I found this link to a fascinating interview with the late, great humorist when he was in his early nineties. I found his advice to people writing humorous stories very valuable and several of his suggestions challenge my current approach. So I am encouraged by the opportunity for growth.
Here’s a small portion taken from the website of AbeBooks. The interview they have posted was from a 1975 interview in The Paris Review.
If you were asked to give advice to somebody who wanted to write humorous fiction, what would you tell him?
I’d give him practical advice, and that is always get to the dialogue as soon as possible. I always feel the thing to go for is speed. Nothing puts the reader off more than a great slab of prose at the start. I think the success of every novel – if it’s a novel of action – depends on the high spots. The thing to do is to say to yourself, “What are my big scenes?” and then get every drop of juice out of them.
The principle I always go on in writing a novel is to think of the characters in terms of actors in a play. I say to myself, if a big name were playing this part, and if he found that after a strong first act he had practically nothing to do in the second act, he would walk out. Now, then, can I twist the story so as to give him plenty to do all the way through? I believe the only way a writer can keep himself up to the mark is by examining each story quite coldly before he starts writing it and asking himself it is all right as a story.
I mean, once you go saying to yourself, “This is a pretty weak plot as it stands, but if I’m such a hell of a writer that my magic touch will make it okay,” you’re sunk. If they aren’t in interesting situations, characters can’t be major characters, not even if you have the rest of the troop talk their heads off about them.
What do you think makes a story funny?
I think character mostly. You know instinctively what’s funny and what isn’t if you’re a humorous writer. I don’t think a man can deliberately sit down to write a funny story unless he has got a sort of slant on life that leads to funny stories. If you take life fairly easily, then you take a humorous view of things. It’s probably because you were born that way. Lord Emsworth and his pig – I know they’re funny.”
Never read PGW? This is the first of his novels I read. Try it out out and just you try not to laugh.