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The Role of Humor in Good Writing

The Charlie Chaplin movies are an all-time favorite for the pure mirth it evokes in us. The main themes of these movies are to provide entertainment through comic devices. But there are the underlying tones of social reform or satirical criticism of certain practices of the contemporary social institutes like the factory, police station or hotel in most of the Chaplin movies. So, you can well understand the scriptwriter’s motive to convey these messages through the use of humor.

Humor, as you may be aware, is the end product, not the means to show the reader the comical side of life. In the literal parlance, humor can be conveyed using the following devices.


In simple terms, hyperbole means an exaggeration of facts. For example, you meet a friend after some time, you say, “it’s been ages since we have met”. You may define the use of the word ‘ages’ as hyperbole here. The exaggeration of a common fact to unreal proportions like, “she cried an ocean of tears” are a part of our daily speech. In writing too, this technique is used extensively both to create contrasting effects and convey humor. A pertinent sentence from the opening paragraph of “Babe the Blue Ox”, “Late at night, it got so frigid that all spoken words froze solid afore they could be heard”. The exaggeration of the coldness of winter season is beautifully depicted here; we can’t help but feel amused with the description.


Commonly, you will love a surprise in any form. Unexpected happenings are part and parcel of life. Especially, when the surprise turns out a positive outcome, the effect is purely joyous. Writers use surprise to good effect to provide “twist in the tale” effect. They build up an expectation in the readers about a certain occurrence and actually come up with a totally different outcome. The way this resolution is presented defines whether the chapter or episode is comical or tragic. The reader will be amused when he will see the funny side of the resolution provided by the writer. It may be at the expense of degradation of a character or characters, or a general free-for-all where everybody except the villain is happy at the end.


The irony is a figure of speech employed to imply something entirely different than the words’ literal meaning. A typical example of an ironical statement is when you say, “what a beautiful day” on a dull rainy afternoon. In literature, irony can be verbal or situational. Verbal irony is mainly used to depict humor in speech or sentences like the example above. Situational irony is the comic representation of the situation or happenings in the story. For example, a person is standing on the roadside and laughing seeing another passerby drenched with mud from a passing car. The irony will be when the same thing happens to him during his laughter. This entire episode will be quite humorous to the reader or audience witnessing the event.


The word sarcasm derives from French ‘sarcasmor’ and Greek ‘sarkazein’ which means “grind teeth” or “tear flesh”.  In English education, the word means “to speak in a bitter way”. Literally, the speaker intends to say something entirely different than the words imply. To quote Mark Twain, “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it”. You may find this sentence apparently innocuous, but the recipient (the reader also) and the person he spoke to can fully understand that the speaker did not like the deceased at all. The passage becomes humorous when the writer employs this technique to mock or make fun of a character or situation.

Written By

Sankar is an academician as well as a content developer. He loves framing engaging write-ups for parents, students and the teachers alike and offers clear as well as practical ideas to make learning fun. In his free time, He loves reading and traveling.He suggest LearnPick Blog for more educational information.

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