Jan 22 2014 5:25pm

Love and Laughter: Humor in Romance

In a Fix by LInda GrimesWriting a post on the most humorous characters in romance should be easy peasy, right? I thought so, since there is nothing that I love better than a book that makes me laugh. But figuring out what makes a character funny stumped me because of trying to decide which came first—the scenario (chicken) or the character’s witticism (egg).

Many of my favorite authors plop their characters in outlandish, embarrassing scenarios—usually a cute meet—and then the chaos begin. In contemporary books, authors such as Susan Andersen, Christie Craig, Rachel Gibson, Jane Graves, Kristan Higgins, Julie James, Sophie Kinsella, Jill Mansell, and Pamela Morsi  are experts at creating the cute meet. I am not as knowledgeable and current in the fantasy or historical genre but I do recall hilarious books like Maggie Osborne’s westerns and MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead books. Recently I also discovered Linda Grimes’s smart, snappy tongue-in-cheek In A Fix books and Molly Harper’s Naked Werewolf series. And last year I read the sweet and hilarious Dog Days by Elsa Watson.

Along with the cute meet, some authors have the ability to take it to the next level by adding perfect repartee. You know, the precise witticism that you and I only dream of saying. Usually we think of what we should have said, hours or days after the scenario.

Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsFor example, Susan Elizabeth Phillips's Natural Born Charmer starts out like most of Ms. Phillips'a books do, as a comedic farce.  The heroine, Blue Bailey, is walking down the road in a beaver costume when the hero, Dean Robillard, drives past her. It is clearly situational, but the dialogue between the two is witty and droll, and immensely entertaining and I smile every time I read it. 

She nearly poked out her eye as she pushed a sweaty spike of hair away from her cheek with her paw, which didn’t seem to be detachable. “I could use a ride.

“Are you going to gnaw my upholstery?”

“Do not mess with me.”

Apologies.” For the first time all day he was glad he’d decided to get off the interstate. He tilted his head toward the car. “Hop in.”

Even though this was her idea, she hesitated. Finally, she shuffled after him. He should have helped her in—he did open the door for her—but he just stood back to watch the fun.

Mainly it was the tail. The sucker was basically spring-loaded, and as she attempted to wedge herself into the leather passenger seat, it kept smacking her in the head. She got so frustrated she tried to rip it off, and when that didn’t work, she stomped on it.

He scratched his chin. “Aren’t you being a little tough on the ol’ beaver?” 

Clearly, stating “Are you going to gnaw my upholstery?” or “Aren’t you being a little tough on the ol’ beaver” wouldn’t be funny without the setup of Blue dressed in a beaver costume, but most people wouldn’t have the quickness to come up with that type of dialogue.

When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa JamesEloisa James thinks up farcical situations in some of her historicals. In When Beauty Tamed the Beast, the heroine’s father and aunt want her to descend further down the path of ruin by becoming pregnant, a unique and odd perspective. And then hero Piers’s position as a physician lends itself to humor, as the heroine, Linnett, reads a medical journey’s detailing the latest medical beliefs: 

“I’m reading one of the books from your library,” she told him. “A medical book.”

“Oh? Which one?” He sounded completely incurious.

“Dr. Fothergill’s Medical Observations and Inquiries. It’s very interesting.”

“It’s unmitigated rubbish. Don’t trust anything it says. In fact, don’t trust anything you read in any of those books you find in the library. Most of them were written by jabbering idiots.”

She popped her head out from behind the screen. “Do you mean that daffodil juice won’t cause a man to lose his potency? So disappointing!”

“I can see you’re planning ahead,” he said, raking a lock of hair from his eyes. “For the next man in your life, the lucky sod.”

Another way to infuse a book with humor is to tell the story in first person and have the character have a self-effacing narrative. One of the best is Becky Bloomwood from Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series. Ms. Kinsella adroitly pokes fun at Becky’s self-justifications for spending. And it is humorous, because don’t we use the same faulty reasoning at times:

OK. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. It’s only a VISA bill. It’s a piece of paper; a few numbers. I mean, just how scary can a few numbers be?

I stare out of the office window at a bus driving down Oxford Street, willing myself to open the white envelope sitting on my cluttered desk. It’s only a piece of paper, I tell myself for the thousandth time. And I'm not stupid, am I, I know exactly how much this VISA bill will be.

Sort of. Roughly. 

New Tricks by David RosenfeltDavid Rosenfelt's New Tricks, in the Andy Carpenter series, is also told in first person, and just thinking about “song talking” makes me laugh:

“Hot out there,” I say after he has grabbed a cold soda.

He nods. “You ain’t kidding. Summer in the city. Back of my neck getting’ dirty and gritty.”

Sam and I are practitioners of a juvenile hobby we call “song-talking,” during which we try to work song lyrics into our conversations. Sam is a master at it: if they gave out rankings in song-talking he would be a black belt.

He’s opened with a Lovin’ Spoonful gambit. Fortunately, I am somewhat familiar with it, so hopefully I can compete. I nod sympathetically. “Isn’t it a pity. There doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city.”

