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How to Write a Performance Review
Employers and employees find value in performance reviews. The feedback can range from guidance to praise, thus allowing for both parties to engage in discussion regarding what’s working and what isn’t. It’s for that reason leaders need to learn how to write a performance review using these guidelines.
Regular Feedback is Critical
While a performance review typically has a bi-annual schedule, that doesn’t mean regular feedback in-between those dates shouldn’t be happening. Therefore, look up how to write a performance review sample, and use that as your springboard for regular feedback. In doing so, your employees are sure they won’t be hearing about their performance during their first review. When looking up how to write a sample performance review, you’ll find that they’re comprised of many fundamental components including communication, teamwork and collaboration skills, problem-solving, accuracy and quality of work, dependability, and attendance, and meeting deadlines.
Utilize the Employee’s Job Description
When you’re unsure where to begin, utilize the employee’s job description as a springboard for their performance evaluation sample. In doing so, you’ll can determine if they satisfied all the requirements and responsibilities of the job description’s listings. You’ll also be able to determine if there were aspects of the job description where they were lacking. Be sure the job description is up-to-date before working on the performance review. That way, you’re sure the position hasn’t undergone any changes since the job description was written.
Use Key Points
When writing the performance review, focus only on key points. For example, if the review is about whether or not the employee is achieving their goals, focus on those key points. Examples of performance goals samples include that the employee must complete a certain level of tasks before being considered for a promotion. Some sample resolutions if the employee is not achieving their goals would include that they would implement a strategy for meeting their goals and then set up another check-in with you to assess their progress.
Request Feedback from Colleagues
When writing the performance review, it’s essential to solicit feedback from colleagues who have worked closely with them. This action is often referred to as obtaining 360-feedback because you’re receiving feedback for the employee from his coworkers, boss, and any other relevant staff. Use of coworker feedback samples includes asking employees what they like or appreciate about their coworker, when they thought their coworker did a great job, or what they would like to see change about a situation.
Keep Track of Performance
When learning how to write performance reviews, keeping track of an employee’s performance is part of achieving that goal. You’ll be working with sample performance comments from other employees, as well as logging their attendance, following policies, how well their meeting deadlines, and if they’re achieving their goals. When working on these tasks, you may need a logbook sample that includes information about their daily job performance. For example, the ledger sheet sample could consist of information about if accidents occurred if it’s a factory or cash overages if you’re in the retail industry. It’s essential to keep policies on-hand, like a cash management policy sample or sample IT policies, for example, to ensure they’re up-to-date and ready to present during the performance review.
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A Word on Humour
Introduction: A Word on Humour
Ok Goodhart has pushed me to do this after we had a few discussions about humour in general, So as a little revenge I decided to drag him along with me in to the depths of hilarity. This isn't a complete anthology of every little technicality in humour, that would be a very big book, very big indeed. "explaining humour" is like "explaining" how everyone looks (when everyone looks differently) so it is that humour is a personal thing, and what makes one smile, makes another laugh and still another scowl. Attempting to explain humour, jokes or sarcasm is a bit like having a baby, only upside down, and the baby's made out of an anvil and I'm still a man...
Step 1: Where Do You Start?
So humour is funny, jokes are there to make us laugh and amuse us. Where does humour start and end, how is it defined, what are all the different kinds of humour. God Goodhart you will pay, this is painful, picking apart humour isn't funny or easy I add to the baby description a few thousand volts running through my left earlobe. ( So, where is your sense of adventure? Your yearn to learn? :-) So i guess I'm just going to start talking about all the different kinds of humour and babble for a while, generally see what comes of this, by the end of it I will either be a joke machine or possibly the most serious man ever, more serious than serious Sam, so serious in fact that people won't be able to take me seriously because I'll be so serious that they'll fall over screaming, 'he's so serious it hurts' then I'll have like nothing at all to do but sit there and be serious so serious I'll explode.
Step 2: Sarcasm, Genius
Well sarcasm is clearly the way to go for many, you're basically just lying for comical purposes. Wikipedia says: 'Sarcasm is stating the opposite of an intended meaning especially in order to sneeringly, slyly, jest or mock a person, situation or thing. It is strongly associated with irony, with some definitions classifying it as a type of verbal irony intended to insult or wound.' Isn't that just wonderful kids? Yeah right now that's sarcasm, if you could see me I'd have a sneer or some such on my face. That's like the most basic form of sarcasm, it gets more complicated, especially in text. Sarcasm is a very easy kind of humour to use, it's the receiving end where it gets complicated, a lot of it falls to gullibility and the better the joke the harder it is to pick up with sarcasm, generally if someone says 'really?' after you're in trouble, you now have a joke to explain, this will kill it unless you decide to make a further joke on top of this, sadly it has the potential to wound as you must make the person fell foolish and alienate them. Sarcasm is one of those things that is natural in conversation, we barely notice it as we chuckle, but when you write it down it gets harder, take this example from earlier in the conversation that started this, in fact this did start the idea of the instructable, the key points are kept the rest is removed to make more sense of this: - by the end of this you'll have given me a complex... - I don't want to give you a complex :-) - Yeah I was only joking remember Goodhart, all worrying things from a Jackalopes mouth should be ignored (old Chinese proverb) - Oh I know you were joking, still....well, it is hard to explain :-) - I know humour is difficult in conversational text, better for stories etc... I hate the term 'lol' but it does its job well... - Yes, especially sarcasm and such. The point here is that the humour doesn't always appear correctly... It's usually funny anyway as long as jokes keep coming but sometime you have to give in and use the dreaded 'LOL' A few examples should help: I like dogs too. Let's exchange recipes. (this also fits in as "Dark or Black humour) I majored in liberal arts. Do you want Fries with that and will that be for here or to go? Suburbia: where they tear out the trees & then name streets after them. Earth is full. Go home. Stress is when you wake up screaming & you realize you haven't fallen asleep yet. Nice perfume. Must you marinate in it? Ambivalent? Well, yes and no.
Step 3: Being 'funny'
So you can be sarcastic but that's not the end of it, you can always tell when someones being funny in person or on the phone, you can hear their voice but were I to start writing like some kind of crazed jackaninny on an opiate induced hallucinatory adventure you may indeed have to stand back and say 'good god sir I do believe that vile lunatic is about to expose himself before attempting to escape via the really rather inane elevatrix device under the stairs', see what happened there, I was being 'funny' without telling jokes, just using silly language and were I there I would probably use a silly English accent and move about a bit more than usual. In writing however you only have words and the tone of words, this means that you do have to be a little more explicit with it all and maybe go a little bit closer to over the top to make it make sense, or thereby lack of... It's being funny by being incredulous, making people laugh through through either statements that are comically unlikely or just very very un-ordinary... God that sounds so bloody boring I may actually finish a 20 deck by the end of this Goodhart. yet again being 'funny' using circumstances, it being odd because I'm writing about being funny and finding it very boring and because it's annoying me... The art of surprise tends to make something funny also (a 20 deck ? when I looked that up, I got sites on plans for adding to one's home :-). Surprise, as illustrated in the main photo on this step, will be funny to those that get it immediately. Those that miss it, and need explanation will not be "surprised" and will probably issue a groan in response to finally understanding ( I must give Weissensteinburg credit for pointing this one out to me; which I found incredibly funny).
Step 4: Black Humour...
No not racism, no that's a bad redneck, back to your shack! *taps redneck on nose* So this is a kind of humour that I'm well accustomed to because I am dark on the inside (swallowed a magic marker last week). Black or dark humour tends to be used in smaller quantities and for many is an acquired taste, i.e.: not everyone finds it that funny. As always wiki: 'Black comedy, also known as black humour is a sub-genre of comedy and satire where topics and events that are usually treated seriously (death, mass murder, suicide, domestic violence, disease, insanity, fear, drug abuse, rape, war, terrorism, etc.) are treated in a humorous or satirical manner.' Generally there's a time and a place for black humour, bad places for it include: Funerals Terrorist camps Churches - Schools (some humour discussed anyway) Psychiatric wards Zoos (Zookeepers just don't laugh, they are deadly serious people, they don't even laugh at the platypus.) Some less 'dark' examples of black comedy, are things like when I was speaking about my old cat Boris... he can be described as a furry little rapist, which is quite a funny sounding sentence, it's just so very silly sounding despite calling the cat something awful (which he is). Generally we can all make 'dark' violence jokes, think of every 'imagine if' joke you've ever made, you'll see what i mean or the 'how funny would it be' jokes. Even the first line of this step is black comedy, racism is a terrible thing that is taken seriously, yet I made fun of it in two ways at once, by being light hearted about it while contradicting myself at the same time by being racist towards rednecks (skunk munching, guys going hunting with good ole dingus and a broomstick) Though yet again explaining joke is awful, it's not funny anymore... but I persist in my pointless quest. A mild example is found in the end of the DVD: Blue Collar Comedy Tour (#1). In the patter I speak of, they are referring to Momma lying in a casket: "That ain't Momma ! Yeah it is, they just shaved her mustache off." In the situation and the context of went on before this, it was quite funny, out of context like this, it is less so. A few other examples are, John F. Kennedy Jr. was reported missing in a plane crash, Saturday July 17, 1999. He was on his way to attend a Kennedy clan wedding... And the same day, 7:30pm, the Dark Humor website posts a few jokes about it: JFK Jr. and his father were a lot alike. They both became famous for going down with two women at the same time. What was JFK Jr drinking at the time of the crash? - Ocean Spray. What do Kennedys miss most about Martha's Vineyard? - The runway. What will they name the movie about movie JFK, Jr.? - Three funerals and a wedding. In the proper light, one finds one's self chuckling or even laughing at some of these, just as a type of pressure or tension release.
Step 5: Being Witty...
So wit is simply using one's intellect to make either satirical or snappy comments about another's work, follies or shortcomings. I do believe our good friend Goodhart would be one to look to here, he spends much of his time picking out amusing things from instructables and comments and being witty about them, it's not hard either though remember sarcasm is considered the lowest form of wit. Considering it can be described as quickness of fancy, you get the idea that being fanciful or silly is acceptable in wit as long as the actual line is funny. That brings us on to one of the most common forms of wit: one liners, a short snappy comment or 'tagline' that makes something funny, I suppose you could use the kittypics as an example, you know the ones with kittens and a line that makes them funny (rarely imho). Wit is not the reserve of the intellectual though (but experience and practice sure help), it's just a subtle humour that is quite unnoticeable day to day.
Step 6: Now I'm Running Out of Steam.
We hadn't really touched much on the plane ole "silly" type humour, so I will open the kettle of fish here. Being silly is a humour reserved for boys much of the time, girls are silly too but in secret... Being silly can generally be considered as the kind of humour that you avoid on a first date, it's all about being ridiculous or purposely foolish, it's different from being funny in that it's about more 'normal' things made funny by 'acting stupid' generally being silly can include anything like: - Funny Voices - Silly walks (John Cleese below is in fact the minister of the ministry of silly walks) - Doing dumb stuff (Steve Martin comes to mind) - Acting the maggot (phrase that simply means acting the foolish one) - Falling over (known as Prat falls) - strange noises - anything that is remotely comical, like the word bizzum (scottish term used to describe any female, i.e: the cat pees on the floor I may shout 'you dirty wee bizzum!') - Anything to do with sex or for some people they just find the word knob funny or yarbles - If you fall over laughing or shoot milk out your noses and people all really start laughing you know you're being silly. So being silly is just being silly, we all do this on a daily basis, except for zookeepers and teachers who are the people most likely to say 'stop acting the maggot!'
