If you’ve attended our Writers Write course, you will understand the importance of listing your favourite books. I’ve recently revised my list to include the books that I have read this past year and I have noticed something that I haven’t before. The books I like are funny. Not thigh slapping, loud, guffawing funny, but more like snort, laugh to myself funny, or laugh through the tears funny. This is interesting to say the least, because, to me, one of the hardest things to crack in writing, is humour.
You do get funny people, no doubt, but most of us have to work at being funny. It takes practice. I do believe everyone can be funny or at least funnier than they are now. I don’t think anyone plans to be funny, because humour is opportunistic. It’s up to you to identify those moments or opportunities.
It is also important to find your kind of funny.
Think of what makes you laugh, and that will steer you in the right direction. We can’t all be Leon Schuster and personally, I think one of him is enough. Do you like Monty Python or Ellen DeGeneres, Robin Williams or Woody Allen? Each one has a different style or kind of humour. Humour can be over-the top, slapstick, sarcastic, subtle or inappropriate. John Green makes you laugh through your tears, Janet Evanovich is like Bridget Jones on steroids and Jenny Lawson is ridiculously inappropriate. But what works for you? You might find that you like a certain kind of humour, but when you write, yours it’s totally different. As much as I love John Green, I suck at sad stories so the chances of me making you laugh and cry are slim, unless my writing is so bad you don’t know if you want to laugh or cry.
Pay attention to you what you say.
Often we say funny things, but when we write we can’t do it. When you crack a joke, make a note of it. If you and a friend manage to get the people around you to laugh, start recording your conversations.
My 11 tips to get you started
- Take something familiar and turn it on its head. Use traditional metaphors and clichés and give them odd endings. Example: What does not kill you makes you stranger.
- Study jokes and their structures. Write your own using that formula.
- Take a boring piece of writing and try to rewrite it so that it is funny.
- Study comedians. Listen to their pace. Learn where to pause and when to speed up.
- Be as specific as you can. As with all writing, don’t be generic. Strong verbs and nouns are more important than ever.
- Make sure humour suits your narrative. If you are writing a funny story, start funny and stay funny.
- Don’t be funny for the sake of funny, unless you are writing a joke book. If you are writing fiction, you still need a beginning, a middle and an end; not a series of jokes or funny situations that get you to 50 000 words. You still need a goal and a conflict.
- Use the Power of Three: List things in threes. The first one makes you grin, the second should you smile and the third should make you laugh.
- Repetition and word play are great tools. Even if you can’t tell/write a joke wonderful things can emerge when you start playing with your words.
- Think of Friends, The Big Bang Theory or the last comedy you watched. How did they build it up? How did they structure the joke? Also be kind to yourself, those shows and movies often rely on teams of writers.
- Practice, practice, practice.
Feel free to leave your favourite One-liner in the comments section below. Please keep it PG or it will be removed. This is after all a public forum.
by Mia Botha for Writers Write