Now for the sixth instalment in my writing workshop series. I’ve covered the short story ending as well as the opening. I’ve guided you through dialogue and focused on the importance of taking time to do things properly. I’ve also given you a competitions refresher and some general advice on the art of the short story. This week covers tips on writing humorous pieces:
In the current economic climate there isn’t much to cheer us, so a humorous article or funny story comes as a welcome break. But writing humour isn’t as easy as you might think. Here are ten tips to make sure you leave your readers smiling:
- Ideas for humorous letters, fillers, articles and stories are everywhere. Something your granddaughter said which left you in stitches can make an ideal anecdote for a reader’s letter. Likewise, an experience abroad, be it braving the kamikaze streets of Rome or trying to make friends with a camel in Egypt, can be turned into an amusing travel article which will stand out.
- If you see or hear anything funny, write it down in a notebook. Cut out anything that amuses you in the paper or in a magazine, from typos to comical ads to funny stories. These can make great fillers or letters. They can also spark off amusing ideas or lead to a full article.
- Nowadays it’s so easy to capture anything and everything on camera. So if you see a sign that makes you laugh or a strange custom whilst on holiday, snap away. Humorous photos, together with a short caption can sell well on their own or be used to accompany an article.
- Do your market research thoroughly. There are publications which specialise in humour, while some have specific slots for amusing incidents and others use humorous articles and stories. Make sure you analyse the style, length, vocabulary etc that the publication uses. It’s no good sending off an 1000 word article for a slot which asks for 300 word fillers. Similarly, you may think a magazine could benefit from a satirical piece but if the publication doesn’t like and use that type of humour, you will find your work turned down straight away.
- Just because something is funny to you, doesn’t mean it will be funny for everyone else e.g. grandmother having too much sherry to drink at Christmas and singing ‘Lady Ga-Ga’ songs at the top of her voice. At the time, this was no doubt hilarious for everyone witnessing it, but it won’t be to anyone who doesn’t know her (unless you video recorded it and then it’s ideal to send into ‘You’ve Been Framed!’). Sometimes, it really is a case of ‘you had to be there’.
- Don’t over-explain the humour. It’s very easy to feel as if you have to explain exactly why something is funny. You don’t. Keeping it brief and to the point will ensure the humour comes through. Too long and windy and the humour is lost.
- Exclamation marks are often used as a tool to draw readers’ eyes to a funny or unbelievable point. Don’t overdo them. A couple is fine but if a script is peppered with them they cease to have the desired effect and detract from the writing itself and hence, the humour.
- Don’t try to be too clever and show off your wonderful and witty sense of humour. This will put an editor off and your piece is likely to come across as contrived.
- There is never an excuse to offend. Even though times have changed and the boundaries are being pushed ever further, there are still boundaries that mustn’t be crossed. There’s no place for tasteless and sick humour.
- Writing humour isn’t about making your readers laugh out loud after every sentence. If you try to achieve this, you’re forcing the humour and it won’t work. Often the most effective humour simply makes readers smile and feel better. If you succeed in doing that, you’ve done your job well.