Let’s discuss the first major element of writing humor.

Aristotle said, “The secret to humor is surprise.” That’s how far back this element goes. 

I. Surprise: the ability to provide a reaction the reader didn’t expect, or to put your character in an unexpected situation. 

Surprise is the most universally accepted form of comedy. A joke is merely a story with a surprise ending. Television shows like Candid Camera, Punk’d, and America’s Funniest Home Videos rely heavily on the element of surprise.

Most of the memes passed around on Facebook have the unexpected twist.

First, let’s enjoy a musical interlude:


In the movie, Men in Black, Agents J and K head out to question a known alien about other alien activity. You can view the scene here: 


The surprise works so beautifully, Frank the pug goes from a cameo to a more substantial role, becoming Agent J’s partner in Men in Black II.

Remember the wedding scene in The Princess Bride? The impressive-looking official (played by the brilliant Peter Cook) begins the ceremony with:


In my contemporary romance, A Run for the Money, two virtual strangers must join forces in a scavenger hunt to gain their inheritance. When the deceased’s attorney refuses to provide them with any additional information, the heroine, Nicole Fleming, hints she might resort to violence to get what she needs. The hero, Dante, watches, while mentally comparing Nicole to his ex-wife, Linda:
“I’m picking up a good backswing here,” she hinted, her legs rocking at an almost furious pace.
The attorney’s face flushed crimson. “Young lady, if you think you can intimidate me–”
“Ms. Fleming,” Dante cut in before the temperature in the room grew from heated to violent. “Why don’t you and I grab some lunch somewhere? We may as well get started on this adventure.”
She veered toward him so quickly he thought she might kick him instead of the attorney. For a brief moment, her eyes flared the blue fire of a gas stove. Then, with a deep sigh signaling surrender, she let loose with Linda’s favorite F word.

You thought she was going to say something else, right? 


Want to shake up the dialogue in your story? Surprise your reader with the unexpected reply or twist in the narrative.

For tips on writing and fun articles, visit Gina’s Articles For Writers page: Need editing services for your manuscript? Gina is proud to announce the launch of Excellence in Editing: