Showing posts with label humor in writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label humor in writing. Show all posts

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Tips on Writing Humor, Part II

"You're mad, bonkers, completely out of your head.
But I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are."
                                                                        ~Lewis Carroll
By Linda Wilson   @LinWilsonauthor

This month, Part Two of "Tips on Writing Humor" takes a peek at how farce and sarcasm are used in fiction.

Farce

In my search for humorous reads, I picked up the perfect book: The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs,  from the hilarious trilogy about Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria Von Igelfeld, author of that great triumph of Germanic scholarship, Portuguese Irregular Verbs. The book is by Alexander McCall Smith, the prolific and illustrious author of many other series, including the popular No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. I enjoy all of McCall-Smith's books, though I found the Von Igelfeld trilogy the most delightful. Anyone can take these books at face value and enjoy them. But I had to keep my wits about me, for I was on an important comedic quest. So, hang on. Some of what I found may not seem to pertain to writing, but as I quickly learned how LARGE the subject of humor is, I realized I wanted to learn as much as I could in order to use humor effectively.

Von Igelfeld goes to America

In his article, "An Anatomy of Farce," Michael Arditti helped me make sense of the premise behind Von Igelfeld's shenanigans. "The action of a farce is propelled by panic, with characters lying to save face, which compounds their troubles since they now have to deal not only with the original problem but also they lie and hence they behave even more bizarrely."

Not to be outdone by his colleague, Printzel, who had been invited to America, Von Igelfeld connived to obtain an invitation to visit America himself, and leave before Printzel had a chance to go. He believed he better represented German philology, his area of expertise, far better than the inferior Printzel. Off Von Igelfeld went, not to prestigious-sounding New York or California, but to the University of Arkansas in the Ozark mountains. Upon arrival, Von Igelfeld is flummoxed by his host's insistence on visiting his hog operation before anything else. The professor  " . . . sniffed the air; it was distinctly malodorous." Arditti writes, "In farce, after the first ten minutes there’s no time to make jokes because they’re so busy running around;  the laughs come from character and situation. The biggest laughs in farce are on lines like “what?”

Von Igelfeld is equally confused by the farmer's questions on doses of vitamin C, B, potassium. We soon realize Von Igelfeld's dilemma when he finds he has been mistaken for Professor Martin Igelfold, author of Further Studies of Canine Pulmonary Efficiency, and the world authority on sausage dogs, from the University of M√ľnster. While Von Igelfeld has come to America to discuss verbs, he finds that he is expected to lecture to an audience of scientists, veterinarians, and dog breeders on a subject he knows nothing about: sausage dogs. (He didn't know that sausage dogs were first brought to America by German settlers in the 1890s and bred  here ever since). And so the lies begin. And grow to monstrous proportions in the professor's attempts to save face. Even later he maintains his cool when confronted by a guest who pulls him aside to tell him how sorry he was to read about his death. But no worries, professor. The guest assured him his obituary had been a glowing account.

Satire 101

Satire can be directed toward an individual, a country, or even the world. It can be serious, as when used as a protest or for exposure. In humor it is used to make fun of something or someone. At its best, satire is used as a vehicle for improvement. Here is as example of how Mark Twain used satire:

"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was written shortly after the Civil War, in which slavery was one of the key issues. While Mark Twain's father had enslaved people throughout his childhood, Twain did not believe that this practice was right in any way. Through the character of Jim, and the major moral dilemma that followed Huck throughout the novel, Twain mocks enslavement and makes a strong statement about the way people treated enslaved people."

Verbal and Dramatic Irony: In irony, words are used to show the opposite of the actual meaning. An example of verbal irony is when a friend shows up for dinner and the host says, "Look who the cat dragged in." Described in several ways in the article "Types of Irony," dramatic irony is:

Considered by many writers as a potent tool for exciting and sustaining readers' interest

A plot device used to create situations where the reader knows much more about the episodes and resolutions before the characters

Involves the reader, raises expectations, intensifies episodes, and propels stories forward.

Examples of dramatic irony include Shakespeare's plays, such as Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet; Animal Farm by George Orwell, where the reader is aware of many more facts than the animals. O. Henry's short story, "The Gift of the Magi" is an excellent example:

  • A poor couple, very much in love, want to give a Christmas gift to one another. "She is very proud of her long, beautiful hair and he is equally proud of his pocket watch. The irony comes in to play when she cuts and sells her hair to buy him a chain for his watch, and he sells the watch to buy her combs for her hair." 

