Clear your throat.
You mutter a weak, “Thanks,” and snatch back your manuscript, all the while thinking, Dillhole. Dillhole. Dillholedillholedillhole.
You walk away fuming. That part wasn’t funny. That part was never meant to be funny. You poured your heart and soul into that scene, hoping it would tear the same out of your reader’s chest. And they giggled. Chuckled, maybe. Who knows? There could have been a whooping fit to match a hyena.
If it hasn’t happened to you already, it probably will. And I feel there are two ways to handle the situation: ignore it, or don’t ignore it (mind-blowing stuff, right?).
Let’s start with Don’t ignore it. I feel this situation applies only if you were trying to establish the most tragic, romantic, or profound of moods. For example: You write a scene where your protagonist, after six years of searching, finally finds the home of her birth mother. She rings the doorbell and peeks through the sidelight to catch her first glimpse of the one brought her into this world, only to give her up. An older woman appears at the top of the stairs. She squints back at the familiar-seeming face, her expression of curiosity melting into one of recognition and joy. She steps forward, arms outstretched, and trips over a puppy playing on the tread below. The protagonist screams, but can do nothing to stop the horror playing out in front of her eyes. Both woman and dog tumble down the steps, a windmill of fur and extremities. They hit the landing with a sickening crunch, the window framing their deaths like a grisly postcard.
At this point, unless you happen to be one of the Python boys, you’ll be wanting your reader sobbing onto the well-worn pages of your novel (not enough to smudge the lines, mind you, but enough to leave a telltale grief stain so other readers will know in advance of your knife-twisting skill). If, instead, they’re holding their sides and howling, “A puppy!” between shrieks of laughter, you’ll probably want to rewrite it (Scratch that. If you write anything involving puppy-tripping-tragedy, you should definitely rewrite).
Moving on to the more apt option, Ignore it:
Not everyone has the same sense of humor as you. Some people find irony in things we overlook. Some people have a very dry wit. And others are just plain weird when it comes to what they think is funny (like Adam Sandler movies). Unless no one gets your jokes and everyone thinks your drama is hysterical, just let it go. It’s not worth second guessing every single reader’s reaction to your work. In fact, it’s impossible. Just let them find what they need in your writing, and move on. At least you’re getting a laugh. It’s more than you can say about I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.
I know, I didn’t have to go there.
I just wanted to.