Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Erotic Horror Music - February Is Women In Horror Month

Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, horror, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and her three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page. 

Her new m/m erotic medical thriller Roughing It is out! This book is a sexy cross between The X Files, The Andromeda Strain, and Outbreak. Read her short erotic story Babes in Begging For It, published by Cleis Press. You will also find her new novel No Restraint at Amazon. Enjoy a good, sexy read today.


It's the last day of Women In Horror Month, and I wanted to talk a bit more about erotic horror like I did in January's post.  Last month, I talked about eroticism in horror. This month, I want to talk about setting a proper mood for writing erotic horror. There is a lot of music out there that lends itself to both the spooky and the sensuous.  I didn't want to include the usuals like Mussorgsky's Night On Bald Mountain or Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor since they're a bit overplayed and are very closely associated with horror, but not erotic horror. There are some classical pieces that are great accompaniments to writing erotic horror because they are so majestic.

Stanley Kubrick used Bertok's Adagio from Music For Strings, Percussion and Celesta in his hit movie The Shining. Although The Shining is obviously not erotic, this music can easily set that kind of mood.


 Back to Kubrick, he used Ligeti's Requiem in his movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. This haunting piece is perfect to set a darker mood for your erotica.


Sally's Song from A Nightmare Before Christmas is a haunting and sad tune that will bring tears to your eyes. So when your hero and heroine are far apart, this is the song to listen to that will gain you access to their hearts.


Lustmord was one of the first dark ambient artists I discovered over 20 years ago. The music is very atmospheric and perfect for setting a dangerous albeit sexy mood. Lustmord's Astronomicon sounds like something Emily Brontë or Daphne du Maurier would have liked. It has a Gothic and sensuous feel to it.

Now for something a bit more melodic. Enigma's The Principles of Lust is perfect for any sexy mood. You'll crack open the flavored lube listening to Enigma. You'll have to go to Youtube to watch and listen to this video.


 Enigma's Sadeness (Marquis de Sade?) is another go-to piece. Here are parts 1 through 3. Same as above - you must watch and listen to this video on Youtube.


 Now for something with a bit more bite to it. I can see listening to Lords of Acid while writing action-packed dark vampire erotica. Their album Voodoo U is especially sexy. Here's Special Moments.


 How can you resist a song with a name like Dirty Willy, also by Lords of Acid.


 Now that you're in a sinister but sexed up mood, grab a suitable book like Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty trilogy or Poppy Z. Brite's Exquisite Corpse and give your dark side a treat.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Getting to the Good Parts

by Jean Roberta

The introduction of sex in a work of fiction can feel problematic for several reasons: sex has traditionally been considered “unspeakable,” something that can’t and shouldn’t be described in detail, at least in the social mainstream, and sex is considered an exceptional activity, a form of interaction that is completely different from any other. Of course, sex is different from every other shared activity, but even the most casual hookup is usually preceded by a comment or question (“Looking for a good time, sailor?” “Are you alone?” “Do you come here often?”).

The challenge for an erotic writer is how to get from here to there. Going beyond conversation to the shedding of clothes usually means shedding certain readers as well. Erotic writers know that some readers won’t read writing about sex, even if these readers actually have sex lives, and even if they bring murder mysteries with them to the beach for “light” reading.

Besides all this, there still seems to be an amazing amount of confusion about what is sexually acceptable in the real world. I recently had a conversation with my stepson (age 36, and a veteran of several serious heterosexual relationships) when he agreed to drive me to the home of a fellow-volunteer counsellor on the local sexual assault line so I could pass on the satchel that contains a mobile phone for emergency calls.

Stepson seemed to feel he was under suspicion of various crimes just because he is male. I assured him that I trust him more than I trust most men, having known him since his ninth birthday.

My assurance apparently didn’t ease his discomfort enough. He told me that when he sees an attractive woman, he wants to have sex with her. I wasn’t sure if he was confessing a sin or defending his male nature against a particularly feminist form of prudery. I told him that wanting sex is fine. (He knows I’m an erotic writer, but this fact often seems to slip from his consciousness.) I explained that wrestling a protesting woman to the ground or putting a drug in her drink to knock her out is not fine; in fact, those activities are crimes. He implied that no sane man would do any of those things, but he still seemed troubled.