Parody: Directly mimics a subject for a humorous effect. A well-known example is how Saturday Night Live often parodies movies, commercials and television shows. As described at http://literarydevices.net/parody/, in literature Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, parodied, " . . . in the style of Spanish romances of the 16th century to mock the idealism of knights in the contemporary romances." When combined with satire, parody can make satire more effective. It adds flavor and helps keep the reader's interest. In order to be successful, the original subject must be thoroughly known. 

Sarcasm: Sharp or cutting remarks get their meaning across with sarcasm, but need to be made with a light touch in order to be humorous and not hurtful. Some of the most famous funny sarcastic remarks were made by Groucho Marx: "I never forget a face, but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception," and ""Marriage is the chief cause of divorce."

For Kicks and Giggles

Screwball Comedy: Now I learned something here. At first, movies like Dumb and Dumber immediately came to mind as examples of screwball comedy. But according to the Wiki definition, Dumb and Dumber is an example of slapstick comedy, the type of comedy portrayed by absurd situations and physical antics. Screwball comedy originated in Hollywood, and lasted from 1934 to 1942. Like Some Like it Hot and The Philadelphia Story, this type of movie offered up romantic comedies with farcical situations; such films provided escape and offered hope during the Great Depression. The romantic comedy Date Night, starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey, is noted as containing some screwball comedy elements. Goodreads provides a short list of current screwball comedy books at http://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/screwball-comedy

Dark Comedy: Takes an otherwise serious subject and makes it humorous, such as in HBO's True Blood series about vampires living among the residents of Bon Temps, Mississippi. Examples in literature include, Kurt Vonnegut's books, Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions, and A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess.

More Ways to Exercise your Funny Bone

Amuse yourself and take honest pleasure in your amusement. Dinty Moore, from How to Be Funny, edited by John B. Kachuka

Be honest. Characters need to make choices that feel real in the context of the world that you've created. Dinty Moore, from How to Be Funny, edited by John B. Kachuka

Your humor must move the story forward or illuminate your theme. Justin Halpern

Surprise Yourself: Take the world as it is and show it to us upside-down. You must surprise yourself first. You must be . . . a bit of an anarchist, someone who doesn't mind shouting a bit, or telling ani-knock knock jokes. Robin Hemley, "Relaxing the rules of Reason," from How to Be Funny, Kachuka.

Keep a Humor Log: Collect funny names and incidences. When you find yourself laughing at something, or something funny occurs to you, write it down. If writing for children, note what age group the humor might appeal to. "Writing Humor--But, Seriously, Folks," by Esther Blumenfeld and Lynne Alpern, Writer's Digest, January 1982.

Listen to humor in TV shows: Go into another room and listen to television comedies; listen for the plot development, the setup, placement and rhythm of funny lines and the building to a climax. "Writing Humor--But, Seriously, Folks," by Esther Blumenfeld and Lynne Alpern, Writer's Digest, January 1982.

Read humor analyses by such comics as Jack Benny and Johnny Carson. I've begun by buying, How to Write Funny, edited by John B. Kachuba, which is a compilation of essays by humorists and is chock full of good advice.

Sources:

http://typesofirony.com/dramatic-irony/  

http://examples.yourdictionary.com/satire-examples.html

https://americanliterature.com/author/o-henry/short-story/the-gift-of-the-magi 

A Packrat's Holiday won first
place for fiction, ages 3-8, in the
New Mexico Press Women's
2022 Communications Contest, and
went on to win first place
in the National Press Women's Contest



Linda Wilson writes stories for young children. Visit Linda at https://bit.ly/3AOM98L.Click the links for free coloring pages and a puppet show starring Thistletoe Q. Packrat. While you’re there, get all the latest news by signing up for Linda’s newsletter. 

Find Linda’s books at  Amazon Author Page.

Connect with Linda: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram  


       


 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Writers: Tips on Writing Humor, Part One

Lots of Humor in Waddles the Duck: Hey, Wait for Me!
                                  Linda Wilson's latest picture book, illustrated by Nancy Batra

By Linda Wilson @LinWilsonauthor

In articles about writing funny, some authors say if you can write well, you can also be funny. That sounded reasonable. Others say humor writing is "tricky." Getting warm. Note: mustn't mistake for hot flashes. I didn't even let Frank Gannon discourage me when he said, If you want to write humor "you obviously have something wrong with you, and that is the one single quality that all humorists must have. You have something wrong with you, but you don't want anyone to notice what it is. Therefore, you try to make them laugh." What a relief. Finally, someone has the guts to tell me what's wrong with me--I want to write humor!