Step 7: Pfffft I'm Pretty Fed Up Now...
I think that about wraps it up, I don't think I've missed any of the main kinds of humour. Remember though that humour is a massive topic, were Goodhart and I to write about every technicality of humour it would in fact be a book, biblical in both length and topic...
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9 years ago
where was sally in the explosion. ................everywhere
why did sally fall off the swing.........she go hit with a ax
Why did sally fall off the swings? Because sally had no arms. Knock, knock Who's there Not sally
10 years ago on Introduction
Excellent! Thank you for this. I truly enjoyed it... You do know, it's all about Timing, don't you?... (4 years in this case:-)
11 years ago on Step 3
Anyone cane be funny, just some people have a nack for it and some dont, i found metions how you can become from the loner in the group to the comedian of the group, have a look. Click here
15 years ago on Step 3
Thanks for torturing yourself for the sake of our amusement! And no, that wasn't sarcasm. I was taught that "comedy is the art of the unexpected," which is why I no longer find it amusing that my girlfriend doesn't laugh at any of my jokes. No, wait. That's why knock-knock jokes aren't funny after age 12. Except this one: Knock, knock. Who's there? Flash. Flash who? Flash Gordon! Wouldn't that be funny if he actually showed up at your door? ha ha!
Reply 15 years ago on Introduction
And if we subscribe to dark humour - Knock Knock Who's there? Not Madeleine.
It may not have been long enough my wee brother loves - Whats worse than letting michael jackson take yur kids on holiday? -... - Letting them go with the Mcaans It's awful, mainly because it's evil in so very many ways but hey, whatever we all have to laugh, eventually I'll hit the dirty jokes section, that one will take me a lot longer to compose and for goodhart and I to agree on, dirty jokes are more internet friendly, but a bit edgy for instructables.
Reply 12 years ago on Step 3
Dirty jokes, in my opinion, are some of the most hilarious, but should be shared with caution.
Reply 15 years ago on Step 3
I would be deeply perturbed if flash gordon turned up at my door... No really though girls just have trouble with 'man jokes' they are always, too childish, too silly, too obscene, too indicitive of horrible trauma... Try making a joke about shoes, she might enjoy that, but then you'd have to think of a nice shoe joke.
12 years ago on Introduction
People here in Australia grow up with sarcasm everywhere! It's part of a normal conversation.
14 years ago on Introduction
"I'm sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of how awesome I am"
Reply 14 years ago on Introduction
Can you hear that rushing sound though? That my greatness...
Reply 13 years ago on Introduction
this ible is amazing. now im all mad i didnt write this myself. well, the lack of purverying my omniscient sense of sardonic assholishness to the general surrounding population of manifestations of the humanoid race will be exemplified in this small peice of Pythonic drivel. i will insult you for money... lol. yaeh. im that good. you hear that hum? no, thats not your computer fan, thats your computer sighing in mental pleasure about what it wants to do to me because thats how damn awesome i am. now who is smart enough to turn that around on me?
Actually the hum is my heater, singing it's glories to me. Big words don't make you clever but speeling them right helps, oh and yes not only is my thesaurus larger, it's more accurate.
15 years ago on Introduction
That virgins cartoon isn't humour; it's attempted suicide.
Haha I hope that comment was supposed to be funny, if so I got it...
Weeelll... You're the expert, eh? I happen to agree with Commander Samuel Vimes that there is a surprizingly large amount of ways for people to commit suicide, often without them even knowing there were going to kill themselves. PS: Yes, I'm a huge fan of Terry Pratchett. Fortunately, he doesn't know this. PPS: I'm also a great fan of the Danes (note: not "a fan of great danes"). Long may their cartoons sting the -- alleged -- prophet's arse! PPPS: Know any good hideouts?
Well, as long as you keep your mouth shut and dont eat anything "onna stick, cheap" you should be fine... unless someone TALKS TO YOU LIKE THIS, then you had better walk acrossthe desert after Brutha, and dont forget the luggage... love the books. nice to meet you, other fan.
What Writing Techniques Do Writers Use to Create Humor in Stories?
Humorous dialogue, funny plot lines and silly scenarios add creativity and interest to literary works. Writers often use satire, irony, literary devices and a play on words to add comic elements to their stories. Humor helps lighten the mood, especially when underlying themes are serious. Some authors want funny elements to come across as natural and authentic so readers can understand deeper messages hidden beneath the humor.
Explore this article
- Silly Satire
- Outrageous Similes and Metaphors
- Unexpected Twists
- Play on Words
1 Silly Satire
Writers often use satire to add humor to their stories. Satire is the purposeful use of mockery to expose individuals or society as a whole for their foolishness, corruption or inappropriate behavior. Authors often use satire to make light-hearted political, social or moral statements, so they don't offend readers. Satire magnifies and distorts behavior or beliefs, so they appear outlandish, says L. Kip Wheeler, English professor at Carson-Newman College in Tennessee. For example, Jonathan Swift uses satire in "Gulliver's Travels" to show his distaste for politics, war and greed. Gulliver visits an island where the inhabitants are only six inches tall, and the king insists that Gulliver fight in a nonsensical war against a neighboring island. Use exaggerations to add humor to your writings.
2 Outrageous Similes and Metaphors
Similes and metaphors allow writers to make crazy, absurd comparisons that support important messages and themes. You might parallel two objects, ideas or characters in humorous ways that you wouldn't normally consider. Ridiculous and unexpected similes and metaphors appeal to readers' emotions, says Linda Gorham, performer, author and creator of the website Storyteller.net. For example, Dr. Seuss books contain funny similes and metaphors that support deeper themes about acceptance, tolerance, diversity, respect and responsibility. In "The Lorax," a line reads, "We were all knitting Thneeds just as busy as bees to the sound of the chopping of Truffula trees." This simile compares workers constructing make-believe Thneeds to busy, productive bees. However, the deeper message is about irresponsible behavior -- wasting natural resources and damaging the environment.
3 Unexpected Twists
Authors often use humorous twists to add creativity and interest to their stories, says Gorham. Funny unexpected twists provide mystery and suspense, while helping the story maintain an overall light-hearted tone and jovial mood. For example, in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain, Huck is mistaken for his friend, Tom Sawyer, and maintains the false identity so he can find his friend, Jim. In a surprising twist, Huck runs into the real Tom Sawyer and must convince him to follow along with his scheme. Ridiculous plot twists give readers an opportunity to laugh at circumstances and situations that might otherwise seem sad or overwhelming.
4 Play on Words
Wordplay makes it easy for writers to incorporate brief elements of humor into their writings. Authors use wordplay to lighten the mood and help readers connect with the characters and themes. They might use puns, banter, blended words or catchphrases to grab the reader's attention, suggests Gorham. Aesop often used wordplay in his fables to explain the moral of his stories. For example, banter between two characters in "The Bull and the Gnat" creates a funny, lighthearted tone, even though the message is bold and poignant -- pride leads to an elevated sense of self-importance. A noisy gnat apologizes to a fearsome bull for using his horn as a resting place, but the bull puts the gnat in his place when he says, "I didn't even know you were there." Use humorous dialogue and funny word choices to make readers smile.
- 1 Carson-Newman College: Literary Terms and Definitions
- 2 Scholastic Book Files: A Reading Guide to Holes by Louis Sachar
- 3 Reader's Digest: How to Write Better Using Humor
About the Author
As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.
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How to Write Better Using Humor
- Author: Leigh Anne Jasheway
A man walks into a bookstore. “Where’s the self-help section?” he asks the clerk. She shrugs and replies, “If I tell you, won’t that defeat the purpose?” —Anonymous
Humor is an integral part of our everyday interactions, whether we’re trying to navigate a bookstore, make conversation with the barista at our favorite coffee shop, or talk a police officer out of a ticket. Our inherent desire to laugh motivates us to share funny YouTube videos and respond to text messages with an LOL or the iconic smiley face. Many of us even choose to get our daily news with a heaping side order of comedy from outlets like “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report” or The Onion . When push comes to punch, we’d rather laugh than lie facedown, weeping into the carpet.
( 18 Ways to Write Funnier Fast .)
You may think that when it comes to writing, humor is best used only in fiction or satire. But while we think of comedy in terms of exaggeration or fabrication, effective humor can be just as much about creative misdirection—engaging readers by taking them someplace they don’t expect to go—and subtly choosing metaphors and words that make readers giggle without even knowing why. And a smiling reader is one who’s paying attention and eager to read on.
Sociologists, linguists and biologists say that our ability to laugh and desire to do so isn’t all fun and games, but actually serves two essential life functions: to bond with members of our “tribe,” and to lessen tension and anxiety. Both of these are also excellent reasons to incorporate humor in your nonfiction. As a communication tool, effective use of humor can humanize you, cementing your bond with readers. It can also help your work stand out in a crowded market. And as advertising studies have shown, humor enhances how much we like what we’re reading and how well we remember it afterward.
I’ve been teaching humor writing for 16 years, and have used my funny bone in writing everything from self-help books to feature articles to essays to cookbook content. I’m convinced that learning to effectively use humor can not only enhance your work, but can make the act of writing more enjoyable, too. Trying to find the funnier side of things reduces the loneliness, rejection and stress of the writing life—and it boosts your creativity by challenging you to approach your craft in new ways.
Even if your subject is a serious one, the subtle use of humor can both ease tension and provide a respite from difficult moments . I was recently hired to provide freelance assistance on a book about pornography-related problems. The authors felt I could make the subject less uncomfortable for readers by lightening things up here and there. As Eric Idle once wisely said, “Levity is the opposite of gravity.”
So how can you use humor to write better? Read on to find out.
( Here are 7 reasons writing a novel makes you a badass )
Learning the Basics of Subtle Humor
Let’s be clear: The goal in adding some humor to your nonfiction project is not about becoming the next Erma Bombeck or David Sedaris (unless that’s your dream). The goal is to improve your writing by using all the tools available to you, including comedy. Imagine where the original authors of the For Dummies book franchise would be today if they hadn’t decided to take a lighthearted approach.
Whether or not you consider yourself a funny person, it’s not as difficult as you—might think to put humor to work for you. I’ve found that the easiest and best ways of doing so boil down to five simple comedic tools.
1. THE K RULE
It may sound strange, but it’s true: Words with the k sound (Cadillac, quintuplet, sex) are perceived as the funniest, and words with a hard g (guacamole, gargantuan, Yugo) create almost as many grins. This may be because much of what makes Americans laugh today has roots in Yiddish humor, the language of which includes many guttural sounds—and the k and hard g are as close as English comes. The K Rule is so widely used by comedy writers that Matt Groening’s team once referenced it in an episode of “The Simpsons” when Sideshow Mel explained that Krusty (note spelling) the Clown had laryngitis from “trying to cram too many k sounds into a punch line.”
