I’ve heard this often at cocktail parties, cookouts, and in the occasional ladies bathroom:
“Oh, you’re so funny. I could never be funny.”
Well folks, I’ll let you in on a little secret: writing good humor requires the same basic principles of writing quality prose of any kind: it’s all in the show, less in the tell. A comedienne may describe herself as a teller of jokes, but the great ones verbally paint a picture that vividly illustrates an awkward situation, a ridiculous reaction, or a profound insight.
Most humor writers are excellent observers of the human condition. Some of my favorites–Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Dave Barry–possess a keen eye for describing (showing) everyday life in a way that highlights the absurd, the offensive, and the ridiculous.
If, for example, you’re writing a humorous story about, oh, I don’t know, your personal journey through menopause, the reader needs to join you on your trip through hot flashes, middle-aged sex drives, growing a mustache, losing your keys (and your car) and monster-size mood swings. Even if the reader can’t directly relate to the throes of menopause, they should be laughing along with you.
Jeff Goins (follow him NOW for great writing tips and advice http://goinswriter.com/) suggests three “tricks” for writing humor. These include:
- State the obvious. Menopause: a ten-year journey through suck-town. You’re up, you’re down, you’re hot, you’re cold. You’re the emotional equivalent of a teenager, but with the added thrill of boobs that are in a race to see which will reach your knees first.
- Be subtle (not this writer’s strong suit); entice the reader to want to know more. Menopause: women hate it, men don’t understand it, the military wants to bottle it for future warfare.
- Surprise your audience. Menopause could get your husband killed.
I would add a 4th trick: BE the joke (self-deprecating humor). The silver-lining moment of menopause: I’m now a very good candidate for the job of bearded-lady at the circus.
Here are a few additional personal habits of mine (OK, these may be tics) that seem to help me tap into my humor writing muse:
- Keep it loose. Sometimes what you need is a shot of tequila. Hemingway is often credited with noting: Write drunk, edit sober. When facing a midnight deadline, sometimes my go to writing partner is Jose Cuervo. However, you can’t be so blind drunk that you can’t see the keyboard. Be loose, not comatose.
- Be comfortable. Invest in a quality pair of good fuzzy bunny slippers. No one writes well when their feet are cold. Mine are pink, fluffy, and a size 11.
- Keep a notebook of observations. You never know when the universe is going to present you with inspiration. I’m currently working on the story inspired by this moment:
I’m still a long way from walking alongside the masters of humor such as the ever-inspiring Erma Bombeck. Her words of wisdom fuel me daily:
Hook 'em with the lead. Hold 'em with laughter. Exit with a quip they won't forget.
This is a pretty good overall life goal, don’t ya think?
Kimberly “Kimba” J. Dalferes is a native Floridian who pretends to be a Virginian. Her accomplishments have included successfully threading a sewing bobbin, landing a 35 pound Alaskan king salmon, and scoring a ceramic sangria pitcher at an estate sale for $1. She also sometimes writes books. Look for her new book, “Magic Fishing Panties”, to be released in August 2015 by Booktrope Publishing. Her humor column–Dock Tale Hour–is featured in Laker Magazine. She is often found hanging out on her blog The Middle-Aged Cheap Seats. You can also visit her at www.kimdalferes.com