Jokes aside, the truth is most say humorous writing is hard work. I say, we writers work hard at everything else. Why not humor, too? Here are three reasons to try:

People love to laugh; laughter is good for us.

Humor is an effective communication tool that can humanize our work and even make the act of writing more enjoyable. Also, it boosts creativity by challenging us to approach our craft in new ways. From: How to Write Better Using Humor, by Leigh Anne Jasheway.  

Toss in the bottom line and there you have it, every reason to give humor a go: "Humor is the one thing that I've never seen an editor say they have too much of . . . period. They all say they'd like to see more." Jan Fields, Author, Instructor and Web Editor of the Institute of Children's Literature.

Ways to Ease into your Funny Bone

Make your humor lighthearted: Try poking fun at human nature. Funny things happen around you every day. Everything you do has potential for humor. The keys are to remember to be gentle, be consistent throughout the book; and as stated below in the Tips, your humorous parts must move the story forward and/or relate to the story's theme (just like everything else, or out it goes).

An unexpected turn in Bruce Coville's book, The Skull of Truth, made me laugh out loud when the main character, Charlie, ate dinner with his family. Charlie had somewhat of a problem: he was a liar. Throughout the book the theme of "Don't lie" came out loud and clear. The dinner table discussion offers a seamless example of combining humor with the book's theme: "Andy Simmons ate a bug today," put in Charlie's youngest sister, Mimi, who was in kindergarten . . . "Then he spit it out. It was gross." She looked very pleased with herself. "Charlie wondered if the story had any truth to it. He still hadn't figured out how to tell when Mimi was fibbing."

Jack Gantos' book, Dead End in Norvelt, the 2012 Newbery prize winner, is replete with good ole, new-fashioned edgy humor. If the first sentence about Jack's mother ruining his summer vacation doesn't grab you, the excruciatingly long second sentence will: "I was holding a pair of camouflage Japanese WWII binoculars to my eyes and focusing across her newly planted vegetable garden, and her cornfield, and over ancient Miss Volker's roof, and then up the Novelt road, and past the brick bell tower on my school, and beyond the Community Center, and the tall silver whistle on top of the volunteer fire department to the most distant dark blue hill, which is where the screen for the Viking drive-in movie theater had recently been erected." Talk about getting hooked by an introduction. I was already smiling, which made absorbing the opening facts effortless.

Exaggerate: Author Connie Willis wrote that Mark Twain called exaggerations "stretchers." Stretching the truth is funny, just don't go too far.

Later in the Norvelt story, it would be hard to top how Jack saved a deer his dad had in his sights when they went deer hunting together. At the most intense moment when his dad was about to pull the trigger, Jack was squatting high up in a tree house in the freezing cold   . . . when . . . "a gut desire to save the deer gave me just enough oomph, and I let out a thin stream of gas which sounded roughly like the slow opening of a creaky coffin lid that had been closed for a thousand rusty years .  . .'Good timing.' [his dad] said sarcastically without even looking at me." (I urge you to read this exhilarating, hilarious yet touching book because this example is far too brief and covers only a slight part of that scene; like so much else in the book it is hilarious while at the same time pulls the heart strings.)

For Children

Bathroom humor: Describe situations where someone breaks wind, something smells, mention underpants, make up words and names

Slapstick comedy: Exaggerate physical clumsiness, such as slipping on a banana peel

Tell Jokes

David Lubar, author of Hidden Talents, an ALA Best book for Young Adults, voted onto over twenty state lists by thousands of kids and educators; the sequel True Talents, and short collections including, In the Land of the Lawn Weenies on writing funny:

Overstatement: Comic exaggeration or overstatement is especially easy with first-person narration. In "Get Out of Gym for Free:" "I figured the gym teacher would be tough, but he looked like he was about to bite off someone's head and spit it on to the floor. Maybe after sucking out the eyeballs."

Understatement: In "At the Wrist:" "I'd lost Dad's hand. This was not good."

Death, and taboos: In general, can be funny as long as it isn't personal. Lubar wrote a whole series about a dead kid that is a hoot.

Relief: We laugh at pitfalls because we're relieved that they've happened to someone else.

