal and the White (Michel Faber), which is set in Victorian London. Startling sex too, but that’s another topic.


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  25. Stacy Green says:

    Great examples, Margie. I always learn so much from your posts/examples. And this is a great reminder that humor is important in ANY genre. I’m going to add this to my list as I finish up my first draft of the new WIP. Thanks!


  26. Marcia says:

    Starting my 2nd draft soon and am inspired to add some humor to my dark-ish fiction. It may need a little light here and there! Thanks, Margie-you always write helpful and inspirational posts!


  27. HogsAteMySister says:

    Humor is the lubricant that makes the engine of life run. Someone famous said that. Or maybe it was in a porno. I forget.


    • Naked Editor, Tiffany Lawson Inman, filling in for mom while she is flying east for my bro’s graduation.

      Had to comment on this one. Gosh your title/name made me to snort once, and your reply (humor hit included) got a big ol’ nerd laugh to pop out and startle my dog.

      good work 🙂

      thank you for reading!


    • Hello Hogs Ate My Sister —
      Snicker, snicker!
      Thanks for making me laugh!


  28. Terri P says:

    I love humor!!! I find that if you have a great character that you well enough to nail that deep pov, the humor will come.

    Wonderful examples and great lessons as always.



  29. I absolutely love humor in romance or mysteries and enjoyed the examples. It’s so hard to do without pushing into the ridiculous, yet these authors above do it so effortlessly. Thanks for the lesson. I always learn some much from your posts.


  30. Julie Glover says:

    This was fabulous! Seeing the humor used in excerpts is very helpful. Looking at the examples, I know that humor is a big part of my writing. It’s not on every page or even laugh-out-loud humor, but it’s there — even as a sarcastic tone or a quirky simile. The biggest thing to me is to make sure the humor doesn’t sound forced but flows and keeps the momentum of the story moving. Thanks, Margie!


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  32. bronjonesnz says:

    Hi Elizabeth. Yes, that’s nz for New Zealand. Your books are on Book Depository. That’s a UK site and they don’t charge shipping, so it’s great. You might like to get some reviews onto the site at some stage. Once again, thank you.


  33. Amber West says:

    Love this! I am a big fan of humor, especially in scenes where you don’t expect it. Thanks for the post, Margie (and really love all the comments on this one).


  34. howdy rathore says:

    Loved the examples! Particularly the Cliche play Humor. As a reader, I find engaging a heart-wrenching emotion or an apprehensive mood for an extended period of time tends to be exhausting, and a good laugh does help break up the monotony. I’ve always been fascinated by authors who use humour convincingly in grave or intense scenes and actually come out uplifting those scenes. Thanks, Margie!



    Glad you enjoyed the examples. Me too!

    I appreciate all your comments. Loved your humor.

    We’ll have three winners this week, tonight, Friday night, and Sunday night.

    The first winner is — MARCIA.

    Marcia wins one of my Lecture Packets or online courses through Lawson Writer’s Academy!

    HELLO MARCIA — Please email me!

    BLOG GUESTS — Thanks again for dropping by MORE COWBELL. Tell your friends to click over and check out this HUMOR HIT blog. They have two chances to WIN. You have two more chances to win too!


  36. Sandee Basu says:

    Lovely post, Margie! The examples were hilarious.
    She didn’t attempt to quell the duh in her tone. Gut-busting!


  37. Sayani DC says:

    Enthralling as always, Margie. Nothing throws a dark situation into sharp relief like a light-hearted moment.
    It’s unnerving how you never manage to disappoint!!!


  38. Hi Margie (other Margie waving madly from Michigan), What a thrill to see an excerpt from my book RIPTIDE in your blog. And I forgot there were some very funny parts to it! Thanks to you and your amazing Deep Editing online course. Which, I will tell anyone, was better and did more for me than any creative writing course I took in college or in any fancy writers workshop I took in NYC. And I took a lot at night after work over many years there. Your approach changed my writing, brought it to the next level. I loved it so much I just had to bring you to my local RWA chapter in Michigan. We still talk about it! I credit the work I did in your course with getting my debut thriller ms into shape to land me a top NYC agent, two-book worldwide deal with HarperCollins, and a lot of nice reviews of my work. What a fantastic journey to go on. I urge anyone reading this to take Margie’s courses and – most important – do the homework. Wishing you all the best, Margie


    • Hiya “other Margie”

      My mom send me to do some commenting today while she flies off to watch my brother’s Carnegie Melon MFA graduation (super smarty that brother of mine)

      It’s always a treat to see who she used examples from – so happy to see a fresh example from your book up there! I am going to tell her you are tooting your Lawson Writer’s Academy horn very loudly today 🙂 Woot Woot!

      Maybe I’ll see you in one of my classes this fall…if you have time (all that book signing and fancy author stuff takes time, I know)

      Thank you very much for getting on here today and spreading the love.


  39. Suketu says:

    A writer friend of mine asked me to check out your articles. All I can say is – I have a really good friend!
    Powerful stuff!


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  41. Shouvik says:

    One writer I greatly admire for his humor is Rex Stout. Most of the recurring humor in the series grows out of Nero Wolfe’s eccentric habits (an obese greedyguts who grows rare orchids) and modus vivendi (unless he has no choice, he won’t go out of his condo to visit the crime scene and do field detecting), and in Streetwise Archie Goodwin’s benign but smart-alecky comments about Wolfe and the world in general.


  42. Robin says:

    I use humor in my YA novels, but have a tough time deciding ‘how much humor is too much’. Also, most of my humor seems to skew towards sarcasm so that most characters in my writing sound tee’d off all the time. These examples will certainly help in losing the habit!
    Thanks for such illuminating examples.


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  44. woman without qualities says:

    Lovely examples all.
    I like Nelson DeMille’s liberal use of

    sarcasm and dry humor.

    “I want to be back to work next week.
    ‘Let’s get you home first. I need to

    evaluate the extent of your mental

    impairment.’ She tried to flash me the

    peace sign, but in her weakend

    condition, she only managed to raise

    her middle finger.”
    ― Nelson DeMille, The Lion



    Due to strong headwinds between Denver and the east coast, I had to leave a day early for a vacation. My husband flew us to Pittsburgh for our son’s graduation (MFA) from Carnegie Mellon.
    Sorry I disappeared off the blog.

    A big THANK YOU to our daughter TIFFANY for filling in for me. I appreciate Tiffany!

    I just clicked on RANDOM.ORG to select the second winner.

    THE SECOND WINNER IS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . SANDEE BASU!


    SANDEE: You may chose a Lecture Packet, or one of my online classes offered thru Lawson Writer’s Academy. Please email me: margie @ margielawson . com.

    I’ll select the last winner on Sunday night.

    NOTE: I read Lisa Gardner’s February release, CATCH ME, in the plane. Lisa has always been one of my favorite authors. I can’t wait to share some of her HUMOR HITS and EXPANDED TIME PASSAGES and SUPER EMPOWERED PASSAGES in another blog.


    I’ll catch up responding to blog posts on Monday. Our son’s graduation is tomorrow (Sunday). Tomorrow is for celebrating!


  46. Tania says:

    Personally, I love Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series because Stephanie never fails to make me laugh. How she approaches life and deals with all the muck thrown at her and all that…

    “Is that a bulletproof vest? See, now that’s so insulting. That’s like saying I’m not smart enough to shoot you in the head.”
    – Janet Evanovich, Seven Up

    “I had an alarm, I had nerve gas, I had a yogurt. What more could anyone want?”
    – Janet Evanovich, One For The Money

    “they have enough testosterone between them, if testosterone were electricity they could light up New York City for the month of August”
    – Janet Evanovich, Twelve Sharp


  47. Emmie Mears says:

    Thanks for this awesome post, Margie! (And Jenny!)

    I’ve had so many friends suggest your courses, and your material always delivers. 🙂


  48. Emmie Mears says:

    Oh, and one writer I LOVE for humor is Kim Harrison. Pretty much anything that goes through Rachel Morgan’s head is pure gold on a stick.


  49. Rachel Jacob says:

    Your observations are always engaging and enlightening. Great examples as well.
    Thanks Margie and Jenny!
    Congratulations to your son on his graduation!


  50. nayantara swaminathan says:

    I second Nelson deMille. Also Harlan Coben. Exhibit A:
    “A dancer on break approached him. She smiled. Each tooth was angled in a different direction, as if her mouth were the masterwork of a mad orthodontist.
    “Hi,” she said.
    “You’re really cute.”
    “I don’t have any money.”
    She spun and walked away. Ah, romance.”
    -Harlan Coben, Deal Breaker

    Great piece, Margie Lawson!
    Hi-lair-ee-uhs !


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  52. A. R. Schultz says:

    Great post! Loved the advice, as well as the wit. Cheers.


  53. Anne Tanner says:

    Cool examples. Terrific post. Congrats to the two winners 🙂


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  55. howdy rathore says:

    Who’s the third lucky Winner, Margie? We never got to know…



    Yikes! I forgot to select the third winner. Thanks for the reminder!

    A click on gave me the third winner: TANIA!


    Tania wins a lecture packet or online course from me.

    Tania — Please contact me at: margie @ margielawson . com.


    FYI: The line above is an example of the rhetorical device, zeugma. 🙂

    All smiles……………Margie


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