The K Rule is a good convention for naming things and making word choices that will subconsciously or subtly amuse your readers. This tool is especially handy in crafting attention-grabbing titles or subheads. Consider this memorable section heading in the book You Staying Young: The Owner’s Manual for Extending Your Warranty by Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet C. Oz: “Your Memory: Don’t Fuggedaboudit.”
2. THE RULE OF THREE
Writing comedically usually requires establishing a pattern (with the setup) and then misdirecting the reader (with the punch line). One simple way of doing this is to pair two like ideas in a list and then add a third, incongruent, idea. The reason we use a list of three, and not five or 27, is that three is the number of things we can most easily remember (two if we haven’t yet had our coffee or been tasered awake by our boss). Here’s an example of a sentence using the Rule of Three: Losing weight is simple: Eat less, exercise more and pay NASA to let you live in an anti-gravity chamber .
( Jerry Seinfeld's 5-Step Comedy Writing Process .)
This is one of the most flexible ways to naturally incorporate humor into your narrative. It’s particularly useful in crafting catchy article ledes, like this opening paragraph from Jean Chatzky’s “Interest Rates Are Going Up. Now What?” in More :
Let me predict a few things that will happen in the next year. Brad and Angelina will add another baby to their brood. The day you spend $175 getting your hair done is the day it will rain. And the variable-interest rates—on your savings account, mortgage and credit card—will go up.
Here she uses two amusing, less important ideas as the pattern and throws in her point at the end, as the “punch.”
Learn better by seeing examples? Check out Writer's Digest Tutorials, helpful videos designed to help you reach your writing goals. Enjoy this FREE preview and visit Writer's Digest Tutorials to learn more .
3. THE COMPARISON JOKE
As writers, we’re comfortable with metaphors, so think of comparison jokes as simply metaphors chosen specifically for comedic effect. Here’s an example from the late Robert Schimmel’s memoir Cancer on $5 a Day* (*Chemo Not Included) :
… this stupid hospital gown is riding up my ass. I try to pull it down and it snaps right back up like a window shade. I cross my legs and suddenly I’m Sharon Stone.
To craft a comparison joke, simply brainstorm metaphors and then choose the one that is funniest and makes the point well. For example, if you want to convey that quitting smoking is difficult, you might first mentally list things that are tough, such as reading without your glasses, flossing a cat’s teeth, getting a teen to tell you about his day, getting a cat to tell you about its day while flossing its teeth, etc. Then, simply choose the comparison that makes you laugh. In comedy writing, we’re always our first audience.
4. THE CLICHÉ JOKE
If comedy relies on misdirection, what better way to achieve it than with a phrase your readers already know? If you write, “You can lead a horse to water …” every reader will assume you’re going to finish with “… but you can’t make him drink.” Taking the cliché elsewhere can be both attention-grabbing and amusing. Take the title of Sarah Snell Cooke’s Credit Union Times article about a credit union initiative dubbed THINK: “You Can Lead a Horse to Water But You Can’t Make Him THINK.”
( 36 Plot Nots: Plot Clichés to Avoid .)
Don’t limit yourself to old idioms: Cliché jokes can work with any widely known catchphrase, title, lyric or piece of literature (say, Dr. Seuss). Lyla Blake Ward’s book How to Succeed at Aging Without Really Dying , for example, is titled with a play on the well-known musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying . You also don’t need to confine your creativity to just replacing a word or two. Taking a cliché and expanding upon it is another useful approach. For example, on Lauren Kessler’s companion blog to her latest book, My Teenage Werewolf , she writes:
I will always, always have your back. That’s the one message above all other messages (even the I love you message) that I want Lizzie and my two sons to hear. … How do I manage to send that message and not simultaneously send this one: I am available, at your beck and call, 24/7. Don’t even think about what else I might have on my plate or who I am as a person in addition to being your mother. I have no life other than to serve you.
5. FUNNY ANECDOTES AND STORIES
Most of the things we laugh at in real life are true stories, sometimes exaggerated for effect. In fact, experts say we laugh far more at these types of everyday happenings than at “jokes.” It makes sense, then, to use them to help illustrate your points as you write. When Your Money or Your Life authors Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin wanted to demonstrate the importance of changing the way we think about money, they did so by telling the story of a young girl watching her mother prepare a ham to bake for dinner. As the mother cut both ends off the ham, the daughter asked why. Mom replied that her mother had always done it that way. When the daughter still insisted on knowing why, a quick call to grandma revealed the reason: “Because the pan was too small.”
( The 12 Dos and Don'ts of How to Write a Blog )
Putting It Into Practice
Now you’ve got five basic comedic tools in your arsenal, and you’re ready to put them to use in your work. As with trying anything new, you don’t want to overdo it and come on too strong, but you don’t want to stifle your creativity, either. Here are five ways to effectively apply what you’ve learned to any kind of nonfiction work :
1. BE STRATEGIC. Don’t scatter jokes willy-nilly; instead, think of humor as parenthetical information. Many nonfiction writers find the best places to integrate humor are in titles, sidebars, visual illustrations or cartoons, and anecdotes to illustrate their points. For a great example of the use of visual humor, see Roizen and Oz’s You Staying Young .
2. USE IT SPARINGLY. Unless you’re writing about an inherently funny topic, you should limit the humor you use to selective references. Its purpose is to grab the reader’s attention and help you make points in creative ways. Don’t confuse the reader by coming across as a comedian.
3. KEEP YOUR FOCUS IN MIND. Be sure your use of humor doesn’t distract from or demean the true purpose of your project. Have someone read your manuscript and then give you a candid critique with this in mind.
4. LET YOUR READERS KNOW YOU’RE LAUGHING. When using humor in writing about a difficult subject—your own illness, for example—your first responsibility is to give your readers permission to laugh. Find subtle ways to let them know that not only is it OK to laugh, but you want them to.
5. STEER CLEAR OF SARCASM. This humor style may work in some arenas, but many readers find it hurtful and mean, and because it often relies on tone, it can be especially hard to pull off in writing. Sarcasm is a tool most of us pick up at a young age as a way of feeling better about ourselves by putting others down. I recommend leaving it there.
As writers, it’s up to us to use everything we can to make sure we lasso our readers and keep them in the corral. Don’t let fear of being funny on the page hold you back. After all, I wasn’t class clown in high school. In fact, had there been such a category, I would have been voted Most Likely to Depress People (Sylvia Plath and Edgar Allan Poe were my role models). But I’ve learned that an old saying is true: “If you can get them to open their mouths to laugh, you can get them to open their hearts to learn.” And that makes for effective writing.
Whether you write fiction, nonfiction, self-help books or blogs, adding humor to your writing is an excellent way to endear yourself to your audience. Brian A. Klems shares 8 simple ways to write funnier and does it with his usual high-energy, smile-inducing style.
Click to continue .
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Feb 21, 2017
7 Simple Tricks to Add Humor to Your Writing (without offending anyone)
You know that feeling when you’ve read a funny piece of writing — you smile and perhaps even laugh. You might share what you’ve read with someone else or refer to it in conversations with others.
Recently I read Scott Adam’s book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big . Scott Adams is the creator of the uber popular Dilbert comic strip. The book is packed with Scott’s philosophies on how to succeed despite many failures. And while it’s not intended as a humor book, it has its funny moments. One paragraph in particular had me laugh so hard, my millennial daughter looked up from her cell phone.
I want to write like Scott. And you?
So, I’ve been studying humor in various capacities for half a dozen years (more if you count years of sitcom, romantic comedy, and Pixar animated film watching). I wanted to know what the tricks are to make writing funny.
One of my mentors, travel humor writer Dave Fox, says “Humor isn’t a gift handed down by the gods. It’s a skill anyone can learn.” I trust Dave. He makes me laugh. Dave taught me about storytelling and the importance of editing to get to the punch fast. Dave has a set of twelve humor writing techniques he teaches. A few of those techniques I call simple tricks. Simple tricks #1 and #2 are literary devices I’ve picked up from reading and analyzing what’s funny.
But before we get into the tricks, it’s important to review a few humor rules.
Better safe than sued
Using humor can feel risky. You don’t want to offend anyone, lose your audience, or be charged with humor harassment. So, here are some points to keep in mind:
- Good taste. (If your taste is questionable, get another opinion.)
- Self-deprecation. You are a safe topic to joke about. Just don’t overdo it or readers might find you pathetic. Poke fun at situations, stereotypes, and relatable habits.
- A touch of humor. A little goes a long way.
- Your own brand of humor. Be yourself. Use what makes you laugh. Be original.
- Sarcasm, putdowns or GROSS* (gender-bashing, racist, obscene, sexual, or swearing) humor. *from CleanComedians.com
- Too much humor. We’re talking blog posts and articles, not standup routines. Like adding garlic to pasta sauce without a recipe, finding the right humor dose takes practice. (Better to err on the low side while you adjust to your readers’ taste buds.)
- Humor aimed at other people, your competition, or disadvantages (unless you can speak from experience about the disadvantage, but even then be careful).
- Forced humor. Don’t try too hard to be funny. And never use other people’s jokes.
Now you have the humor rules, let’s get down to the seven simple tricks.
Trick #1 — Psst
Have you noticed writers who use short messages in parentheses as if they are sharing a secret? Sometimes the writer uses an ellipsis (…) or several dashes (- -) instead of parentheses.
This writing device of sharing a quasi secret with readers is known as an aside. The device is similar to the technique actors use on stage to speak in private with the audience.
Humor writers use asides to poke fun at themselves, state the obvious, exaggerate, make a witty remark, add a tongue-in-cheek comment, or ask a rhetorical question.
Sometimes the writer might use the aside to add a sound effect, like the sound of clearing his throat (ahem), or a whisper (psst).
By making the message of the aside a bit unexpected, you can add a bit of levity to your writing. Because the aside is like sharing a secret, it can also help build a connection with your readers.
Here are some example asides (in bold) I’ve found online and in my inbox:
- “Which is why a new page on Wikipedia about, say, twerking will automatically get a higher ranking than a page about it on your Auntie Jean’s personal blog (which is a shame because Auntie Jean is one hell of a twerker) .” ~Excerpt from a post by Glenn Long
- “Samar Owais is a freelance writer and blogger. She loves writing (kinda goes without saying) , road trips, and helping writers succeed in their freelance writing businesses.” ~ bio from a blog post
- “I swear (under pain of being whipped by a wet noodle) that I meet all five criteria to receive a scholarship from Jon!” ~ Excerpt from an email offer by Jon Morrow
- “Pretend You’re Van Gogh (You Can Keep Your Ear) ” ~ subheading from an Ezine article by the managing editor
Trick #2 — Same sound sequence
Alliteration is a writing technique that uses a series of words that all start with the same sound. The words don’t have to start with the same letter, but they must have the same sound. For example fun and phone are alliterative. Cat and chair aren’t.