Surprise: The joy of figuring out the unseen connection or seeing the unexpected solution. Humor arises when the reader figures out the unstated connection. In "Cat Got Your Nose?": "Emily liked visiting Miss Reaker. She made wonderful cookies, as long as you didn't mind a bit of cat hair among the chocolate chips, and the occasional little crunchy thing that was better left unidentified." Seeing the connection between two objects is funny, too: "Even with his face wrapped in black cloth, I had no trouble identifying Jimmy, thanks to a unibrow that could have been mistaken for a climbing rope." From: Seven Stages of Humor, by David Lubar.

Ideas from Susie Brown's blog

Use Funny Words:  For "destroy, " say "pulverize;" for "impractical," say "dorky."

Timing: Construct an artificial lull by starting a new paragraph before something funny happens; gives the reader time to think about what came before and brace themselves.

Tell a dumb joke, then make fun of it.

Say the punch line in a foreign language.

Make fun of yourself: Keep self-ridicule light; don't be afraid to call yourself a dimwit, but if you do, do it proudly. The key to self-ridicule is confidence. From: Write Funny--You'll Make More Money. by Susie Brown

Additional sources: How to Write Funny, by John Kachuba, Chapter 6, "The More and Less of Writing Humorous Fiction," by Connie Willis; and Chapter 12, "Writing 'Funny Bits' for Kids," by Patricia Case; "Writing Humor--But Seriously, Folks," by Esther Blumenfeld and Lynne Alper, Writer's Digest, January 1982; "How to Write Funny," by Lynn Coulter, from an undated SCBWI newsletter; "Funny Business," by Frank Gannon, Writer's Digest, December, 1993.

Next month: Part Two of "Tips on Writing Humor" takes a peek at how farce and sarcasm are used in fiction.


Linda Wilson lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is a classical pianist and loves to go to the gym. But what Linda loves most is to make up stories and connect with her readers. Visit Linda at https://www.lindawilsonauthor.com. Sign up for Linda’s quarterly giveaways. Choose your prize! 

Find Linda’s books at https://www.amazon.com/author/lindawilsonchildrensauthor.





Friday, February 28, 2014

Tips on Writing Humor

Photo by Kim Byrd Copyright 2014

In articles about writing funny, some authors say if you can write well, you can also be funny. That sounded reasonable. Others say humor writing is "tricky." Getting warm. Note: mustn't mistake for hot flashes. I didn't even let Frank Gannon discourage me when he said, If you want to write humor "you obviously have something wrong with you, and that is the one single quality that all humorists must have. You have something wrong with you, but you don't want anyone to notice what it is. Therefore, you try to make them laugh." What a relief. Finally, someone has the guts to tell me what's wrong with me--I want to write humor!

Jokes aside the truth is, most say humorous writing is hard work. I say, we writers work hard at everything else. Why not humor, too? Here are three reasons to try:
  • People love to laugh; laughter is good for us.
  • Humor is an effective communication tool that can humanize our work and even make the act of writing more enjoyable. Also, it boosts creativity by challenging us to approach our craft in new ways. From: How to Write Better Using Humor, by Leigh Anne Jasheway.  
  • Toss in the bottom line and there you have it, every reason to give humor a go: "Humor is the one thing that I've never seen an editor say they have too much of . . . period. They all say they'd like to see more." Jan Fields, Author, Instructor and Web Editor of the Institute of Children's Literature.
Ways to Ease into your Funny Bone