I was aware that a stepmother-stepson relationship is an awkward context for a conversation about sex that is not intended as foreplay. For all practical purposes, I am one of his parents, but we’re not actually related by blood. I still feel as if someone needs to explain the concept of consent to him as thoroughly as possible, but I doubt if I’m the best person to do that.

I wonder how many other men either feel like criminals because the sight of attractive women excites them, or who feel entitled to do whatever they have to do to overcome most women’s refusal to have immediate (unpaid) sex with strangers—or with men they know too well.

A fellow erotic writer recently suggested to me that none of us are “politically correct,” which apparently means that scenarios about men using force or deception to have sex with women shouldn’t offend any of us. It’s not as if any erotic writer was ever a young woman who needed a job, and didn’t want to be tricked into a sketchy situation involving non-consensual sex and no pay, with the risk of getting killed. And it’s not as if any erotic writer was ever a woman who wanted human status.

As I’ve said here earlier, my fantasies about true sexual freedom (without degradation, contempt, or various forms of punishment) take place in an alternative world because I’ve rarely seen it in this one. I can imagine a culture in which it would be perfectly acceptable for a person to approach another person for sex, and perfectly acceptable to accept or refuse. In the case of rejection, the seeker would just continue looking for a playmate. In the absence of sexual hypocrisy, homophobia, or a sexist double standard, the search probably wouldn’t take long.

In a fantasy novel that I read years ago (sorry I can’t remember the title or the female author), the question “May I offer you anything?” was widely understood to be a proposition, and the answer was often yes. The simple honesty of this form of etiquette appealed to me, and I wished I could visit that imaginary world.

So in the world we live in, as well as in the stories we write, how do we take two or more sympathetic characters from everyday interactions—in which everyone is fully dressed—to sexual ecstasy? A standard guidebook on sexual etiquette would help. More honesty and empathy in the culture at large would help more.

What would help the most would be a general understanding that no one is “out of character” when they are out of their clothes. Au contraire. The butcher, the baker and the cabinet-maker want sex is some form, with someone. So do the doctor, the lawyer, the accountant, your child’s kindergarten teacher, and the bag lady pushing a shopping cart.

I haven’t found a way to segue comfortably from non-sex to sex on the page without feeling as if some part of the narrative doesn’t fit with the rest. As my spouse often says, I want to live on my own planet.

As long as I am stuck on this one, I will be tempted to describe sex (when I do) in a culture that speaks what is still largely unspeakable here.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Weird Writer Problems

by Kathleen Bradean

Have you ever been writing and felt as if the sex scene was going to ruin your story? I have, and was weird, because I'd started out to write erotica. It wasn't one of those other genre stories where I reached a point where the characters were getting turned on and I had to make that decision to follow them or move on to a later scene. This was the point of the story. And yet...

I've mentioned before that I write in another genre. I made the decision to leave out sex scenes (honestly - because my father wanted to read my work and he wouldn't if there was sex) and find it's difficult to stop myself when it's the natural progression of a scene. I often feel like writing little fanfics of my own work so I can write what I imagine follows rather than let all that lovely sex stay locked in my imagination.

Why would it be so easy in those stories to scorch the pages when sometimes it's so hard to get into the mood to write the actual sex part of my erotica? I've seen writer burnout in this genre. Few of the writers I "came up" with at ERWA still write. But it feels like it's a different issue than burnout.

I think - and this may be off base - but it seems to be an issue with the characters. The pair in my series have great chemistry. Even when it isn't about sex with them, it's about sex. I recently reread The Thin Man and it reminded me how fun it is to see a couple that's so deeply into each other. There was no sex on those pages either, but you just knew between the scenes that Nick and Nora Charles were all over each other.

There's an annual bad sex writing award - which I hate. The whole idea is to laugh at writers - usually big names - who did a terrible job writing sex scenes. In every case, I can sense the dread. The smooth writing becomes awkward. At times it feels as if they wrote everything else around it, maybe using a place keeper *insert sex scene here* then circled back at the end, leaned as far from their computers as they could, wrinkled their noses, turned their heads, painfully sputtered a few words across the page, slammed the computer shut and sent the manuscript off to their editor like it was a used diaper left cooking in the back seat of a car in Atlanta in August.

