Posted by: nancycurteman | February 17, 2011

How to Add Humor to Your Mystery Novel

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Humor can increase reader enjoyment of your mystery novel. A good laugh offers welcome relief to the hallmark suspense, dramatic conflict and complex puzzle-solving of a mystery story. Here are some ways to lighten your mystery with a bit of humor:

The inept sleuth is an easy vehicle for humorous scenes. Consider the sleuth who stumbles and bumbles h/er way through an investigation. A great example of an inept sleuth is the incompetent Inspector Jacques Clouseau of the now classic “Pink Panther” screenplays by Blake Edwards.

Quirky supporting characters can add a hilarious note to a murder mystery. You can give the character values and behaviors that contrast with those of the sleuth or give them an unexpected profession or a weird appearance. A fun example of an unusual supporting character is Janet Evanovich’s Lula, a big black woman with a Vegas spandex wardrobe three sizes too small who used to be a hooker; or Evanovich’s free-spirited Grandma Mazur who drives a red Corvette to funerals and wakes.

Outrageous situations can produce laugh-out-loud responses from readers. Outbursts of inappropriate behavior in conservative environments or unplanned events that result in embarrassing or compromising situations. Carl Hiaasen shows mastery of this strategy in his novel, “Skinny Dip.”  Picture this scene. Husband thinks he’s succeeded in murdering his wife. Unbeknown to husband, wife escapes. She invades husband’s home in search of incriminating evidence. Husband returns unexpectedly with a hooker on his arm. Wife hides under his bed. Husband beds the prostitute. Wife has to remain under the bed throughout the unsuccessful efforts of her estranged husband to engage in satisfactory lovemaking. Imagine her thoughts as she listens to the side-splitting ordeal.

Murder is heavy. Add some humor to your murder mystery to lighten the story. The contrast will make the novel more fun for the reader.

More writing tips:
Developing Characters is No Mystery
How to Create Sympathetic Mystery Novel Characters
How to Create Minor Characters in Your Mystery Novel
The Romantic Heroine in a Mystery Novel
How to Write Character Arc in a Mystery Novel



  1. It’s funny you should say that…


  2. Great post, and a necessary one. These are examples of broader humor – nobody would take a Pink Panther film seriously as a murder mystery. Hiaasen is in a category of his own and Evanovich is, well, Evanovich.

    You can also temper murder with more subtle humor, like you find in Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr novels, where the humor comes out of situations rather than latent quirkiness. Or in Spencer Quinn’s Chet and Bernie mysteries, which are narrated by Chet the dog – where the humor come out of his misunderstanding of the human world.

    Also interesting is the use of dark humor, which is usually situational. Elmore Leonard has some great moments that are darkly funny. But the classic example is the first RoboCop movie, which would be unwatchable if it wasn’t for the laugh-out-loud moments that tempered the grimness.


    • Thanks for the good information on mystery writers who add humor to their novels. I will certainly read some of Block, Quinn, Leonard’s books to get a feel for the different kinds of humor they write. A dog narrator—interesting.


  3. Good points. Thanks again.


  4. Books that make me laugh are my favorite kind of books. Thanks, NC.


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