Alliteration can give your writing a lyrical sound that makes it funnier.
Consider these two sentences.
- Fred watched the crowd of attractive women on the beach.
- Bert ogled the bevy of beautiful babes on the beach.
Okay, maybe you wouldn’t write that last sentence, but it does sound funnier than the first one. Yes?
Alliteration is a fun way to make your content memorable. I notice writers often use alliteration in names. Severus Snape, Bilbo Baggins, and Fred Flintstone come to mind.
Here’s an example from a post by Kevin Duncan on his blog ‘Be a Better Blogger’, where he pokes fun at his blog name using a bit of wordplay and alliteration. (Kevin’s in depth posts, prolific writing, and sense of humor have made him a popular blogger.)
“ Gosh… a guest post from this cat would take a lot of time to edit. I’ll just email that Kevin Duncan guy from ‘ Be A Bitter Blabber ’ and have him write another guest post instead .”
Alliteration also works well when you write a list of items. For example, suppose you are listing a series of names. You might choose names that all start with the same sound, like Charlie, Charlotte, and Chewbacca.
The key is to make sure when you choose your words, your writing makes sense. You don’t want to be alliterative at the expense of clarity.
Trick #3 — Witty words and word tweaks
This trick has to do with the words you choose.
Some words are inherently funnier than others according to humor experts (there’s always an expert). Words that contain the consonants p, b, d, g, t or k (known as plosives for anyone who cares) are funnier.
Some examples of funnier words:
- brouhaha, pandemonium, or hullabaloo instead of chaos
- scamper, bustle, or skedaddle instead of hurry
- hoodwink, dupe, or bamboozle instead of mislead
Make friends with your Thesaurus to find funnier sounding synonyms.
Another way to add humor through word choice is to use specific words. When writing, it’s easy to opt for weak words. And that’s okay when you’re in draft mode. But when you edit your writing, try to replace those unimaginative nouns with more specific ones.
For example if you’re writing about the last experience at your auto repair shop. Describe your car. What type of repair did it need? Discovering your 2003 Ford Focus had loose lug nuts seems funnier than taking your car in for a rattle. (Almost true experience. I don’t drive a Ford Focus, but my car did suffer loose lug nuts.)
Be specific. Unless you’re writing about the Dr. Seuss characters in his book The Cat in the Hat , find a better word than thing (or its relative something).
Trick #4 — Surprise ending
The Rule of Three is a popular humor writing technique based on the setup and punchline formula comedians use to create jokes. You start with two straight items (the setup) and add a third item that is a comedic twist (the punchline). The effect of the twist is a surprise.
We use three items because three is the smallest, and most memorable, number that forms a pattern.
You find series of three everywhere:
- In titles like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles;
- in expressions like “lights, camera, action”;
- and in classic jokes like the Englishman, Irishman, and Canadian.
With this technique, people are expecting a certain pattern. You throw them off track when you break the pattern.
You can use the Rule of Three anywhere:
- In your bio: John Cleese — “writer, actor, and tall person”
- In your tagline: Mother Reader — “The heart of a mother. The soul of a reader. The mouth of a smartass.”
- In a list: The Catcher in the Rye, Wuthering Heights, and Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader
The key to using this trick is to break the pattern with an absurd ending to your list.
You can extend the rule of three to include sentences as your list items. Start with two straight sentences and make sure the last sentence has an element of surprise. To demonstrate, here’s an example from blogger Kevin Duncan…
“ For four months, I was in limbo. Paychecks stopped being deposited. Savings accounts started dwindling. Ramen noodle consumption skyrocketed. ”
Trick #5— Gigantic proportions
Exaggeration is one of the most effective ways to add humor. But to be funny, the exaggeration needs to be extreme. You need to create a mismatch between reality and the exaggerated image your words create.
Dave Barry, Miami Herald newspaper columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner for humor writing, is the master of using humorous exaggeration. As an example, here’s a paragraph he wrote to describe men’s concern over their ability to handle laundry. Notice the extreme condition Dave uses to describe shrinking a woman’s bra.
“We worry that if we get just one variable wrong, we will find ourselves facing a wrathful spouse, who is holding up a garment that was once a valued brassiere of normal dimensions, but is now suitable only as a sun hat for a small, two-headed squirrel .” ~ Dave Barry
So when you use exaggeration, stretch it as far as it can go to make it absurd. If you succeed, your readers will enjoy the humor.
Here are some other examples I found online:
- “About two years into my blogging career, to my surprise and delight, my dream came true. One of my blog posts was tweeted by marketing superstar Guy Kawaski, who has a Twitter following roughly the size of France .” ~ from a post by Mark Schaefer on his blog
- “But any 30-second ad about generalized “build quality” in barns is likely to suck harder than a Dyson vacuum .” ~ from a post by Brian Clark on Copyblogger
- “It only got worse after I turned 50, as my metabolism seemed to have taken an early retirement. I now have to jog five miles just to work off a tic-tac I ate in the 90’s . The only things that fit from my earlier years are my earrings .” ~ from a post by Judy Carter on the Psychology Today blog
Trick #6 — Twisted cliché
A cliché is an expression that was once clever but has lost its original impact due to overuse. You can twist a cliche to add humor by adding a surprise ending. Here are some examples from well known personalities:
- Cliché: Where there’s a will there’s a way. Twisted: “Where there’s a will, there’s a family fighting over it.” — Buzz Nutley
- Cliché: A fool and his money are soon parted. Twisted: “A fool and his money were lucky to get together in the first place.” — Harry Anderson
- Cliché: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Twisted: “If at first you don’t succeed, then skydiving isn’t for you.” — Mel Helitzer
Want to make your reader smile? Take a well-known phrase (Google can help you search for clichés) and change the ending to create a humorous twist.
Trick #7 — Déjà vu
Déjà vu is a sense of familiarity or previous experience. Comedians use a callback to make a clever association at the end of their set with a joke made earlier in the set. In a sense, the callback is like a déjà vu for the audience because they are reminded of a funny bit they heard before.
You can use a callback in your writing by referring to a notable point or topic you wrote earlier. Here’s a small example to illustrate:
“The marathon is over and, I must say: I accomplished what I wanted to….
I didn’t die. I kickstarted my health journey. I raised money for Ronald McDonald Charities. I didn’t die.” ~ Excerpt from a Huffington post article by Jennifer Bertrand
In this excerpt, the sentence “I didn’t die” is repeated at the beginning and the end, resulting in a sense of repetition. I find it funny because the author is exaggerating how difficult the marathon was by repeating that line.
The idea of a callback though isn’t to repeat the words verbatim. Instead, you reintroduce the reader to a funny point you made earlier in your writing. The callback is an effective trick to end a piece of writing. For examples, read some of Dave Barry’s work.
Dilbert, Dave Fox, Dave Barry. What if your name doesn’t start with the letter D? Can you still write funny? Yes, even the Dave’s had to start somewhere.
And you don’t have to become a full blown humor writer to add a bit of humor to your writing. You can apply the seven simple tricks I’ve shared to give your blog posts, your emails, or your Dear John (or Jane) letters an element of levity.
Try one or more of these seven simple tricks to lighten up your writing. Follow the guidelines to avoid offending anyone.
Humor gets attention. Humor makes people laugh and feel good. And if it’s done its job, humor makes writing memorable and share worthy.
Let me know if you’ve tried any of these tricks. Which ones do you use? Which ones will you try?
Want to punch up your prose? Learn more about Humor Boosters .
More from gay merrill.
Content writer, instructional designer, and cartoonist. Want to punch up your prose? Learn more about Humor Boosters: www.gaymerrill.com/book
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How to Write Humor
So, you’d like to try your hand at humor, but have no idea how to get started? You’re in the right place. While I can’t promise that this post will instantly transform you into Chris Rock or Jerry Seinfeld, it can help you locate your funny bone.
However, before we begin, let’s start with an obligatory disclaimer: Humor is not one-size-fits-all. Humor is subjective. What’s funny to me may not be funny to you. However, what’s funny to you will definitely be funny to someone else, and hopefully, that someone else is your reader.
Whether you want to devise a side-splitting, ridiculously slapstick tale from cover to cover or you’re just hoping to sprinkle in moments of levity throughout your novel, humor is a must-have tool in every writer’s arsenal. Humor can enhance any story and surprise the reader into paying closer attention.
But humor writing isn't easy. Even if you’re naturally funny in social situations, it can prove difficult to translate in-person playfulness to on-paper humor. Difficult, but not impossible.
Let’s discuss why your story needs humor and tips for adding elements of comedy to your story.
Here’s a list of 10 things to keep in mind when writing humor. Subscribe to receive this extra resource.
Download your bonus content:
Reasons to Include Humor in Your Story
Why is humor important in your writing?
Literature is so somber and staid these days. I’ve come across shelves of novels with nary a lighthearted moment.
But, if we’re completely honest, life’s not like that. Life can be severe and heartbreaking at times, but there are definite moments of levity and fun. If you’d like to capture the dynamic beauty of life in your stories, you should also include humor.
Additionally, using humor can stretch your abilities as a writer. You may feel more comfortable writing in a serious tone, but why not learn the fine art of humor? Humor is an essential literary device that will improve your reader’s level of engagement.
What is Humor?
Humor isn’t easy to define. While you know that humor is a cognitive and emotional experience that often leads to laughter, you may not know why. Why is something funny?
No one knows how to definitively answer that question. As I mentioned above, humor is personal, subjective, and biased.
Humor is often the result of surprise. An unexpected action or phrase can be a delightful treat when set up in the right way.
Before you start writing, I highly recommend that you take a moment to study humor.
Immerse yourself in what you think is funny. From books to blogs to tweets to t-shirts, there’s no such thing as a shortage of funny material these days. You can read funny content. You can watch funny shows. But don’t just consume it, take notes.
- Why does this joke resonate with you?
- What’s unique about the delivery?
- Is there a formula that you can use in your own writing?
Picking apart the jokes from your favorite comedians isn’t just fun, but it can be insightful. Sometimes, it’s all about word choice. Other times, it’s about set up. To create similar humor in your own writing, you’ll need to figure out how to capture that magic.
Don't Try to be Funny
Avoid the common pitfall of trying to be funny. Instead of making your reader laugh, you’ll make your reader cringe from second-hand embarrassment. And what a slow, painful death that is.
Don’t try to make your reader laugh. Instead, try to make yourself laugh.
If you’re not laughing at your own jokes, then no one else will. But when you make the story or scene funny to you, then you know that you made one person laugh. And one person is just the beginning.
Mind the Genre
While it's possible to add humor into just about any genre, some audiences are more accepting of humor than others. If you’re writing in a rather straight-laced genre, such as horror or thriller, humor can be a disruptive (and unwelcomed) experience. That said, humor can also add an interesting twist to a character, and create a unique perspective for the reader.
If you’re willing to take chances, go for it! The worst that can happen is that people simply don’t “get it,” but even then, you’ll still be able to use this experience as a stepping stone.
Make Fun of the Entire Genre
Are you a rebel at heart? Perhaps you’re interested in creating a comedic caricature of a particular genre. Make fun of common tropes and cliches in a way that’s inventive and respectful.