Have you ever felt like the sex scene ruined the flow of your story? Have you felt it ruined the flow of the story?  How did you fix that?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Let’s Get Real

By Lisabet Sarai

A few days ago, I received the welcome news that a short story of mine had been provisionally accepted into an anthology. The editor wrote:

I love your story, but it will need a little bit of amending: we cannot have any mention of anyone under the age of 18 having sexual thoughts or masturbating. (I know this is absolutely silly but we are not in a position to risk it.)”

Let me make it clear that this story (which would probably be categorized as literary erotica) does not feature underage sex. The main character has an unusual and rather dangerous fetish, which first appeared after an experience in his mid-teens. The story includes a flashback in which the protagonist describes those early events and how they shaped his current, adult sexuality. Like most teens, his reaction to arousal was to masturbate.

I’m not going to fight with this editor, first of all because I really would like to be part of the anthology and secondly because she recognizes the ridiculous nature of the prohibition. However, this state of affairs still makes me fume. I mean, let’s get real. Nobody masturbates more often than teenage boys! And sexual thoughts? As I recall my high school years, it was pretty difficult to focus on anything else!

It’s hard for me to understand the logic behind this rule. We’re not talking about pedophilia here. We’re discussing private sexual stimulation. Who is being hurt? Why should this be a forbidden topic?

The first time I remember masturbating, I was four. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, but I knew it felt good. I had erotic fantasies in grade school (about being kidnapped at the beach by a classmate who wanted to pull off my bathing suit). It’s an accepted scientific fact that children have sexual urges, and that in the years right after puberty, hormones run rampant. What purpose does it serve to pretend otherwise?

Does anyone still cling to the myth of childhood purity and innocence?

In fact, fetishes often have their roots in childhood experiences. Changing my story probably won’t do great violence to its main points, but it does reduce the authenticity of the tale.

People write, and read, erotica for many reasons. As for me, I’m simply fascinated by sex. My personal motivation in writing is to explore the way sexuality complicates, illumines and transforms human existence. I want to realistically portray the experience of desire and to show its varied impacts on the lives of my characters. If I can arouse my readers in the process, I’m pleased, but that’s a side effect rather than my primary goal.

It become quite difficult to achieve this goal when I’m forced to deny power and importance of teenage sex. Confusing, scary, wondrous, indescribably intenseour earliest encounters with sex strongly influence our adult fantasies and needs.

Anyone who says otherwise is either a liar, or out of touch with reality.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sexy Snippets for February

Greetings, Authors!

At this point, Valentine's Day is just a sweet, hot memory. However, you can help keep the erotic fires burning through February. Today's the day for sharing your Sexy Snippets.

The ERWA blog is not primarily intended for author promotion. However, we've decided we should give our author/members an occasional opportunity to expose themselves (so to speak) to the reading public. Hence, we have declared the 19th of every month at the Erotica Readers and Writers Association blog Sexy Snippet Day.

On Sexy Snippet day, any author can post a tiny excerpt (200 words or less) in a comment on the day's post. Include the title from with the snippet was extracted, your name or pseudonym, and one buy link. No extra promo text, please!

Please post excerpts only from published work (or work that is free for download), not works in progress. The goal, after all, is to titillate your readers and seduce them into buying your books!

Feel free to share this with erotic author friends. It's an open invitation!

Of course I expect you to follow the rules. One snippet per author, please. If your excerpt is more than 200 words or includes more than one link, I'll remove your comment and prohibit you from participating in further Sexy Snippet days. I'll say no more!

After you've posted your snippet, feel free to share the post as a whole to Facebook, Twitter, or wherever else you think your readers hang out.


~ Lisabet

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Abstinence, Condoms, Or Twenty Kids: Male Choices in Our New America

by Donna George Storey

We live in a tumultuous time and few can predict the news each day will bring. However, we can be certain that under a Republican Congress and President and with a Supreme Court that is bound to become more “conservative,” the U.S. government will move to limit its citizens’ access to contraception and sex education.

When I say citizens, I mean both women and men.

Yes, men will be intimately affected by limited access to contraception. Why do so few of them seem to understand this?

Shutting down funding for Planned Parenthood is always presented in terms of its effect on women’s health. Reproductive choice is regarded as a woman’s issue, something that might sway the votes of women, but never men. It’s as if men don’t play a role in pregnancy at all.