He doesn’t miss a beat, walking over to the window and looking down on the street. He shakes his head sadly. “All around the people looking half dead, walking on the sidewalk, hotter than match heat.”

“You’re too good for me, “I say. You ready to start the meeting?” 

What fictional characters get your vote for the most humorous?


Leigh Davis, Blogger

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Carmen Pinzon
1. bungluna
I don't have the memory for dialogue to do quotes and can't look 'em up right now, but two authors who always make me laugh are Jennifer Crusie and Shelley Laurenston.
2. Kareni
I have to admit that Julie James can certainly have me laughing while reading.
3. Travelover
I love Tessa Dare's books. I find myself laughing outloud reading her novels.
Maggie Boyd
4. maggieboyd66
SEP's cereal kiler scene from Nobody's Baby But Mine is one that always gets a laugh out of me.
5. Nia2113
@bungluna Yes Shelley Laurenston kills me with every one of her books. I think Blayne and Bo were my favorite. Like when she levels him and then starts singing the theam from Rocky but cannot remember the words "Something, something now! Getting something, something now!"
6. JacquiC
I second the "cereal killer" scene. That one is a personal favourite.

I also second the Crusie reference, particularly Welcome to Temptation. I remember giggling many times in that one.

I also liked Molly Harper's first werewolf book quite a bit.
7. Cate
Lauren Willig's Carnation novels have a great streak of humour running through them, and Turnip Fitzhugh is a creation of genius .
8. Robert D.
Jill Myles' Succubus Diaries, Dakota Cassidy's Accidental series, and Jaye Wells Sabina Kane.
9. pamelia
Tara Sivec's Chocolate Lovers starting with "Seduction and Snacks".
The Charley Davidson books by Darynda Jones.
Kristen Ashley's Rock Chick books.
Victoria Dahl's contemp series starting with "Talk Me Down"
R. L. Mathewson's Neighbors from Hell series.
Carmen Pinzon
10. bungluna
I just remembered two epic funny scenes:

1. Single White Vampire by Lynsay Sands - codpiece scene at a RT-like convention plus Mrs. Chuckles.

2. Ripped by Sarah Morgan - turkey waxin, 'nough said.
11. Tammye
I second the Jennifer Crusie and Shelly Laurenston! I also love Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series!
12. Madison W F
Love Darynda Jones. Great writing style. And Cat Devon too.
13. KateS
SEP is always good for a great laugh and Jill Shalvis has a great humor voice.
14. PAL
I found a newish author, Lexi George, hysterical. Her Demon Hunting in Dixie books are a treat. Reading about the scene in the funeral parlor had me in stiches. I was in bed reading that scene and was rolling it was so funny.
15. Janina
Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Love her. Sometimes I wonder how long it takes her to come up with those repartees. :-) Whether they're automatic or long thought-out by the author, I love them!
16. Suzi R.
Three of the funniest books I ever read are Linda Howard's Mr. Perfect and Open Season and Jennifer Cruisie's Crazy for You. I love Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle books.
17. TamaraF
Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie is always a favourite.
18. lisadh
For modern romances: Jennifer Cruisie, Janet Evanovich, and Cathie Linz ("Luck Be A Lady" is a particular favorite). For historicals, Julia Quinn and Lisa Kleypas have a great way with dialogue that keeps the humor flowing.
Mary Lynne Nielsen
19. emmel
One author you wouldn't expect to do humor, but nonetheless did it well: Mary Balogh's Lady With the Black Umbrella.
20. MsTree
Sandra Hill's historicals and contemporarys. 'Nuff said. ^_^
21. cathy0816
My 2 all time faves and not mentioned yet... Kate Macalister, her vampire and dragon series. And Sandra Hill, her viking vampire angels...'nuff said.
22. Glittergirl
Shelly Laurenston also writes historicalish Dragon Kin under the name G A Aiken. They are histarical. The family dynamics and characters will keep you in stitches. Outlandishly funny.
23. buck
How about Julie Garwoods historicals? They always make me laugh.
24. Fillie
The Countess by Lynsay Sands is absolutely hilarious! One of the rare books that actually made me giggle throughout a good portion of the novel.
25. Lizzie18
Love this post, especially since I know most of the authors and books you guys mention.
Shelly Laurenston is yes absolutely hilarious. My go-to books when I need a little pick-me-up, especially those bears, Yum...
Buck, I thought I was the only one who found the Julie Garwood historical books absolutely funny! I'm glad to find I'm not the only one.
I enjoy Molly Harper (her new one is on my to-be-read pile) and Lexi George (but no new book on the horizon); love humor in vampire and demons books; I prefer it to the end of the world scenarios.
And Linda Howard writes about murder most foul, but the repartee she injects in her conversations is funny and fun to read. Mr. Perfect and Open Season are indeed on my keeper shelf, or rather my keeper bookcases since I have so many of them, including all those I mentionned here.
I do indeed enjoy a dash of humor in my books, and sometimes a whole bucketfull!
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