I think I got the deepest perspectives on writing from the Astronomicon 11 panel “You Think That’s Funny? (Writing Humor),” moderated by Guest of Honor Mike Resnick, with writers John Stormm and John-Allen Price.
Why/How do these writers use humor in their stories?
- Stormm uses humor as a way of breaking tension. People sort of are looking for an escape nowadays, especially with everything going on in the world lately, and the fact is, funny things happen to people!
- Price, who writes sf military, notes that humor “unfreezes you in those moments of terror.” He makes note of stories of (military) institutional humor–requisitions bordering on the strange & possibly illegal, officers who’ll just decide, “Aw what the hell, do it,” (Apparently the addage “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission” is true even in the military.), as well as people just plain messing with each other
- Resnick said several times, “Nobody in this field ever turned down a story for being too funny.” Just about every type of humor works in sf/fantasy, because humor is basically just “The expected, happening in unexpected ways at unexpected times.” He wasn’t talking about padding, but he said “You can add x-hundred amount of extra words to your story just by making a joke.”
Pitfalls and warnings? Resnick reiterated a few times: try to be original and don’t go overboard. Stormm says that if you do borrow anything, attribute it.
Stormm had the best piece of advice, I think: Take your readers up to the brink with a joke and let their imagination fill in the rest. That way, it becomes their joke.
Required reading: Robert Sheckley, William Tenn (his short-stories), & Fred Pohl (his more satirical stuff).