Men may no longer have the luxury of ignoring the fact that they do.

Let me pause here to say for the record that my argument has nothing to do with abortion, which is about what happens after conception. I’m talking about the access adult men and women have to modern medical technology that will enable them to have sexual intercourse without conceiving a child.

But seriously, you say, who would take this access to birth control away from us? That would never happen!

Haven’t you noticed? All kinds of crazy and unimaginable things are happening these days.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of powerful male politicians who either actually want to take access away--especially from the young and people with low incomes--or who go along without thinking through how it might affect their male voters’ lives. Too many of us take for granted that contraception is part of our right to privacy. Birth control has nothing to do with government control. However, a look back in history shows that our government has zealously denied its citizens access to contraception for a period of over ninety years.

Before the Comstock Act, a federal law pushed through a tired, distracted Congress in 1873, birth control was legal in the United States. The Comstock Act cleverly prohibited sending any device or information having to do with contraception through the mail. Its pure-minded father, Anthony Comstock, was also appointed as a special agent to the post office to enforce his law, which he did with sanctimonious enthusiasm. He most often targeted small-scale, immigrant-run condom and “womb veil” producers, while letting Goodyear, a wealthy company which manufactured rubber condoms as well as other rubber goods, avoid surveillance and consequences. By the way, the Comstock Act also prohibited sending obscene materials through the mail—including sex toys, pornography and erotica, although the latter was surely not as well-written as erotica authored today!

The Comstock Act was terminated in 1957--that is, not all that long ago--although in 1936 there was a court ruling, United States v. One Package of Japanese Pessaries (the best court case name ever!), that the federal government could not prevent a doctor from providing contraception to his patients. In other words, those who were wealthy enough to have enlightened physicians who supported family planning could enjoy the benefits of reproductive technology much earlier than the common man.

In Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court decided that the Constitution protected the right of married people to use birth control as late as 1965. Only in 1972 did Eisenstadt v. Baird allow unmarried people the same right. Estelle Griswold was the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut who opened a birth control clinic in New Haven to challenge the state’s lingering Comstock law. William Baird purposely got himself arrested and convicted for handing a condom and package of contraceptive foam to a 19-year-old unmarried woman after a lecture on birth control. We must remember this didn’t just happen. These brave people along with many others (Margaret Sanger and her husband and many more) endured prison and hardship to win us our right to control our reproduction.

It might be a fight we have to wage once more.

Indeed some want to turn back the clock to a more idyllic time in America, before all these pushy women had the idea they were equal and wanted to have sex without consequences. I’d like to consider what such a renaissance of old-time values and customs would mean for men who want to have sex today.

Until the 1920s, when sexual intimacy was first acknowledged as an important part of a married couple’s happiness, an enlightened man would be considerate of wife’s health and abstain from sexual intercourse as much as possible. That was the only universally accepted way to control family size. The desire for sex was a bestial urge, and the civilized man would conceive a few children to help his wife fulfill her womanly nature, then nobly refrain—or visit a prostitute.

Now some men were not so noble, or inclined to visit prostitutes, and relied on other means to control family size.

Clelia Mosher’s survey of married women beginning in 1892 revealed that withdrawal was a fairly popular birth control method back when men were men and women wore corsets all the time and not just for fetish reasons. Planned Parenthood reports that if always done correctly, only 4 in 100 women will become pregnant each year using the withdrawal method. I was told it was a terrible form of birth control, so I’m surprised it’s that good. Of course, the rate climbs to 27 out of 100 if the man is not as conscientious, so it probably is not a great method for teenagers.

Back in the early twentieth century, many doctors recommended against withdrawal because it would make men weak and mentally infirm. The argument was no doubt self-interested, but most men today would probably agree. The rhythm method was not discovered until 1930. Before that, most physicians thought women were “safe” at the midpoint of their menstrual cycle based on studies of animals. The rhythm method might also be called “limited abstinence” because the couple might have to abstain as many as ten days of the cycle. If you don’t like sex during menstruation, the period of abstinence will be even longer.

Is traditional-values living sounding good so far?