Make your humor lighthearted: Try poking fun at human nature. Funny things happen around you every day. Everything you do has potential for humor. The keys are to remember to be gentle, be consistent throughout the book; and as stated below in the Tips, your humorous parts must move the story forward and/or relate to the story's theme (just like everything else, or out it goes).
  • An unexpected turn in Bruce Coville's book, The Skull of Truth, made me laugh out loud when the main character, Charlie, ate dinner with his family. Charlie had somewhat of a problem: he was a liar. Throughout the book the theme of "Don't lie" came out loud and clear. The dinner table discussion offers a seamless example of combining humor with the book's theme: "Andy Simmons ate a bug today," put in Charlie's youngest sister, Mimi, who was in kindergarten . . . "Then he spit it out. It was gross." She looked very pleased with herself. Charlie wondered if the story had any truth to it. He still hadn't figured out how to tell when Mimi was fibbing."
  • Jack Gantos' book, Dead End in Norvelt, the 2012 Newbery prize winner, is replete with good ole, new-fashioned edgy humor. If the first sentence about Jack's mother ruining his summer vacation doesn't grab you, the excruciatingly long second sentence will: "I was holding a pair of camouflage Japanese WWII binoculars to my eyes and focusing across her newly planted vegetable garden, and her cornfield, and over ancient Miss Volker's roof, and then up the Novelt road, and past the brick bell tower on my school, and beyond the Community Center, and the tall silver whistle on top of the volunteer fire department to the most distant dark blue hill, which is where the screen for the Viking drive-in movie theater had recently been erected." Talk about getting hooked by an introduction. I was already smiling, which made absorbing the opening facts effortless.
Exaggerate: Author Connie Willis wrote that Mark Twain called exaggerations "stretchers." Stretching the truth is funny, just don't go too far.
  •  Later in the Norvelt story, it would be hard to top how Jack saved a deer his dad had in his sights when they went deer hunting together. At the most intense moment when his dad was about to pull the trigger, Jack was squatting high up in a tree house in the freezing cold   . . . when . . . "a gut desire to save the deer gave me just enough oomph, and I let out a thin stream of gas which sounded roughly like the slow opening of a creaky coffin lid that had been closed for a thousand rusty years .  . .'Good timing.' [his dad] said sarcastically without even looking at me." (I urge you to read this exhilarating, hilarious yet touching book because this example is far too brief and covers only a slight part of that scene; like so much else in the book it is hilarious while at the same time pulls the heart strings.)
For Children:
Bathroom humor: Describe situations where someone breaks wind, something smells, mention underpants, make-up words and names
Slapstick comedy: Exaggerate physical clumsiness, such as slipping on a banana peel
Tell Jokes

David Lubar, author of Hidden Talents, an ALA Best book for Young Adults, voted onto over twenty state lists by thousands of kids and educators; the sequel True Talents, and short collections including, In the Land of the Lawn Weenies on writing funny:
Overstatement: Comic exaggeration or overstatement is especially easy with first-person narration. In "Get Out of Gym for Free:" "I figured the gym teacher would be tough, but he looked like he was about to bite off someone's head and spit it on to the floor. Maybe after sucking out the eyeballs."
Understatement: In "At the Wrist:" "I'd lost Dad's hand. This was not good."
Death, and taboos: In general can be funny as long as it isn't personl. Lubar wrote a whole series about a dead kid that is a hoot.
Relief: We laugh at pratfalls because we're relieved that they happen to someone else.
Surprise: The joy of figuring out the unseen connection or seeing the unexpected solution. Humor arises when the reader figures out the unstated connection. In "Cat Got Your Nose?": "Emily liked visiting Miss Reaker. She made wonderful cookies, as long as you didn't mind a bit of cat hair among the chocolate chips, and the occasional little crunchy thing that was better left unidentified." Seeing the connection between two objects is funny, too: "Even with his face wrapped in black cloth, I had no trouble identifying Jimmy, thanks to a unibrow that could have been mistaken for a climbing rope." FromSeven Stages of Humor, by David Lubar.

Ideas from Susie Brown's blog

Use Funny Words:  For "destroy, " say "pulverize;" for "impractical," say "dorky."
Timing: Construct an artificial lull by starting a new paragraph before something funny happens; gives the reader time to think about what came before and brace themselves.
Tell a dumb joke, then make fun of it.
Say the punch line in a foreign language.
Make fun of yourself: Keep self-ridicule light; don't be afraid to call yourself a dimwit, but if you do, do it proudly. The key to self-ridicule is confidence. FromWrite Funny--You'll Make More Money.

Additional sources: How to Write Funny, by John Kachuba, Chapter 6, "The More and Less of Writing Humorous Fiction," by Connie Willis, and Chapter 12, "Writing 'Funny Bits' for Kids," by Patricia Case; "Writing Humor--But Seriously, Folks," by Esther Blumenfeld and Lynne Alper, Writer's Digest, January 1982; "How to Write Funny," by Lynn Coulter, from an undated SCBWI newsletter; "Funny Business," by Frank Gannon, Writer's Digest, December, 1993.

Next month: Tips on Writing Humor, Part 2


Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 40 articles for children and adults, six short stories for children, and is in the final editing stages of her first book, a mystery story for 7-9 year olds. Publishing credits include Biography TodayHighlights for Children, Pockets; Hopscotch; and true stories told to her by police officers about children in distress receiving teddy bears, which she fictionalized for her column, "Teddy Bear Corner," for the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office Crime Prevention Newsletter, Dayton, Ohio. Follow Linda on Facebook.




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