I love well-done spoofs. However, to make fun of a genre, start with a sincere love for that genre. Otherwise, your exaggerated imitation can come across as mean-spirited and demeaning to the readers who enjoy that genre. You want the audience to laugh with you, not hate you.
Know Your Reader
When writing anything, but especially humor, it’s crucial that you understand your reader. Who are they and what are their life experiences? Will they understand the joke or will it go over their heads?
For example, let’s say you’re targeting young adults. This audience can get a joke, but they may not understand a reference to the 80s (sad, but true). The same can go for an international audience that may not understand a Jamaican reference.
In order to use humor effectively, you must understand what the reader understands. If you think the line or scene won’t resonate, you’re probably right.
Use Humor for Characterization
You can use humor to reveal the personalities of your main characters.
One of the best ways to infuse your story with humor is to create a funny narrator; readers like them. Funny narrators are endearing and have an interesting way of viewing the world around them.
Whether you choose to decorate their commentary with interesting colloquialisms or biting wit, humor can add another layer of complexity to your narrator. Narrative humor is especially useful when writing from a first-person, protagonist point of view.
Use Humor to Develop the Relationship Between Reader and Narrator
In addition to using humor for characterization, you can also use it to strengthen the bond between the narrator and the readers.
The trick is to let the reader in on the joke. A narrator who makes a joke at the reader’s expense is not endearing. In fact, this type of narrator can come across as unreliable, which is not something you want to happen unintentionally. The reader needs to be able to trust the narrator and that can’t happen if the narrator misdirects the reader.
Instead, direct the humor toward your characters. Put them in funny situations. Allow them to analyze their circumstances and self-deprecate. To make your characters more sympathetic to the reader, find the universally relatable aspect in each funny situation. If you can get the reader to see themselves in the character’s situation, you’ve done your job.
Use Humor in Your Dialogue
Another great place to add humor is in your dialogue. Perhaps you’ve decided to use a distant narrator who doesn’t add much commentary but tells the story straight. Humorous dialogue works well when juxtaposed with a distant narrator. For example, when you insert funny moments into character conversations, you can do the following:
- Reveal the dynamic between characters
- Change the pace of your story
- Cut the tension
- Heighten the tension (especially if only one character is laughing)
Humor is a must-have tool. Every writer should be able to wield humor whenever necessary. Use these tips to start infusing your story with humorous elements.
Before you go, check out these related posts:
- 5 Important Characters to Have in Every Story
- The Importance of Subplots
- How to Find Your Writer's Voice
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The Science of Creating Humor: 20 techniques you can use immediately
By Dr. Bill Dyment, co-author of Fire Your Excuses
Do you think being funny is an innate trait? Some people do seem to be “born funny,” the rest of have to work a little harder. The good newsi s just as you can be a decent photographer by learning your camera and a bit about post-production, you can get better, much better at using humor in your writing, presentations and at friends and family gatherings.
Humor follows a pattern. It can also be mathematical in its structure and rhythm. Deconstruct why you like certain sketches, jokes, videos and spoofs and you being to understand what you can do to create humor of your own.
Want to use a special joke with your work team, family or friends?
Put your “material” through these 20 filters and humor is likely to appear .
- Bizarre Pairings — ex. __________- challenged, follically-challenged, culinarily-challenged, etc. How could you play off the phrase “horse-whisperer?” _________-whisperer?
E.g., This guy on the freeway today tried to be the semi-whisperer. It did not go so well. We sat in traffic for over in hour.
- Alliteration — words that start with the same letter or sounds,
E.g. Academic Armageddon.
- Repetition — “I love you, man” – for a while it was funnier every time you heard it. (Now it is dead, beware of overusing a phrase or using it after everyone else is over it.) This technique was employed by Mark Twain with great success. It is referred to as a “call back.” Another example: “Show me the money!” Look for “trending” phrases you can introduce your audiences.
- Altered Image, a visual gag—Example: An advertisement for the New York, New York Casinos depicted the Statute of Liberty with her skirt up just like the famous photo of Marilyn Monroe.
- Spoofs —Examples: The L.A. Times produced fake “Low Speed Chase” news segments which were shown as pre-movie advertisements in theatres. Saturday Night Live is well known for their hilarious television commercial spoofs. Remember “the Bassomatic?” “Mom Jeans?”
- Unexpected Endings —Here’s a classic conference joke you may have heard. It has been told so much it is essentially a public domain joke: “The towels here are so fluffy and luxurious…….I almost couldn’t close my suitcase.” (Best used with a few lines of set up.)
- Self-Deprecating Humor — “If I wasn’t in top physical condition, I’d be a little nervous about running 10 miles with you this morning.” “It took me 10 years to get my Ph.D., but it took me 15 to get over it.”
- Exaggeration —One bank ran a series of radio ads about being put into “voicemail purgatory” (bizarre pairing) when you try to call in to ask a question of most banks. You could take this theme further by using phrases such as: “Our Lady of Perpetual Hold,” etc.
- Twisted Familiars — “Will Work For __________” Stock Options, Sushi, and Chocolate.
“Will Speak for Food.”
“Drive carries no chocolate, caffeine (experiment with your own last word.)”
- Memes —Using an image of a well-known movie or celebrity, or even cat, and adding your own funny caption. Silly example: An image of a crazy Christopher Walkens character in an outdoor movie scene with the caption: “Walken in a Winter Wonderland.”
- Current Events Humor —the more current, the better… Here’s a weak attempt: George, you too? I didn’t take you for a “Glee Partier.”
Example 2—“Yes, I also read the President has created thousands of new jobs; my brother-in-law has 4 of them.”
- Savers — Never be the last one in the room to admit your joke failed. Acknowledge it quickly with a saver line or comment of some type. Johnny Carson was a master of this.
When no one response in your otherwise friendly audience you could say, “No, please hold your applause.” Or, “My mother liked that one.” “Funny, that joke killed them in Kansas City.”
- Opening Jokes —Always tie it in to the theme of the presentation. Never tell a joke for the mere sake of getting people to laugh.
- Imitations — Study a friend or leaders’ mannerisms for humor.
What words does he or she uniquely pronounce? Identify and count their mannerism? What is important to him or her? What are his or her pet phrases? How does he or she dress, walk, etc?
Example—my sisters secretly recorded my mother’s mountain saying then mixed a “rap-song” of them. Free phone apps like “Auto Rap,” make this simple. It was hilarious but only to us. (Don’t be afraid to create humor that works only for your audience.)
- Poems and Titles —to describe common human experiences.
Example—“The Multi-Pat Hug” at the end of a so-so date.
“It’s as if she is saying as she hugs you good-bye and pats your back — “Count ‘em, One-two-Three—you’re not for me.”
Or it’s opposite: The “Excuse Me? But Were We Once Married?” Hug.
- The Rule of 3 —jokes can build like waves. And little chuckles can set up your audience for big laughs when you tell your killer joke. There is a cadence to the flow of words we use in jokes:
Example—“What do you get when you play a country western song backwards? “The mine reopens, your truck runs again, and your wife leaves her boyfriend at Sally’s Bar.”
- Metaphors — Use a colorful, “down home,” or humorous phrase to illustrate your point. Example: “Sorry Paul, that dog just won’t hunt.” For this project, we want to get a quote from someone who doesn’t already have a “dog in the fight,” a “pony in the pageant.” Or, “Remember, don’t wrestle with a pig. You’ll get yourself dirty and the pig will like it!”
- Nicknames —be careful, be nice, best to use yourself as the target or use a nickname of endearment. Example: “My wife is not very impressed with my willingness to ask for directions when lost. The other day, I was trying to pretend I knew where we were going and she said: “So Magellan….”
- Non-Gender Relationship Humor — Tease about relationships without using gender. Example: “I read recently that there are two keys a successful relationship but no one knows what they are!”
- For Professionals Only: Use contextualized humor . Attend a conference and take notes on the main themes of the session. Alternately, make careful observations of your workplace’s most cherished, oft-repeated values. Craft humor around these iconic themes. If you pull it off, everyone will appreciate the inside jokes and your customized effort.
E.g., I know some people came to the conference to network, others to obtain C.E. credit. One man I met in the lobby this morning said he came all the way from Taiwan. I am not sure why you came but I can say for sure, it wasn’t for this coffee. It’s terrible!” (Caution: Tease about something minor or can be easily fixed. Don’t tease about about the conference room, opening dinner, etc.
How to write comedic material for use in your next gathering, toast, or meeting :
Begin by generating a list of phrases, events and people common to everyone in the audience and to current events and media. Then put your material through the filter of the above 20 joke styles to see what comes out. For example, what could you do with the terms: “Alternative Energy,” “Stimulus Package,” “Water Shortage,” etc.
Caution: Remember stealing other people’s signature joke is a crime punishable by a well-deserved perception that you aren’t very funny on your ownJ
You can do this—hey, humor happens-everywhere!
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Making Use of Humor in Writing: Why and How
- on Apr 07, 2022
- in Writing Tips
- Last update: June 14th, 2022
We all love a good laugh; it brings us together and helps alleviate any tension. That is why we use humor on a daily basis, when we are trying to strike a conversation, hook an audience, or even when we share funny cat videos with friends and family.
But while it is there in all aspects of life, humor writing might not come easily to most of us. Maybe because it isn’t one-size-fits-all; what some might find funny, others might simply not understand. So to help you make use of humor in writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, we are going to explore many techniques in this article.
What Is Humor?
Before we embark on how to write humor, let’s look at what humor is in the first place. Some define it as an emotional experience that leads to laughter. It is often subjective and biased; different cultures find different things to be funny. It can also be the result of an unexpected action or phrase when set up in the correct context.
According to Neil Gaiman, the famous British author, humor is “that moment where you see something that you’ve always thought, but somebody has articulated it. And they’ve articulated it in a way that you’ve never seen before. […] It’s the joy of the unexpected. Whether it’s broad or whether it’s subtle, is always vital.”
What Is the Purpose of Humor in Writing?
Almost all kinds of writing can benefit from some humor. So whether you are trying to write a comedy show or just want to add a little joy to a serious piece, you should know how to make your readers laugh.
Here is why humor is important in writing:
- Humor grabs readers’ attention and elevates any piece of writing.
- Finding the funny side of things helps in reducing tension and stress.
- Writing humor needs creativity, which enhances your ability as a writer and makes the writing process more enjoyable.
- Laughter does a very good job of bringing people together and affecting the way they think.
- Using humor correctly can affect how much your readers like your work and strengthen the bond you have with them.
What Are the Types of Humor Writing?
In order to successfully use it in your writing, you need to understand the different types of humor to identify what goes best with your writing style. The main types of humor are:
- Satire: This type of humor looks at the faults of others, be it an individual, organization, or society at large. It is often used as constructive social criticism.
- Self-deprecating humor: Just like satire that makes fun of others, in this type of humor the writer makes fun of himself. This makes the writer appear vulnerable but also brings him closer to his readers.