Condoms were the most popular purchased contraceptive back in our glory days. Goodyear rubber condoms were so thick and sturdy they could be washed and reused. If we return to such a way of life, remember that recycling is good for the environment! Latex condoms were invented in the 1920s but men still had to purchase them under the counter in cigar stores, gas stations and saloons. Bellboys usually had a few on hand if you tipped nicely. Again we might ask—who would take condoms from the shelves of CVS? Can we take anything for granted in this crazy twenty-first century world of ours?

The other option was and is, of course, to have lots and lots of children. If followed to its logical conclusion, a policy which prohibits family planning and sex education means that someone with an active sex life will have twenty children. Since every other man with an active sex life will also have twenty children, that's a lot of babies. And babies don’t die as often as they used to from diphtheria and measles as they did back in the day, although with an anti-vaxxer in the White House, infectious diseases might be great again, too. But let’s figure the world will be really crowded and competitive with all those kids running around. You think it’s hard to get into a good college now?

So in summary, gentlemen, if you don’t stand up and insist on every citizen’s right to reproductive options to your elected officials in the most vehement terms, you may well be left with the following choices of yore:

Rhythm method
Twenty kids

Then again there is one more option for sexual expression I forgot to mention: read erotic stories with your lover and pleasure each other manually and orally. Save the intercourse strictly for when you want kids.

Come to think of it, if we’re not slapped with a revival of the Comstock Act, the new era of reproductive restriction might be good business for erotica writers after all.

Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman and a collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at or

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I have a Crow to Pluck

I have a crow to pluck (bone to pick) with James Joyce.

Joyce has been credited with writing the greatest short story of the Twentieth Century, "The Dead," one of a collection of tales he compiled under the title, "The Dubliners." "The Dead" is also recognized as one of the first and best examples of modernist fiction, when writers began to use characters to look inward into themselves rather than out at the world.

Okay, don't panic, or worse, yawn. I'm not going to lead you through a class of Modern Fiction .101. It's just, there is something about "The Dead" that always rubs me wrong, despite that it's a marvelous story, on its face so simple and yet fraught with wry humor and symbolism. After many years I recently reread it and, sure enough, it still leaves me a tad irritated.

The story revolves around a social gathering that takes place years before the Irish rebellion hosted by three spinster ladies who are the queen bees of the Dublin musical scene. Included in the company are locally known musicians, an up-and-coming operatic tenor, an Irish nationalist and a token Protestant.

The master of ceremonies is the nephew of two of the ladies, and cousin to the other, Gabriel Conroy. Gabriel is portrayed as a nice enough guy by Joyce, but a bit of a stuffed shirt, a music critic who feels his education and world outlook elevate him intellectually several notches above the rest of the company. He frets his speech/toast that he has prepared for the evening will go over their heads.

By the end of the story, Joyce arranges to have the wind taken out of Gabriel's sails, his ego deflated and his sense of place in the world utterly unmoored, and in a way equally poignant and, I think, cruel.

Gabriel is in a static, lackluster marriage with Gretta, a simple girl from the West of Ireland, with whom he shared – he thought – an exuberant, lustful courting and nascent wedlock, until children came along and ambition became his main focus.

Before the party ends, he catches sight of Gretta at the top of a stairway, stock still, in what he sees as a classic pose, such as a goddess rendered in a Greek sculpture. She is rapt, listening to the tenor's rendition of a popular Irish ballad.

The vision ignites in Gabriel a long dormant passion. He wants nothing more than to hurry her to the hotel room he's booked for the evening, a night away from home and the kids. His heart swells with memories of the romance he experienced with Gretta in their youth.

Later, in their room, he's watching her undress, and it's all he can do to keep himself from pouncing on her. He makes his overture, but he is rejected. She just can't ... she's too upset. The song that had so enraptured her was one a young boy from her girlhood used to sing to her. His name was Michael and, she sobs, he died out of love for her.

Gabriel is at once amazed and angry. Gretta has never once told him of her previous relationship. He begins to interrogate her and she explains that Michael was a "delicate" young man, a euphemism for tuberculin. The night before she was to leave her home in Galway to move to Dublin, she found him standing outside her yard in the pouring rain. A week later, in Dublin, she learned he had died.

Gretta then cries herself to sleep, leaving her husband alone to contemplate life and his place in it. An epiphany shatters his illusions about himself and life. He realizes he has never inflamed the passions of Gretta, nor any woman, as the dead Michael had. He finds himself envying the sickly young fellow now long dead.

Despite Gabriel's shortcomings, his arrogance is a mild sort. He's not a bad guy. In the moments before his wife's revelation, he was bursting with love and lust for her, only to have that proverbial bucket of ice water poured over his ardor.

Joyce uses Gabriel's story as a metaphor for Ireland at the time. He was impatient for his homeland to get on with modernizing, but it was held back by quaint tradition and notions. It seems contradictory then, that he uses Gabriel, who looks outside of Ireland, for example taking his holidays on the continent. Still, he's also in a sort of stasis, benighted by notions of class and culture.

But, those are the greater themes. I'm not so much affected by what he is supposed to stand for, than as a sympathetic character who has just had his heart broken to pieces.

And perhaps that has always been the problem I've had with great literature. The BIG IDEAS never mattered as much as the small and very human characters who make their way between them.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Slipping in the humour...

By Sam Thorne, ERWA Editor

As an editor, the strangest request I’ve ever had from a prospective author was ‘can you make this funny, please?’

That’s all they wanted (other than a proof of the existing story). This chap had sent his 85k words of beautifully-composed gloom to a publisher who loved the story and the premise, but wanted him to lighten things up in parts so that the true gloom glowed. Yes, I know that sounds like a total contradiction.

I have to admit—it was the most intimidating job I’ve ever taken on. Black humour takes many forms so there were plenty of tools to apply to the job, but returning this supposedly FUNNY manuscript to the writer gave me separation anxiety. Pressing ‘send’ from my gmail account was akin to wobbling my way onto a stage on stand-up night and hoping I didn’t squeak into the microphone. Happily, the author loved the little touches added to his MS, but as it transpired, he was given a publication offer from an editor who was a fan of his original grim and loveless offering. That’s not meant as an insult, incidentally—it’s how he described his own writing (with pride!)

That was many years ago. Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time reading books about how to write comedy (none of which were particularly helpful), and looking forensically at the forms of humour across a range of novels, coffee-table collections, and TV programmes. This is not a hilarious business, I can tell you. To paraphrase Jimmy Carr (co-author of the fantastic book ‘The Naked Jape’), examining a joke or script is like dissecting a frog; by the time you’ve got to the bottom of what made it tick—note the past tense—nobody’s laughing and the frog has died.

So, before I get into the meat of this article, I’d like to post a disclaimer. You are unlikely to titter, guffaw, or snigger at any point. I'm just talking about tools you can use.

The most intimidating aspect of creating humour is that humour is totally subjective. Of course it is. Whether or not your witticisms will elicit a grin in your reader depends on a few factors:

  • Their life experience and prejudices
  • Their mood
  • Their natural tendency towards schadenfreude (the laughter reaction at someone else’s expense) vs their preference for kindness
  • Their sense of enjoying the ridiculous.

Different people are tickled by different things, so it may help, as a starting point, to associate different types of humour with different beasts:

The elephant

The elephant is king of the farce. It’s situational humour brought about by characters with entirely conflicting goals. Most sitcoms largely fit into this category. But wait! Some sitcoms are considered to be lacking in substance, while others give the impression of being up-beat and edgy. Why? Because the situations depicted are those that the audience strongly relate to, which brings us to…

The owl
The owl is the wise one, who’s seen everything and has the worldly knowledge. People grinning at an episode of ‘Modern Family’ quite often do so because of the distinct feeling of connection. The owl has been there, done that, and worn the tee shirt. The owl is all about observational humour. The owl is the representative for a huge branch of stand-up comedy. Yet, even if the situations discussed in a monologue have the potential to make you laugh, whether you do so or not depends on the delivery. Not everyone enjoys an observation which is harsh or close to the knuckle. Which brings me to…

The snake
The snake is the overlord of deliberately cutting humour. Schadenfreude belongs here, as does the razor-sharp quip, clever word-play and black humour. The snake represents one-liners, the put-down you wish you’d used while engaged in an argument. Stand-up comedians with an abrasive edge belong here.

Primary enjoyment of snake humour doesn’t mean you have a dark soul—perhaps you simply effective sarcasm, or a twist on a cliché: I don’t have much shame; I have to ration it.

