Humor writing comes naturally to some authors. Others have to work hard to be funny. (Sounds funny, doesn’t it. . .working hard to be funny?) I’m one of those who came into the world with an overactive funny bone. Oh, it occasionally gives me trouble. Life’s woes kick in and my funny bone gets arthritic. It locks up. Whenever that happens, I trip myself on purpose, just to loosen it back up again. (Hey, a girl can only go so long without laughter!)
Yep, from the time I was a little girl, I was the happy-go-lucky sort. Giggly. Goofy. My mom always called me a ham because of my overly-dramatic style. Not that I minded. Oh no. Drama was my thing. And performing comedy on the stage was the thing that made me happiest.
Then I grew up. . .and life happened. Unfortunately, some of the events of my grown-up life weren’t funny. In fact, they were pretty tragic. Still, through my faith and my innate desire to keep on keepin’ on, I managed to keep my smile intact much of the time.
So, what does this have to do with writing? Everything!
I wrote as a child—poems, stories, even a novel (in the 6th grade). And my drama sketches in high school were a hoot. (Note: There’s no greater thrill for a humor writer than to write for the stage. An audience filled with laughing patrons is the best gift in the world! Talk about instant gratification!) I went on to write musical comedies for the stage at a local school of the arts. Time after time I was rewarded with that “instant” gratification. And it felt good. In fact, it did my heart proud to know I was bringing joy to others, and there was some sense of satisfaction in knowing they “got” me. So, when I began to think about writing books for a living about fourteen years ago, I decided to take the humorous approach. What a ride it has been! During this crazy, awesome, rollicking season as a published author, I’ve written quirky romantic comedies for women of all ages. What joy! Not only do these humorous stories transport readers, they lift my spirits, as well. And frankly, I’ve needed my spirits lifted.
So, what makes a story funny? Here are a few tips to creating a tale that will tickle the funny bone:
1. Create unique characters: Think of your favorite sitcom. For me, Everybody Love Raymond is near the top of the list. Why did I love that show so much? The characters were (individually) hysterical. Each one had his/her own quirks. And those quirks got them into (and out of) jams. When you set out to write a comedy, create a cast of characters that you absolutely love. Don’t just focus on one or two. Choose at least three characters in your story who really have that extra “zing.” Characters that readers will remember for years to come. In my “Weddings by Bella” series, I created several funny characters (and boy, have I heard from readers about them). These characters include Aunt Rosa, Uncle Laz, Bella and the trio of “sisters” from Splendora Texas. These wacky people will stay with me for the rest of my life! I think some of my readers have adopted them, as well.
2. Exaggeration: If your character is tall, make him really tall. Chubby? Make her exceptionally chubby. Nervous? Make him overly anxious. Claustrophobic? Carry it a bit further than the norm. Does she like to wear lipstick? Make it Pollyanna Pink or Ruby Red. Give that character an exaggerated “sticking point” that readers will remember. And, exaggerate plotline highs and lows, as well. Is she in a valley? Make it a deep one. Is he on the mountaintop? Give him the experience of a lifetime.
3. Situational comedy: Spend time watching for humorous moments in your own life. What “situations” get you giggly? Think about placing your characters in a “situation” that will play out in a humorous way. By way of example, let’s look at I Love Lucy. Did we really find it believable that a housewife would take a job in a chocolate factory and end up shoving candies down her blouse? Um, probably not. Did we laugh like hyenas when the episode aired? You betcha! I Love Lucy was the perfect example of a situational comedy. Week after week we waited to see what “situation” our gal would end up in. We empathized with her (this is very important) and we thought she was a little kooky. In short, we saw a little of ourselves in her.
4. Slapstick: Think of Larry, Mo and Curly. Sure, their antics got a little old after awhile, but you get the idea. “Physical” comedy (tripping over things, physical gags, etc.) has always had its place in humor writing. Use these events sparingly, but don’t rule them out.
5. Pacing: There’s much to be said about the placement of words, phrases and inflections. Pacing is truly everything in comedy. In many respects, it is learned by trial and error. If you aren’t sure something is working, run it by your critique partners. See if they’re tickled by your words.
6. Living the Life: Let humor lead the way! In my own life, I find that being funny on the page is easier when I’m truly walking through life with a joyous attitude. It’s not always easy (and life often intervenes, threatening to remove any hint of humor), but for those who live a life of faith, it is possible. The Bible is loaded with all sorts of great scriptures about joy. Check out this verse: "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22) When we transfer our “merry heart” to the page, then we’re sharing the joy with our readers. Is there any greater honor?
I’m going to close by sharing a humorous twist on the beatitudes, which I’m calling “The BE-Happy-Attitudes for Christian Writers.”
Blessed are those who are poor in contracts,
for they will surely reap their reward if they do not give up.
Blessed are those who mourn as a result of rejection slips,
for they can be comforted in the fact that they are not alone.
Blessed are the meek, humbly accepting God’s call and recognizing that any accomplishment comes from His Mighty hand, for they will inherit the respect of fellow authors, as well as the favor of God.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for great-writing, for their computers will be filled with well-written manuscripts.
Blessed are those who are merciful to editors and agents, for they will be shown abundant mercy.
Blessed are the pure-hearted authors who seek to serve the Lord with their writing, for they will see God – both in their work and their worship.
Blessed are the peacemakers, doing all they can to humor cranky critique partners, for they will be called “godly mentors.”
Blessed are those who are persecuted because they wear the name “Christian writer” for they carry the indisputable call of God on their lives.
Blessed are you when editors insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against your well-loved and beautifully written manuscript. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven; for in the same way they persecuted the many Christian authors who walked before you.
You (writers) are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
You (writers) are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
That’s it for now, writers. Go forth and giggle!
My website: http://www.blogger.com/www.janiceathompson.com
Weddings by Bella blog: http://weddingsbybella.blogspot.com/
My book review blog: http://doublebookedjanice.blogspot.com/
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Janice will also be giving away a copy of Swinging on a Star to one visitor to Seekerville. As always, leave your email address or be sure your profile has an email addy. Winner will be announced in the Weekend Edition!
Ruth and I just whipped up a little Italian Cream Cake for Janice ( I let Ruth help because she thinks she is part Italian). Recipe from The Pioneer Woman.
This is a double slice for the Funny Bone Lady.