- Situational humor: Describe an everyday, mundane situation that is actually funny. The humor in this type arises not from the use of words but from the events themselves.
- Understatement: Take an event that is actually a big deal and deliberately undermine it, like in the novel The Catcher in the Rye , when a character says, “I have to have this operation… It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain.”
- Overstatement: Making a big deal out of a rather trivial situation can sometimes amuse the reader.
- Dark humor: Remember the many memes that appeared during the 2020 lockdown? That is dark comedy, which takes an unpleasant situation and makes fun of it.
How to Add Humor into Your Writing?
There are many techniques that famous authors use and recommend for adding humor into writing. But as we explore each of them, remember that writing humor isn’t always about being funny or telling jokes; sometimes the turn of events can arise humor. So to help you get started, here are some tricks you could use in your writing.
Find Your Own Humor
First and foremost, you need to identify your own style. Study what you think of as funny. If a joke makes you laugh, find out why it resonates with you. If there is a certain formula that you find especially amusing, try using it in your writing.
But remember that you shouldn’t try to be funny by overdoing it; instead, just try to make yourself laugh. Because if you don’t enjoy your own humor, probably no one else will.
Respect Your Audience and Your Book Genre
It’s true that humor can be added to almost any type of writing. But it is also true that not all readers accept humor the same way. For example, while a cooking show can make use of a few jokes, the audience of a true-crime documentary might find them disruptive.
Write Stories from Real Life
We all have some funny stories that we tell at parties or social gatherings that our friends find funny too. These stories help us connect with those around, and they would definitely help you connect with your readers. Just make sure before using this story in your writing that you understand why it is funny, and that you convey this reason to your readers.
These stories don’t have to be something that happened to you. Instead, you can quote funny people in your life. So keep an eye out for those humorous stories others share, and bring them into your writing.
Use Humor in Dialogue
One way to insert humor, especially in fiction, is to add it to the dialogue. This doesn’t only make the reader laugh, but it can also help him understand the dynamics between characters, and it helps change the pace of the story.
Apply the Rule of Three
This rule is one of the widely used techniques in humor writing. It entails establishing a certain idea with a list of two things, then subverting this pattern with a third idea. Here’s an example: “Would you like me to get you anything else? A cup of water? A sandwich? A better life?”
Include a Funny Narrator
When you have a funny narrator in your story, readers get to see things from a lighter perspective, as this narrator has an interesting way of viewing events and the world around them. This is known as narrative humor, and it is especially useful when the narrator is the protagonist, narrating the story from the first-person point of view.
Leverage the Power of Comparison
One way to add humor is by making funny comparisons. Think of them as metaphors that are used for comedic purposes. For example, if you want to say that it’s hard to lose weight, think of other things that are also universally hard or even impossible, such as flossing a cat’s teeth or fighting a T-Rex. Then choose the one that delivers your point and makes you laugh at the same time.
Don’t Shy Away from Clichés
Yes it’s true, clichés can be boring and sometimes using them is considered lazy writing, but that isn’t always the case. You can make use of clichés for comic effect by twisting them and surprising your readers; this process is known as reforming. This can be also done with any famous sayings, lyrics, or movie quotes. For example, the comedian Matt Wohlfarthonce once said, “Where there’s a will there’s a family fighting over it.”
Use Puns in Smart Ways
Puns are words that have more than one meaning or words that sound the same but have different homonyms. When used wisely, puns can be a great source of humor that intrigues the readers and makes them think. Look at this joke for example, “Will glass coffins be a success? Remains to be seen.”
Test Your Humor
You might have a great, funny idea that you would like to include in your writing. But before doing so, remember to test it first. You can do this by reading it out loud to an audience, like the American humorist David Sedaris who used to make notes whenever the audience laughed as he read. When there is a joke that they didn’t laugh at, he knew that if he used it in his writing, readers would be skimming and not actually reading.
It’s often said that laughter is the best medicine. And just like anything else in life, making your readers laugh takes practice; just don’t be afraid to use your own voice. Start now by applying the above-mentioned tips to engage your readers and make their day a little bit brighter.
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How to Write Comedy — Tips, Techniques & Script Examples
A sk any creative writer what the hardest genre to write is and they’ll probably tell you that it’s comedy. That’s because story structure can only bring you so far in comedy writing – the fact of the matter is that if you aren’t funny, you aren’t funny. So how do you become funny? Do you read joke books? No! Like everything else, you practice until you become perfect – well, not perfect per se – most comedy writers would be happy with just okay. We’re going to show you how to write comedy, with script examples from 21 Jump Street and Curb Your Enthusiasm , but first, let’s define comedy writing.
Guide to Comedic Writing
What is comedy writing.
In simplest terms, comedy writing is a genre of writing that is intended to be funny. There’s much more to it than that, but first and foremost, the chief goal is to make the audience laugh. Let’s watch a quick video to hear one of the most successful comedy writers of all-time, Jerry Seinfeld, explain the basics of comedy writing.
Writing Comedy • Jerry Seinfeld on How to Write a Joke With The New York Times
Comedy writing is something you don’t see people doing. It’s a secretive thing.
— Jerry Seinfeld
As Seinfeld suggests, comedy writing is a very secretive thing. One reason why is because most comedy writers feel like their material has to be perfect before it’s presented.
Think about it this way: let’s say you write a dramatic stage play. There’s no way to tell if the audience hated it – except if they fell asleep, then I’d say it’s fair to say they hated it. Now let’s say you write a comedic play. If the audience doesn’t laugh at the jokes, then you know they hated it.
You know, they know, everybody knows – a joke that doesn’t land is a special type of shame . It’s for this reason that comedy writing can feel so personal. The most important thing to remember is that nobody is funny 100% of the time, but by taking inspiration from some of the best, we can improve our craft.
Comedy writing doesn’t have to be a solitary craft. Due to the advent of the internet, comedy is more collaborative now more than ever. This next video explains how the Lonely Island sketch “Dear Sister” helped to usher in a new era of comedy.
How to Write Comedy • How ‘Dear Sister’ Changed Comedy by Karsten Runquist
The difference between Seinfeld’s traditionalist advice on comedy writing and Karsten Runquist’s new-age analysis is that one says that comedy is achieved by plot ; the other says that plot is achieved by comedy. Think of memes for example: what makes a meme funny? Well, I’d say memes are funny because somebody doesn’t “get it.”
A meme is like an inside joke between millions of people – but once it breaks out of that “inside” bubble, then it ceases to be funny. This teaches us something essential about comedy writing; almost always, somebody has to be the butt of the joke. No matter how big or small, somebody has to be made fun of. It’s this very notion that makes comedy writing so difficult.
Rules of Comedy, Explained
Tips and tricks for writing comedy.
One of the most difficult aspects of comedy script writing is finding the right person to perform it. You could write something really clever, but if it’s performed in a tone that’s incongruent to what you mean, then it’s not going to sound funny.
So when writing any sort of comedy, don’t be afraid to add emphasis. That’s true in more ways than one – emphasize the punch-lines to your jokes, emphasize specificity, and emphasize contradictions.
Like any type of writing, comedy writing relies on conflict . In this scene from Meet the Parents , the family patriarch Jack interrogates his daughter’s boyfriend Greg. Pay attention to how screenwriters Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg entice us with character conflict.
How to Write Comedy • Watch the Meet the Parents Lie Detector Test Scene
I wanted to look at this scene for a couple reasons. The first is that it’s a great structural example of how to put together a comedic scene. The mean dad, clueless boyfriend trope is just that... a trope. So how do the writers make it feel refreshing and new?
Well, it starts with emphasis and exaggeration. Jack isn’t just any dad, he’s a former CIA operative. And Greg’s not just a clueless boyfriend, he’s a walking bad-luck charm. So in a structural sense, this relationship is primed for comedic conflict.
Here are five great tips for writing a comedy scene:
- Take a typical situation and exaggerate it
- Let tension build
- Use specificity
- Embarrass someone
- Finish with a bang
Now let’s see how Meet the Parents utilizes these five strategies.
- Greg is visiting his girlfriend’s family. This is a typical situation – and at some level, it’s something we can all relate to. But it’s exaggerated by Jack’s CIA background.
- Say you’re the writer of a story like Meet the Parents and you have a great structural conflict between two characters (Jack and Greg) – how do you take that tension and build it? Well, start by putting the two characters in close proximity.
- Specificity is a double-edged sword in comedy writing. Notice how Greg is wearing Jack’s pajamas with the little JB insignia on the chest-pocket? That’s funny. Notice how there are a bunch of pictures of Jack undercover in the CIA? That’s funny. And it’s funny because it’s not forced on us.
- Jack embarrasses Greg by asking him uncomfortable questions. Situationally, this is funny, and it’s elevated by Robert De Niro’s great deadpan delivery.
- Like Jerry Seinfeld said, always save the best joke for last. It’s an expectation in comedy writing that you’re going to end with a bang. In this scene from Meet the Parents , it’s when Jack asks Greg if he watches porn.
WRITING COMEDY TIPS
How to make your script funny.
Would you believe me when I say there’s a secret technique you can use to instantly make any scene funnier? No, that sounds too good to be true! But alas, it is.
The technique known as irony – which is defined as being the opposite of what we expect – can turn any scene on its head.
How to Write Comedy • 21 Jump Street Screenplay
21 Jump Street went through a lengthy rewrite process. In this revision of the script, undercover cops Jenko and Schmidt arrive at a scene somewhat akin to what we see in the original tv show. There’s nothing wrong with the scene as it was originally written – but the final version of the scene shows just how much a difference irony can make.
Here, Jenko takes the lead, expecting to command the crowd like he did in high school. But as Bob Dylan famously said, the times are a-changin’.
How to Write Comedy • Watch 21 Jump Street
We expect Jenko to be considered “cool.” But instead, he’s condemned. Conversely, we expect Schmidt to be considered “lame.” But instead, he’s celebrated. This is irony . This character dynamic makes 21 Jump Street feel refreshing. If you’re considering writing a comedy script, think about how contrived character stereotypes can be subverted with irony.
Writing Comedy Taboos
Things to avoid in comedy writing.
Most comedians will tell you that no topic is off-limits in comedy writing. And although that may be true, just remember that it’s really hard to make certain things funny – and you’re not going to win audiences over making jokes about taboo subject matter.
We’ve all heard the saying “read the room” before, but how do we “read the room” when we’re writing alone? Well, one way is to take notes when you’re out in public, then transcribe them into a routine, sketch, or scene later. If you know Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm , then this process may sound familiar.
This next video explains Larry David’s writing process for Curb in further detail.
Comedy Writing Techniques • How to Write Comedy Like Larry David by StoryDive
The reason I bring up Curb in regards to “what to avoid in comedy writing” is because Larry David is a master of navigating that ever-so-delicate line. Take this clip from Curb Your Enthusiasm Season Nine, Ep. 8 for example.
How to Write Humor • Study Perspective in this Curb Your Enthusiasm Clip
In this montage scene, a Muslim investigator looks into Larry’s past to see if he deserves a fatwa. In each part of the montage, a delicate subject matter is addressed. Why is it funny? Well, it’s all about perspective. In Curb Your Enthusiasm , Larry is consistently made out to be the bad guy. By framing him as the good guy, we see the ludicrousy of the show’s situations in a new light.
