for the love of God i cannot write witty characters. all my dialogue comes off as SUPER cheesy. any advice?
Thanks for your question, darling! That’s an issue I’m sure we’ve all faced, especially for those of us with different senses of humor (I’m much more a sarcastic/goofy person – not quite wit). And what makes this worse: there really isn’t advice for us out there! I always try to research other methods before answering these questions, but I just couldn’t find anything!
So obviously, I don’t have all the answers, but here are a few tips I’ve learned from experience:
- Decide how they use their wit. Every witty person does not use their wit in the same situations or for the same reasons. For each “witty” character, ask yourself: do they use their wit for humor? Do they use it as protection or a barrier between them and others? Do they use it to ease social anxiety? You should also decide if they’re extroverted or introverted – and therefore, do they make an effort to speak up and share their wit, or is it something that slips out?
- Decide the tone of their wit. This largely has to do with their personality, but also to do with the questions above. Are they more sarcastic? Flirtatious? Argumentative? Performative? Is their tone comforting and open to interplay, or more private and final? Are they mean-spirited, purposefully or accidentally? How do others perceive their tone?
Once you’ve discerned what kind of wit your characters use, consider the following:
- Witty people think quickly. This doesn’t mean they jump on everything they hear with a quip – but speed is what sets conventionally “clever” people apart. There are many of us who can think of hilarious, sharp things to say… hours after we’ve gone home. This may be why you’re struggling. It’s a lot of pressure to come up with quick, funny comments on the spot if that isn’t how you naturally work. So try to work with your mind, at your speed. If it takes you a couple hours to think of a response for your character, take a couple hours. Type in the gist of what they’re saying and come back for it later.
- Witty characters are a tool to be used sparingly. A snarky/overeducated character can easily become annoying if they speak too much – and it’ll stall your writing, too. So don’t try to make everything that comes out of their mouth a brilliant insight. Let them speak normally (in their voice, of course), so that their shining moments don’t become glaring.
- Learn from real-life examples. My personal favorites: autobiographies of novelists, poets, and comedians. Watching improv can also be a good resource; going out and meeting new people can expose you to new kinds of wit and humor. Any method of getting into the mind of naturally witty people will be good research.
- A witty character isn’t the key to your story. Unless your plot literally revolves around the wit of a character, you don’t have to try to follow the trend of the funny, brilliant, philosophical/pop-culture-referencing protagonist (or comic relief character). Every writer has their own strengths and weaknesses! If it’s really causing you trouble and it’s not necessary to the plot, it may be better for your story to change the character. There are plenty of other character traits – many of which are less overdone in modern literature, and that’s only a good thing.
That’s all I can really think of for you! It’s really something to figure out on a scene-to-scene basis, and it varies between characters. If you need help with certain scenes, feel free to message me and I’ll get back to you soon :) Good luck!