Sunday, August 21, 2011

Me Write Funny Someday—how to add humor to your writing (part 1)

Would you like to add humor to your writing? I'm guessing the answer is yes. Humor adds so much, whether your aim is to write something altogether funny, pique a reader's interest with humor, create a comic interlude to give readers a break between more dramatic scenes, or use humor to contrast with dark and perhaps scary scenes in a way that brings the darkness in your story out even more.

I've used humor to do all of these, as a political cartoonist, arts-and-entertainment writer, consumer columnist, and a writer of a variety of books for kids and teens: everything from funny picture books and illustrated novels for middle graders to an epic fantasy about a magical storyteller, a romantic YA ghost story, and a novel about a super geek turned into a reluctant vampire.

To do this, I used a formula that I invented during the seven years I was a political cartoonist. Back then, I had to come up with four to eight cartoons a week--usually written on the same day, so my cartoons would be timely. Since then, this formula has not only helped me add humor to my writing; it's helped me come up with an endless supply of story ideas.

So how does it work?

Shevi’s House of Funny formula for creating humor

The House of Funny formula is comprised of three Ss:


The setup can be anything you want to be. In this case, it's whatever you want to make funny or add humor to. The setup creates an expectation, and the surprise comes from taking the setup in a completely unexpected direction.

Therefore, if you want to add humor to your writing, you have to work out what the reader will expect--and then you have to take your story in a completely different, unexpected direction. Not only will this add humor to your writing--it will let you create something that stands out from the crowd, something unexpected and new, something readers haven’t seen before. It will give your writing the "Wow" factor everyone is looking for.

Will any kind of surprise do?
Well, no. To fit the House of Funny formula, the surprise has to make sense on some level. Otherwise, it's just funny weird, not funny ha ha. We laugh at a joke because we "get it"--and we can't get it if it doesn't make sense!

Also, as I mentioned in my first video on the topic, while other comedy experts see pain as an essential element in comedy, I see it as a comedy killer.

Of course, some audiences have a much higher pain threshold than others, so you have to know your audience. Will they be surprised by your surprise, able to make sense of your logic, and accept any pain that may be a part of your joke? If so, you have all the ingredients for humor.

So how do I creates that surprise?

Great question! I'm glad you asked. (Okay, technically I'm the one who asked. But it's still a great question.)  The answer is rather complicated, so we’ll be looking at that in my next blog post. 


Charmaine Clancy said...

What an awesome series. Love that you're sharing this.
I like to use humour to make an otherwise disgusting character sympathetic.
Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

Billy Elm said...

Looking forward to part 2!

Billy Elm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shevi said...

Oh, yes, Charmaine, I forgot about that. Humor really is a multifunctional tool.

Shevi said...

Billy, you won't have to wait long. Part 2 should be up later today.