Don’t be afraid to play with perspective. Sometimes, the comedy of a scene is found in a perspective you would’ve never guessed. Consider framing your comedic situations in different ways.
This experimentation will often help you find the best angle to present your jokes.
Comedy lessons from Gene Wilder
We touched on a lot of the foundational aspects of comedy writing, but there’s so much more to it than what we went over here. In this next article, we break down how to direct actors, with special emphasis on how Gene Wilder changed comedy. By studying Wilder’s comedic style, we can learn a lot about how to be a better comedy writer.
Up Next: Directing Comedy Actors →
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Sep 15, 2018
7 Ways to Become a Master Humor Writer When You Don’t Think You Have a Funnybone
From here to there and there to here, funny things are everywhere — dr. seuss.
What do Dr. Seuss, Mark Twain, and Oscar Wilde all have in common?
They were all hilarious writers, of course!
They were also ( very ) successful.
And they’re not alone: From Oscar Wilde to David Sedaris, Carl Hiaasen to Tina Fey, it seems like writers with a great sense of humor tend to do quite well in this increasingly democratized (aka increasingly competitive) marketplace.
Humor is an icebreaker. It brings people closer, it makes people feel good. It relieves pain and transforms the way people look at the world. No wonder it’s such a powerful tool among writers, speakers, and other creatives.
Even if you’re not a dedicated humor writer, it helps to know how to incorporate some humor to make your writing less dry and boring.
But what if you (think you) don’t have a funnybone?
Are you doomed to creative obscurity, living in a refrigerator box on the side of the road while muttering jealously at those comedic composers whose sprightly prose provokes peals of laughter from adoring fans?
Oh please. Of course not!
If that were true, how would I been able to create such a rich, rewarding writing career from right here in my refrigerator box…?
Uh, never mind.
Look. EVERYONE has a funny bone of some sort or another. If you find anything — anything at all — funny, then you have a sense of humor. Period.
The key is to hone your sense of humor as a writer, and you can do that with the following tips…
1. Do the Unexpected
Humor relies heavily on the element of surprise.
That’s why “peekaboo” works so well with babies. Their baby memories aren’t fully developed yet and so every time Mommy and Daddy hide their eyes and then un hide them, Baby is absolutely delighted. Because Baby kinda forgot that the exact same event just happened two seconds ago.
It’s either that, or Baby just likes watching Mommy and Daddy humiliate themselves for her benefit.
This infant amusement at surprising things doesn’t leave us when we get older. We’re a little more sophisticated, but we still laugh when unexpected things happen — like in the famous Monty Python Silly Job Interview sketch, where an unfortunate applicant becomes completely flabbergasted when his interviewer breaks typical interview protocol by failing to ask a single question.
Instead, he shouts: “FIVE, FOUR, THREE, TWO, ONE, ZERO! Too late,” rings a bell and sings “Good niiiiight, ding-ding-ding-ding-ding,” and then mimics a moose.
The entire thing makes absolutely no logical sense. You have no idea what the interviewer is going to do next to jerk the poor applicant’s chain. But the unpredictable surprises are what make this ludicrous situation so much fun.
2. Say Something Impossible
In a story about a quirky high school chemistry teacher , there is a line where said teacher warns students about a set of plastic molecular models:
“Do not eat [these]. If you do, you’ll die. Then I will have to revive you and kill you again for being an idiot.”
Obviously, no teacher can resurrect a student just to “kill them for being an idiot.”
It’s utterly impossible — and that’s why it’s funny 😉
3. Use Excessively Detailed Details
In the intro to “ The #1 Essential Skill Every Writer Needs to Learn ,” the following list of types of writing goes from the common to the more unusual (but still accurate!) combinations of a descriptor + the word “writing”:
There are many types of writing in the world: Article writing, novel writing, copywriting, ghostwriting, songwriting, poetry writing, playwriting, handwriting, typewriting, skywriting, love-letter-writing, rewriting…and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.
Now, this isn’t going to make anyone laugh out loud, but it can make them smile. And that’s all you need to get your foot in the door and your reader on to the next sentence.
3. Make Fun of Yourself
The best comedians poke fun at themselves to make others laugh. Humorous writers are the same:
We don’t want to sit high and mighty on our pedestals, miles above our readers. We know that it gives readers a crick to keep gazing skyward for so long, and we don’t want that, no sirree.
Because readers with cricked necks become disgruntled former readers who stop enjoying our work and start plotting our downfall.
So we axe the pedestal and show readers that we are just like them — relatable, fallible, silly — by making fun of ourselves.
This is the idea behind slapstick humor and America’s Funniest Home Videos, an old TV show where ordinary folks submit video clips of people slipping, crashing, and falling for practical jokes in embarrassing — but hilarious — ways.
You can do this in writing, as well as on the screen. For instance, in “Why I’m Writing 30 Stories in 30 Days ,” I poke fun at my masochistic decision to write 30 stories in 30 days:
Have I lost my marbles (not to mention the entire aquarium)? Am I a few poached eggs short of a Full English Breakfast? Has writer’s desperation zapped away the last shred of my sanity? Erm…don’t answer that.
People like to read writers they can relate to. And no one can relate to Mr. or Ms. Perfect. So don’t be afraid to show your awkward/laughable/ridiculous side.
Exaggerate your faults, make them funny, prove that you’re totally weirder than the people who read your writing, and I guarantee — readers will LOVE you (and your writing)!
4. Combine Silly, Seemingly Unrelated Things
The famous musical comedy duo, Igudesman & Joo do this brilliantly in their sketch, “I Will Survive.”
The professionally trained musicians begin with a famous classical motif, and then, less than ten seconds in, violinist Igudesman starts playing pop tune “I Will Survive,” on top of pianist Joo’s rendition of a popular section in a Mozart piano concerto.
They also throw in some bars from “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and then really wow the crowd when these two instrumentalists actually start singing. Opera. And beatboxing. And rapping. (Say Wha — ?)
Also, the way that they get the audience to start singing with them at the end is another clever way of mixing seemingly unrelated things to (in this case, the words “sir, wife” and “survive”…it’s hard to explain — see for yourself)
You can do the same with writing, as in these “sample headlines” from 5 Ways to Come Up With Ideas When You Have Nothing to Write About :
- 10 Tips to Create the Perfect Beluga Whale Painting
- The Secret of Starting a Successful Shoemaking Enterprise
- Little Known Ways to Peel Potatoes Without Using Your Hands
I mean, who actually writes articles on these topics? Probably no one. (Although I suppose in this day and age, it’s hard to say…)
5. Make the Third Item in a List the Most Ludicrous
3 is a great number.
It’s the number points and sides in a triangle, the number of books in a trilogy, and the number of items in the shortest list (any fewer and that is not a “list”).
So when you are giving examples of something, and you want to be funny, a good way to do it is to to make the last thing in the list different. As in this picture:
Aww, look! We have a lovely white penguin on the right, and another lovely white penguin in the middle, and — OMG why is there a massive chunk of overgrown wood mold photobombing this picture???
Oh, it’s a baby penguin. Right.
I knew that.
Another example of how to do this, in writing, can be found in the same article as the one from point 4 :
Ideas come at the most inconvenient moments, sometimes: - when you’re on the toilet, or in the middle of a nice, relaxing shower - when you’ve been tossing and turning all night, and are finally JUST about to drift off into much-longed-for sleep - when you’re hanging ten feet above ground after having slipped off the roof you were attempting to repair (because who needs professional handymen when you have the combined expertise of Google and YouTube at your fingertips?)
Notice items #1 and 2 are relatively short and straightforward— everyday events, you know. Nothing to note there. One penguin, two penguins. Done.
But #3 is like wood mold — erm, I mean, a baby penguin: It sticks out because one, it’s much longer than the other points in the list (thanks to that parenthetical), and two, it’s far more ludicrous than the other items.
I mean, we all use the toilet, shower, and sleep, but what moron would have the audacity to try to do their own high-elevation carpentry rather than hire a trained professional?
Right? Am I right?…
Um. Never mind.
6. Play With Words
Use alliteration, percussive consonants, puns, and metaphors. Bring in fun-to-say words and rare vocab words and phrases like “ trigger the old noggin ” or
I won’t give a particular example here, because I have demonstrated these things liberally throughout this very article itself (as well as some of the other linked ones). If you’re curious, feel free to look ’em up yourself :)
Happy Humor Hunting!
7. Remember: (Comedic) Timing is Everything
Just like the realtor motto is “location, location, location!” every comedian worth his/her salt knows the unbreakable rule of humor: “ timing is everything.”
Like this famous knock-knock joke:
- Who’s there?
- Interrupting cow.
- Interrupting cow wh —
Needless to say, this joke would not work if Person 1 did not jump in and, like, interrupt. Which requires an excellent sense of comedic timing, of course. You know, the kind that only years of experience and perhaps a PhD or two can instill in a person…(I’m kidding, I’m kidding).
And when you go to watch a live comedy show, experienced comedians often work the crowd by using long pauses to their advantage. Case in point:
But writing is a tad different than live performances, of course. People read at their own paces, you’re not there to tell them how long to pause between lines. But there is something you CAN use to manipulate timing for your reader: space.
I’m just trimming the 52 [stories] down to 30 and stuffing it all in one month instead of stretching it out over a year. Is that insane? Maybe. Will all the stories turn out to be cra — uh, crazy bad? Probably. And will you get to watch me fumble and fail the whole entire way? Yes, absolutely yes. (If you want to)
Compare that to this hideous chunky paragraph:
Terrible. I sound like a motor mouth in this one. There’s no space to breathe, to giggle, to smile. It’s just words-words-words, rapid-fire, one after another.
Final Tip: Have a Funny Life
As the wise Dr. Seuss said in the quote I quoted for the subtitle of this article, “funny things are everywhere!”
You just have to know where and how to look. You need to train your funny bone. Don’t let it sit on the sofa crunching potato chips and scooping Haagen-Dazs out of a tub. Exercise it! Put it to work!
How? Here are some ideas:
- Have a playdate with young kids (they find just about everything funny. Try to see why)
- Make yourself laugh once a day (it’s good for your health! And I’m not the only one saying that. Read Norm Cousins)
- Hang out with funny people, and DON’T hang out with sourpusses.
- Write down funny things that happen to you so you don’t forget (For instance, this and this really did happen to me back when I was in high school. I remembered them because I wrote them down)
- Read funny books by humorous writers, like Carl Hiaasen, Gerald Morris, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, (Pro tip: check out children’s writers. A lot of them are pretty hilarious because, after all, they are writing for children)
- Watch funny videos by comedians like Igudesman & Joo, Victor Borge, Mark Lowry, the Monty Python crew, and more.
- What else can you think of?
Humor writing is a gift, but it’s also a skill. People are born with different senses of humor.
The core behind humor is a way of looking at the world. You must change yourself from the inside out to become better at humor. Alternatively, humor can help you change your perspective.
