How to Write Wit
Unfortunately, wit really can’t be taught – some people just have an instinct for it. The best way to learn wit is to spend time around it. Listen to witty people in their conversations, or read examples of wit from history and literature (Ambrose Bierce and Winston Churchill would be great starting points). As you explore wit, you’ll start to notice certain qualities that always seem to be present:
- It’s snappy. As William Shakespeare famously said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” If your lines take up too much space, or have a clunky rhythm, they won’t seem witty.
- It’s clever. As we saw in §1, witty remarks take a moment to “land.” You hear them, but then you need to puzzle them over in your head for a moment.
- It’s funny. Although witticisms don’t always make you laugh out loud, they do usually produce a chuckle or at least an “Ooooh…”
- It’s deadpan. Witty lines are delivered with a completely straight face. They’re not silly or over-the-top jokes.
When to Use Wit
Wit is great for cocktail parties and action films. It’s fun, and in the best circumstances it can show off the author’s cleverness, but it certain settings it can also come across as flippant and obnoxious. The best place to use wit is in the dialogue of your creative writing. A witty line can show how intelligent your character is, especially in situations of great danger (see §3). Witty conversation is also a great way to show that two characters are good friends. When they have a good repartee going (see §6), it means that they’re able to poke clever fun at one another without growing offended or alienated. These scenes can be very fun to write if you have a talent for wit.
In formal essays, it’s sometimes tempting to deploy wit. To a writer, it might seem like you’re going to show off how clever you are through witty lines. But in an essay your job is not to show off your own cleverness. In fact, doing this can often come across as irritating, especially since it gives the impression you aren’t taking the project seriously enough. A little cleverness here or there can be fine (especially in the title), but be careful! It’s very easy to go too far with this. If a subtle witticism occurs to you, you can include it in your paper if you must; but never go out of your way to make an essay witty.