Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘how-to’s of humor

Laura Toffler-Corrie, author of The Life and Opinions of Amy Finawitz , graciously agreed to both allow me to interview her and to write a guest blog. Last week I posted our interview. What follows is her guest blog on the how-to’s of writing humor.

As a person who writes humorous books, I‘m often asked these basic questions: How do you do it? Is it hard? What’s the formula? Is there a formula? And how can I do it? My answers are typically straightforward: I don’t exactly know. Sometimes. Don‘t have one. Probably not a good one. You can try.

The End.

Just kidding!

But seriously folks, comedy is a funny business, mostly because everyone loves to laugh. Now, of course, some people are funnier than others; some are stand up comedian funny, and some just think they are, but everyone cracks a few funny jokes now and then. So then can almost everyone write funny? The answer is a decisive maybe yes, maybe no. It‘s often an elusive ability. Sorry. That’s just the way it is. But before you get too annoyed by my opinion, I will say this about that: if you want to write humor, you should certainly try and, if you follow my humble guidelines, you have a better shot of pulling it off (in my humble opinion).

Did I mention that I mean this in the most humble way possible?

Anyway, here goes:

Read Work From Funny Authors:

And not just current, living authors either. Dead authors can be very amusing too, oft reminding us that people have been cracking each other up for centuries. Plus, with dead authors, there’s virtually no chance of being subjected to pesky, inferior sequels. Writers such as Charles Dickens, Kurt Vonnegut, Woody Allen, (yes he’s written books too) Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and Joe Orton are a good place to start. In kidslit, some humorous books I like are Amelia Bedelia, Junie B. Jones, The Princess Diaries, Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging, Eighth Grade Super Zero, and Emma Lazarus Fell from a Tree. Of course there are many more.

And don’t be a funny snob (meaning, a snob about what’s funny). See classic, funny movies (which, presumably, started as scripts) by the Marx Brothers, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. Plus, see silly movies like Sixteen Candles and Zombie land. Of course, there are dozens more of these too.

Listen to the Way People Really Talk:

People rarely ever say what they mean in a straightforward way. As a matter of fact, the thing that makes soap opera writing seem melodramatic is that the conversations are too on the nose. Real people talk in riddles, metaphors, innuendos and often at cross purposes. There’s lots of room for funny in that.

Don’t be ‘Jokey’:

Ironically, most jokes are not funny in humor writing. With all due respect to the writers of Disney type comedy shows, that kind of forced, trying too hard to be funny humor mostly doesn’t work (even with charming, cute teen stars selling it). You can be sure that jokey humor will certainly not work in a book (especially minus the teen stars interpreting the words).

Put Characters at Odds with Each Other and their Environment:

Set up a situation that organically has the potential to be funny. For example, In AMY FINAWITZ, there’s a scene where the boy Amy crushes on comes over for a study date. Then her father answers the door in his bathroom. Then her brother arrives with a gaggle of obnoxious musical theater friends. Then Amy’s elderly neighbor and her very religious nephew come calling for her. Now, if I couldn’t make that scene funny, than I’m an idiot.

Recognize the Absurdities in People:

We all want stuff, but mostly there are obstacles to what we want. I don’t mean world peace, although that would be nice, I mean the little things we sweat over and how we handle them. Start recognizing the silly absurdities and contradictions in people. Even someone wanting a long line to move faster can be funny. Pay attention to the details.


Play Nice:

Making fun of people is rarely funny, at least to me. Certainly this kind of humor will not float in kidslit. True humor comes from understanding people and having compassion for them. That’s what makes good humor universal. It should come from the heart.

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