The most important thing to remember, though, is simply this:
Enjoy yourself when you’re writing, especially when you’re writing humor. Make yourself laugh. Make yourself smile.
Because when you have fun, we will too. 😄
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Common Types of Humor Used in Literature
- DESCRIPTION Woman laughing while reading funny literature
- SOURCE Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / DigitalVision / Getty
If you’re studying literature or considering how to make your own writing funnier, it helps to learn about the types of humor used in books and poetry. Literary humor can take several forms, and learning to recognize them is both fun and useful for your own work.
Surprise and Incongruity
One type of humor used in literature is incongruity or surprise. This type of humor can be something as simple as a ridiculous sight like a pig in a submarine, or it can be based on a surprise in the situation. Something unexpected happens, and this makes the reader laugh.
Consider this example from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams:
“So this is it,” said Arthur, “We are going to die.” “Yes,” said Ford, “except… no! Wait a minute!” He suddenly lunged across the chamber at something behind Arthur’s line of vision. “What’s this switch?” he cried. “What? Where?” cried Arthur, twisting round. “No, I was only fooling,” said Ford, “we are going to die after all.”
Self-deprecating humor is when the speaker or a character makes fun of himself or herself. This makes the character vulnerable to the reader, but at the same time, it also shows strength. It’s a unique type of humor, but you see it in some of the great stories.
Here’s an example from Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse:
“Beginning with a critique of my own limbs, which she said, justly enough, were nothing to write home about, this girl went on to dissect my manners, morals, intellect, general physique, and method of eating asparagus.”
A situation can be downright hilarious when it’s described properly. The situation, whether real or imaginary, is just funny. Throughout literature, there are many examples of situational humor that leave readers laughing.
Often situational humor is based on perspective as in this example from The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler:
“Ever consider what pets must think of us? I mean, here we come back from a grocery store with the most amazing haul - chicken, pork, half a cow. They must think we're the greatest hunters on earth!”
Irony as Humor
Many literary texts use irony in a humorous way. There are several types of irony, but they all involve the contrast between what is said or seems to happen and what actually happens. One specific type is dramatic irony , in which the reader knows something the character does not. You’ll also see situational irony and verbal irony.
In Cold Comfort Farm , Stella Gibbons offers a great example of verbal irony in the difference between what her character Flora says and what she really thinks:
“‘That would be delightful,’ agreed Flora, thinking how nasty and boring it would be.”
Understatement in Humor
When the writer describes a situation or event in an obviously understated way, this can be hilarious for the reader. The key here is that the reader knows the full extent of the real situation and is conscious of the ridiculous understatement that is happening.
You can see understatement in action in Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions :
“Vietnam was a country where America was trying to make people stop being communists by dropping things on them from airplanes.”
Overstatement or Hyperbole
Similarly, overstating a situation can be funny too. In this case, the reader understands the real situation and is amused when the writer exaggerates it.
Steve Martin uses overstatement in this passage about dieting from his book Cruel Shoes :
“The problem with the diets of today is that most women who do achieve that magic weight, seventy-six pounds, are still fat.”
When a writer uses a serious tone to discuss a ridiculous subject, that type of humor is satire. You’ll find many examples of satire in literature. This technique is popular with everyone from Shakespeare to Douglas Adams.
One famous example of satire is A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. In this essay, Swift pretends to propose that people should eat children to take care of the hunger problem and overpopulation at the same time:
I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.
The Why of Humor
If you enjoy using humor in your writing or identifying it in books you read, you might get a laugh out of some different examples of humor or silly book puns . You’ll find that with enough familiarity, you’ll be able to explain exactly why something is funny in one of your favorite books.
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Novel writing ,
Writing humour – injecting humour into your story.
By Sophie Gonzales
So, you want to learn how to make your readers burst out laughing, but you can’t even get a pity laugh out of your own grandma?
This guide is all you need to gain an understanding of the common forms of humour in writing, and how to use humorous writing techniques to inject comedy into your own writing. Read on to find out how!
What Is Humour Writing?
Humorous writing is any piece of writing that’s written with the intention to prompt amusement and to be funny. There are many forms of humour you can inject into your writing to turn a ho-hum piece into a side-splitter.
Types Of Humour In Literature
From the subtle humour of satire or deadpan, through to in-your-face farce and slapstick, once you have a solid grasp on what forms of humour exist and how to use them, you’ll have a vast toolbox at your fingertips to make your readers smirk, giggle and howl with laughter in any situation.
Let’s dive into some of the most common ones, along with some humorous writing examples to help you recognise these techniques in the wild.
An anecdote is a brief, humorous story about a real-life experience. Think of Michelle Flaherty from American Pie, and her endless anecdotes revolving around “this one time, at band camp”.
Dark humour, also known as black humour, morbid humour or gallows humour, is a form of humour that makes light of anything especially sad or serious. The term ‘gallows humour’ actually dates back to the 1800s, when people would joke about being hanged at the gallows.
‘ On my license, it says I’m an organ donor. . . I wonder what poor asshole would get stuck with whatever it is in me that passes for a heart.’
‘My Sister’s Keeper’ – Jodi Picoult
Deadpan humour, otherwise known as dry humour, relies on delivery to land correctly. Usually a statement will be humorous in content, perhaps even over-the-top or ridiculous, but the wording and delivery of it is intended to be casual, almost as though the speaker is unaware they’re making a joke at all.
The word deadpan comes from the slang term ‘pan’, used for ‘face’ in the early 20 th century. So, to have a dead pan was to have a face that showed no expression or emotion.
‘ Through my curtains I can see a big yellow moon. I’m thinking of all the people in the world who will be looking at that same moon. I wonder how many of them haven’t got any eyebrows?’
‘Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging’ – Louise Rennison
A farce, or farcical humour, is a form of humour that derives its comedy through the absurd ridiculousness of a situation.
A farce will often use miscommunication to create humorous scenarios and misunderstandings. For example, Shakespeare loved to employ farce. Think of A Midsummer Night’s Dream , where mistaken identity and confusion causes a love quadrangle.
When something appears to be the case, or should be the case, but the reality is the opposite, you’re dealing with irony. For example, a fire department catching on fire, or the world’s leading skin cancer expert dying after they mistake their own melanoma for a benign mole.
At the start of Pride and Prejudice , Jane Austen writes: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ As the narrative quickly goes on to show us single women spending much time and energy finding a husband, we grow to understand the irony in that opening sentence.
A parody is an entertainment piece produced to mimic an existing work, artist or genre, but dialled up to a hundred in order to poke fun at it. The humour comes from highlighting flaws and overdone tropes through an exaggerated portrayal.
For example, think of Austin Powers , which parodies James Bond . Or Bored of the Rings by Douglas Kenney, a parody of Lord of the Rings .
Satirical writing uses wit to make a point about power—be it a commentary on the government, the privileged, large corporations, etc—and aims to cause readers to think deeply about society, and what can be done to improve it.
Satirical works range from political cartoons you’ll find in the newspaper, through to books like Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, which satirises organised religion.
Self-deprecation is a form of humour where an individual makes a comment about their own flaws and shortcomings in a light-hearted manner.
‘They all laughed when I said I’d become a comedian. Well, they’re not laughing now.’
‘Crying with Laughter: My Life Story’ – Bob Monkhouse
Situational humour is any type of humour that arises from the situation characters find themselves in.
Think of a character going to a babysitting job and finding out the child is actually the antichrist, or a character going on a blind date only to find themselves face to face with the horrible customer they served at work earlier that day.
Slapstick refers to physical humour involving the body. It often involves some form of pain (think falling, or having something fall on you, or accidentally breaking a piece of furniture while using it) or otherwise odd things happening to a body (like a hose going off in someone’s face unexpectedly). An excellent example is America’s Funniest Home Videos .
Tips For Writing Humorous Stories
Okay, so we’ve covered some of the more common types of humour, and you’re ready to find out how to develop your own humorous writing style? Luckily, all writers have the ability to write humour, even if it’s not something that comes easily to you at first. All it takes is practice!
Here are some humorous writing tips to leave your audience cackling.
Study Other Writers
Think of a piece of writing you found hilarious. Read it carefully. Note what it is that makes it so amusing. Can you spot any of the forms of humour we covered above? Once you can recognise and categorise humour techniques and forms, you’ll find that determining which form of humour fits your own writing in which situation will start to come more naturally.
Use Your Own Material
Do you sometimes make comments that other people find hilarious? Take note of your own jokes (literally—write it down for yourself to use later) and refer back to them while writing. You’ll be surprised how often you can find a natural spot for that joke to make a recurrence.
Utilise juxtaposition, or pairing opposites near each other to highlight the differences between them. Think The Odd Couple , or Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street . There are plenty of humorous opportunities for a slacker character or a type-A character, but that humour is magnified if those two characters share scenes.
Master Comedic Timing
Comedic timing plays a huge role in how a joke lands. Pay attention while you’re reading or watching comedy, and notice how long a joke goes on for, and where the punchline lands. Like stories, jokes have their own arcs: setup, anticipation and payoff. For an example of excellent comedic timing, give Don Quixote a read.
Alliteration, or stringing together words beginning with the same consonant, can make text both more amusing and memorable. Roald Dahl was very partial to this technique. Willy Wonka and Bruce Bogtrotter are amusing and memorable names. Steve Wonka and Bruce Robertson would’ve been less so.
Use Amusing Words
Similarly, note how some words simply sound funnier than others. Some comedians believe words with a ‘k’ sound in them are perceived to be funnier. Think about some of the more absurd words in the English language, like filibuster or absquatulate. Get in the habit of searching for synonyms, and ask yourself if the joke would be funnier with a different word choice.
Jokes often involve the rule of three, or listing three things, two straight, and one punchline. Think two brunettes and a blonde, or an Englishman, an Irishman and an American. The first two points establish a pattern, and the third point breaks the pattern, creating humour through surprise.
‘FEDERAL FUNDING, TRAVEL EXP ENSES, BOOTY CALLS, AND YOU.’
‘Red White and Royal Blue’—Casey McQuiston
Exaggeration is a widely used humorous technique. Make sure to exaggerate to an extreme extent, going well over-the-top. For example: ‘Mum said I should walk to the shops, but it was about fifty thousand billion degrees outside, so obviously that wasn’t happening.’
By knowing these forms of humour, and following these tips, you can learn to inject humour into your writing in a way that will both amuse your readers, and make your writing more memorable.
Jericho Writers is a global membership group for writers , providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by signing up to our newsletter . For more writing articles, take a look at our blog page .
About the author
Sophie Gonzales writes young adult queer contemporary fiction with memorable characters, biting wit and endless heart. She is the author of The Law of Inertia and Only mostly Devastated and Perfect on Paper, and is represented by Molly Ker Hawn of The Bent Agency. Her book If This Gets Out (co-written with Cale Dietrich) was published in December 2021 from Wednesday Books / Macmillan. When she isn’t writing, Sophie can be found performing in musical theatre and practising the piano. She currently lives in Adelaide, Australia. For more on Sophie, see her website , Twitter , or Amazon author page .
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