This is the beginning of a short series on comic elements in stories.
I have never written strictly comic stories, my writing tends toward darker or more serious stories, but I like to add comic elements. These elements are situational, not in the sense of a situation comedy filled with punch lines, but the humor lies in the situation.
Humor changes the pace of the story, can reflect on what is happening, or gives the reader another side of a character.
One type of humorous scene has one character totally misunderstanding or not having the right information in a situation.
This example is from an unpublished category romance of mine called COURTING DISASTER. The hero and heroine work at the same sporting goods store during the Christmas rush, and they’ve finished a full day of work. They chat in the parking lot at their cars. Cody is very interested in Maggie, but she’s not interested in any man because she wants to remain true to her late husband. For the first time, she’s beginning to see that maybe this isn’t quite as easy a life decision as she thought.
Cody sighed loudly. "On a night like tonight, I'm glad I don't have to go home to an empty house. Nothing’s worse than an empty house and a dinner for one."
Maggie’s heart twitched more painfully than her feet. That was exactly what was waiting for her. An empty house. “You have a housemate?"
"No. I was talking about Molly." They stopped by Maggie's car, and Cody grinned inanely. "I must admit Molly turns me into a pile of mush when I'm around her. I never expected to be as crazy over her as I am."
Cold settled in Maggie's heart. "That's nice."
"I really miss her when I'm working. I promised her I'd spend tomorrow morning with her. I can already guess what will happen. She'll curl up against me in bed early tomorrow morning, rest her head on my chest, and stare at me with those big brown eyes until I wake up."
Vivid images flashed through Maggie's head. A beautiful woman naked against Cody, her head resting on his magnificent bare chest--he probably had curly auburn hair on it--and he'd..., and she'd... Maggie fumbled for her keys in her purse, her head down to hide embarrassment and envy.
"Later, we'll go for a run in the woods and find some fallen leaves to play in. She loves fallen leaves. We'll play in the leaves, then I'll scratch her tummy, and her tail will really wiggle. Then we'll snuggle."
Considerably more than her tail would wiggle if he scratched her tummy. But she didn't want her tummy scratched! Not by him, not by anybody. She was an adult, she was Jeff's widow, she was.... She was jealous of Molly.
Flustered by that knowledge, Maggie unlocked her car door. "Well, have a nice day off."
"I intend to."
The punchline of sorts is that Molly is Cody’s golden retriever puppy. In this case, the reader is “in” on this joke because Molly was in an earlier scene with Cody, but the reader can also be fooled.
I didn’t want the reader to think Cody was deliberately fooling Maggie about Molly’s identity so I had him tell her about his puppy earlier although he failed to mention her name which was an honest omission on his part, not a mean joke.
I also didn’t want Maggie to be an idiot about this mistake so I let her realize her error a few paragraphs later when Cody shows her the new collar he got for Molly. This also allows her to question her own feelings about Cody and her determined decision to remain a widow.
To make this light moment more than a throw-away joke, I made Molly an integral part of the plot through the novel.
For a light moment to work in a novel, it should never be a throw-away joke.