Writing Humor in Mysteries

By K.P. Gresham

kp gresham

I recently appeared on a “Writing Humor in Mysteries” panel at the Pflugerville, Texas, Library along with fellow authors Kelly Cochran and Nancy West.  My first reaction was the old adage, “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” Unless you’re talking about the Pink Panther and Inspector Clouseau, one doesn’t usually think that humor and death work well as a pair. 

Although the mysteries I write are serious, I find that interjecting comedy into the either the character or plot (or both) really moves the action along. It picks up the pacing, gives more depth to characters, and sometimes you just have to lighten the moment for the reader as the plot turns darker and darker.

I once read a blog by Zia Westfield (www.ziawestfield.com) and she outlined five elements that often appear in comedic mysteries.

  1. The Screwball Heroine (think “I Love Lucy”)
  2. The Wacky Secondary Character (obviously Ethel Mertz comes to mind)
  3. The Snowball Effect (Events become more and more out of control)
  4. Whatever Can Go Wrong, Make it a Hundred Times Worse (back to Lucille Ball)
  5. Snappy Dialogue and Word Choice (Here pacing is everything)
Preacher's First Murder

In more serious murder mysteries, however, to me its all about the characters. For example, its possible to have a series of homicides and a very serious detective, but a side character can provide the comedic relief. In The Preacher’s First Murder, an elderly woman has gone missing and is considered to be in danger. Very scary stuff for the family. Enter an idiot rookie “hunter” who didn’t know a rifle from a shotgun. His exploits provided the needed chuckle to break up the intense drama.

I’ve also found that putting my hero in a foreign place presents lots of opportunity for the hero’s inner dialogue to ponder this “new world.” Again, in The Preacher’s First Murder, the hero, originally from Miami, has moved to small town Texas. The first time someone says “She makes a hornet look cuddly” he realizes he’s not in…well, you know.

For me, the easiest way to write humor is in first person, and I’ve found it to be a lot of fun. Most stories come from experiences I’ve had, a belly laugh all over. “Write What You Know”, as they say. Perhaps it goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway. It really helps to write humorous mysteries if you have a sense of humor yourself. Odds are that what makes you laugh will make others laugh too.

Anyway, feel free to check out the writing comedic mysteries at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ur2gyXHEvM&feature=youtu.be

Special thanks to Margaret Miller for the invitation to participate and awesome kudos to my fellow panelists Kelly Cochran and Nancy West!

Check out more about K.P. Gresham at her website, http://www.kpgresham.com

Her books in the Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series include

The Preacher’s First Murder

Murder in the Second Pew

Murder on the Third Try

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