5 Rules for Writing Humor Right

You may think it’s difficult to write funny stories, but the truth is it’s excruciatingly agonizing. Also, if you endure all that pain and get the humor wrong, readers will laugh at you (and your mismatched clothes and uncombed hair) rather than at your story.

Since humorous writing is so tough to get right, why don’t we forget the whole thing? For one, if we can manage to tell a funny story, readers like it. An amusing tale lifts them from the gloomy tedium of their dreary lives, the poor things. Think of it as a public service, kind of a ‘clown-author saves the world’ idea.

I know, I know. I hear you saying, “But, Steve, I write serious fiction. I don’t need to know how to write humor.” Okay, surf elsewhere if you want. But you really should spice up your “serious fiction” with occasional bursts of frivolity, if only to break up the interminable stretches of seriousity.

For those still reading this, I’m about to reveal my five simple rules for writing humor. Well, they’re not that simple, and aren’t actually rules, but at least they do total up to five. To develop them, I scoured the Internet (and it needed a good scouring). Then I spent literally lots of minutes searching for good advice on writing humor. I found that good advice from Brian A. Klems, Joe Bunting, Annie Binns, and Joe Bunting again. While blindfolded, I then chose only the choicest rules, right up until I got tired. After five. Here they are:

1. Maintain the elephant of surprise. Take common sayings or clichés and tie them in knots. Go in directions the reader doesn’t expect.

B. Dare to ask why pants come in pairs. Start with the ordinary, the mundane, the familiar, and the everyday, then find some weird aspect about it all. Look at it from a bizarre angle. Drive your reader to that vantage and invite her to look, too. (Note, “Hey, Babe, let me drive you to my bizarre-angled vantage to look at my weird aspect” is not a recommended pick-up line. Ever. It’s a metaphor.)

III. It’s still legal to discriminate against words. Choose words carefully. Unearth a thesaurus and examine its guts. Select specific words, not general ones. Seek words that sound humorous when juxtaposed. (I think the word ‘juxtaposed’ is kinda funny all by itself.)

Four. It’s a story, not a routine. When a comedian performs a stand-up routine, he feels free to change topics several times. You can’t do that. Your story must hang together as an integral whole, not consist of disconnected jokes. I blogged once about how some movies do that well and some do it poorly.

7. No, sorry—5. Wait for it… Structure your sentences so the last words have the most impact. Ideally, the joke is in the very last word. Develop a comedic sense of timing so that you’re not rushing to get to that ending punch. Let your sentences roll along, lulling the reader, and then swing your sledgehammer. (Metaphor again.)

If you study those five rules carefully, I can guarantee that…well, that you’ve studied them carefully. You’re going to need a lot of practice to actually write funny stories, and so will—

Poseidon’s Scribe

January 15, 2017Permalink