The bat
The bat is the creature of the zany. Think groan-humour. Think total surreality or incongruity. Monty Python’s sketches (and The Holy Grail) largely belong in this category, as does Airplane, the Naked Gun series, and so on. Stand-up comedians who fire off a hundred puns in ten minutes fall into this category. If the majority of your chuckles are generated from bat humour, then you have a very strong sense of the ridiculous.

Classifying humour sources in this way goes a long way to showing why humour is so subjective, and why some comedy series or films do better than others—because they combine the beasts so well. Breaking Bad has a situational concept (elephant), with a strong snake edge. Blackadder (which remains one of the most successful British series of all time) combines all four. I’m sure you can think of a few stand-up comedians who blend owl and snake to perfect effect.

Hopefully all this provides a framework for understanding what tickles you, and why. You might want to keep this guide at hand for a few weeks while you’re reading or watching films or TV. Get to know your sense of humour. Make friends with it. Hell, give it a name, even.

So, in terms of conveying your sense of fun on the page, what tools do you have? Within dialogue, you have quite a selection:
* understatement (most prevalent in Brit, Aussie or NZ humour)
* sarcasm and exaggeration (good for snake or bat humour, depending on tone).
* indignation (arises naturally from elephant humour, empathy deriving from owl humour).

Humour within dialogue works best when your characters have very conflicting goals. This in itself will guide the intonation in your characters’ speech, doing half the job for you. If you've heard a good one-liner you want to use, build your scene around it. Create the context in which this is said. In constructing a scene where you want your characters’ banter to work well:
  • keep dialogue tags to a minimum. The faster the conversational flow, the better.
  • let the punctuation create intonation and tone of voice as far as possible.
  • Play it straight. Have your MC laugh at other characters’ lines by all means, but limit the number of times that another character falls about laughing at your MC’s wit. If that’s going to happen, let the reader do it. However, if your MC gets into a pickle, there’s no problem with other characters having a laugh at their expense.
  • If you’re writing omnisciently, or writing memoir-style in the first person, you can get away with a far more visible narrator. In which case, you can apply the principle of contrast to your speech tags:

“He’d look wonderful in a harness.”
“Or a headlock,” I offered, marching away before Stella could give me the be-nice-to-Dan speech. 

Some of the most memorable and effective comic moments come from the laugh generated by surprise. Without actively trying to be funny or consciously writing lively banter, you’ll find that you’ll get a lot of mileage out of the concept of incongruity. It’s hands-down the easiest tool to use to create that note of levity in your work, whether you’re simply to lighten the mood after a tense scene, or creating a bit-part personality to bring the best (or worst) out of your main character.

The trick is to present a very strange situation or personality with a totally straight face. The incongruity principle covers diversions from the expected such as:

  • an unexpected foe: like the hard man who’s reduced to impotent, furious, tooth-grinding compliance by his formidable four-foot-tall grandmother. The foe could be internal, too. Imagine being a real estate agent with claustrophobia. It’s not good if you have to ask your clients to walk themselves around the property…
  • a stereotype smashed to pieces: like the nonagenarian who’s hysterical at the thought of going into a nursing home because they might not let him take his X-box. Or perhaps the bloke who’s really shy at work but who gets arrested for public indecency…
  • an incongruous partnership: this is where the best bromances are born. The reader should be intrigued to find what two such totally different people could possibly have in common. Perhaps the brutish, widowed, aloof personal trainer develops a soft spot for the teacher at his son’s school, who’s about half his size and a nervous wreck. However, they bond in mutual indignation when someone parks in the disabled space…

So – how to use all this information?
  1.  Write down things that annoy you. Groups of people who annoy you. Can you get any mileage out of making them opponents to your characters? Even if only as part of a scene to bring out your main character’s timidity / wit / annoyance / eloquence / indignant speechlessness?
  2.  Conversely, if a friend makes you crack up laughing, think what you were talking about. A situation? A mutual acquaintance struggling with a situation? Did they crack an awesome one-liner? If so, borrow semi-shamelessly (in other words, ask first).

Yes, humour is subjective. It’s dependent upon delivery, context, timing and audience. But once you’re on speaking terms with your own funny bone, your inspiration for creating grin-worthy prose will increase tenfold.