I've been asked to write about this for a while now, probably because I'm never serious when chatting with folks, whether it's on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or in some other wondrous online place. (Yes, I'm online a lot. No, really, I'm NEVER serious.) I also want to write novels that are so very silly, they choke on themselves from laughter, albeit my first trilogy was soul-rending, but that's because I was going through shitty times. Now shitty times are behind me, and my 2nd novel, ROSEHEAD, is fully edited and in my hands! To those of you who pre-ordered it, you're so patient, thank you. I'll ship you a banana for patience, together with the book, in the same package. Just wait a few more weeks. I have to read it, send it for formatting, and it will be published. Anyway, in ROSEHEAD I have finally flexed my sarcastic muscle (there is one, it's close to your anus), and this is why IRKADURA was so hard for me to write. It felt too gruesome and bleak, so I injected 2nd draft with bitter sarcasm and magical realism. Cue Roald Dahl a la Stephen King, people! Anyway. My next novel after this, PAGE TURNER (not sure about the title yet, maybe it will be BOOK JUMPER) will be packed with sarcasm, because that's what I love, making fun of people and people making fun of me (didn't you figure it out by now?!?!). Ahem, of course, except those moments when I try to translate a Russian joke into English and it renders my audience speechless. NOT because they're struck by my genius. Some jokes just don't translate very well. By no means am I a comedian (I wish, I wish... there are so many awesome comedians on Twitter who put me to shame every day, my tired quips, oh well...), so I'll dish on you the things I do, and see if you can apply some of it to your writing, that is, if you want it to be funny.
Turns things upside down. This is the simplest idea. In any joke, story, line of dialogue, if you turn things upside down, or inside out, they get funny. For example, if you start off your story with something like: After I died, brushing teeth in the morning became very cumbersome, the bastards would fall out like frosted flies. Okay, I just pulled this out of my ass (I told you that's where the sarcastic muscle is!), but you can see how the idea is turned upside down and the tone of mockery makes you anticipate a story that will make you laugh. Number one, if you're dead, why in the world would you want to brush your teeth? And then, of course, it becomes this interesting dilemma, because, well, you rot after you die, right? So, from here on you can keep going in the same mood, applying it everywhere. In dialogue, it's the same thing. You can say something like: "Go get dressed!" The mother shouted at the daughter. "Oh, but I prefer to walk around naked, mother. It's so breezy." Said the daughter with an innocent smile. So here instead of your character reacting literally to the mother's angry outburst, you turn it upside down and make it the sweetest thing possible, adding the facial expression to that. Here is another example, a description. You can say something like: His heart drummed in his ears, his hands shook, he finally came to a stop under a pair of burly oaks by her house, proud of his new ride, desperate for her to see it. It was a pink pony. So, BAM! You make the reader think maybe it's some new Ferrari or something, so, again, you turn the whole description upside down (or inside out), and, voila! Later you can add to this that his name was Bobby and that he was 5. Same principle applies to more philosophical concepts, like, when you are trying to convey the central theme of your novel. Let's say it's "lust wins over everything!" In this case you can say: She balanced on the very edge of indecision, arms outstretched, so John, that philandering despot she met the other night at the bar, helped her fall into the abyss of carnality with one calculated move. He swiftly tore... (We shall stop here.) See, you can play with concepts by flipping them in such a way as if they were real objects, and that makes it funny.
Surprise the reader with unexpected exaggerated things. I've been asked about my influences a lot, like, whom did I read when I was little, who inspired me. Well, Daniil Kharms was one of my favorite writers since I was a kid, and he loved to pull stints like this one, a super short story FALLING OLD LADIES:
"Because of her excessive curiosity, an old lady fell out of the window and smashed into the ground.
Another old lady looked out of the window, staring down at the one who was smashed, but out of her excessive curiosity she also fell out of the window and smashed into the ground.
Then the third old lady fell out of the window, then the fourth did, then the fifth.
When the sixth old lady fell out of the window, I got bored watching them and went to Maltsev market where, they say, someone gave a woven shawl to a blind."
Here is one more, called SYMPHONY N. 2:
"Anton Mikhailovich spat, said "yuck", spat again, said "yuck" again, spat again, said "yuck" again and left. To Hell with him. Instead, let me tell about Ilya Pavlovich.
Ilya Pavlovich was born in 1893 in Constantinople. When he was still a boy, they moved to St. Petersburg, and there he graduated from the German School on Kirchnaya Street. Then he worked in some shop; then he did something else; and when the Revolution began, he emigrated. Well, to Hell with him. Instead, let me tell about Anna Ignatievna.
But it is not so easy to tell about Anna Ignatievna. Firstly, I know almost nothing about her, and secondly, I have just fallen of my chair, and have forgotten what I was about to say. So let me instead tell about myself.
I am tall, fairly intelligent; I dress prudently and tastefully; I don't drink, I don't bet on horses, but I like ladies. And ladies don't mind me. They like when I go out with them. Serafima Izmaylovna have invited me home several times, and Zinaida Yakovlevna also said that she was always glad to see me. But I was involved in a funny incident with Marina Petrovna, which I would like to tell about. A quite ordinary thing, but rather amusing. Because of me, Marina Petrovna lost all her hair - got bald like a baby's bottom. It happened like this: Once I went over to visit Marina Petrovna, and bang! she lost all her hair. And that was that."
There is another little story that I could't find anywhere (you can read a bunch of them here), and it went something like this. Kharms starts off with describing a character who had no right leg, and he had no left leg, and, to be frank, he didn't have arms either, and he didn't have a head, and, well, he wasn't there at all, actually! So why are we talking about him? I don't remember how this story ends, if at all, but I do remember reading it and laughing at it, at the man with no head and no limbs, at this mockery of old ladies' curiosity, which is perhaps a joke strictly applicable to those typical old hags every Soviet apartment building had, still has. They poked their noses into every affair and then spread rumors and gossip. There you go, this is pure sarcasm for you, delivered via an exaggeration.
Make your characters say blunt things. This is as simple as it gets. When someone meets someone in your novel, you can just have one of those people say: Wow, you look fat, did you gain weight or did you swallow a cat this morning? You can surround this character with polite people, and this will be the one person who makes harsh comments, effectively upsetting the balance each time and mocking other characters. Despite the fact that the character can be even dumb, it's the juxtaposition that will make the mockery effective. This particular character can also interrupt dialogue with remarks that have nothing to do with what those people are talking about, essentially allowing you to taunt those characters. It's a great tool, and I plan to have one of the four kids in PAGE TURNER (BOOK JUMPER?) to do exactly that.
Bury the topic of discussion under a layer of mundane. This is fun to do. Have your characters talk about weather when there is something glaringly obvious in front of them and needs to be discussed instead of the weather, like a dead body. It becomes hidden mockery, this NOT talking about what is in front of them. It's actually one of those techniques I inadvertently grew up with, reading Russian writers, in particular, reading THE MASTER AND MARGARITA by Bulgakov in my teens and rereading it now. The brilliance of this book, back when it was finally published 20 or some years after Mikhail Bulgakov's death, was in what he didn't say. Numerous times in the novel the characters would disappear, vanish into thin air, and people would attribute it to black magic, but the mockery, the bitter sarcasm was directed at Stalin's Secret Service Police that came in black cars in the middle of the night and took people out of their beds, never to return to their homes again. Therein lies Bulgakov's irony. You can do the same. Find something obvious and hide it, for your reader to discover and to laugh at even if it's laughter through tears.
What else can you do? Well, my advice is, read books that are sarcastic, that make you laugh. Dissect them, see what makes you laugh, and try to discern a pattern. The more you read, the more you will see it. My favorites in this regard are the the Russian authors already mentioned, Anton Chekhov (his short stories are hilarious), The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Christopher Moore. I have yet to read Caitlin Moran and Helen Fielding and Fran Lebowitz, but I'm getting there. Now, let's all ride pink ponies!!!