Writing Humor

Since coming to the United States, I have become more appreciative of comedy. In particular, humor’s ability to cut through serious issues. I guess I hadn’t realized that humor could be so serious. But, as William Zinsser explains:

… if you’re trying to write humor, almost everything you do is serious.

But how do you write humor? How do you know what’s funny and what’s not?

To quote Zinsser yet again:

The heightening of some crazy truth—to a level where it will be seen as crazy—is the essence of what serious humorists are trying to do.

So, a good starting point seems to be finding a crazy truth and then exaggerating it to the point where everyone can recognize just how crazy it is.

Having fun when you’re writing also seems to be an important ingredient. Billy Frolick, author of The Ditches of Edison County and Downtrodden Abbey, wrote in the November/December 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest:

… whether writing a screenplay, article or book: If I am having fun, the work usually turns out pretty well… So, whatever you’re working on, have fun with it. Your readers will know when you have.

David Sedaris, the author of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls and many other books, agrees:

If the eighth draft is torture, the first should be fun. At least if you’re writing humor.

I like this piece of advice. Who doesn’t want to have fun when they are writing?

Finally, how does a writer balance being serious about their craft, writing about serious issues, and still managing to make it funny? As Zinsser told Poynter:

“I think people take writing much too seriously…They just need to relax a little and have a good time.” The key, he believes, is to take your work seriously, but not to take yourself too seriously.

I’m often guilty of taking myself too seriously. In fact, that’s probably why I’ve been struggling to keep up this blog recently. I’ll try to keep this one in mind.

To sum up, there are (at least) four things to remember about writing humor:

  1. Humor can address serious issues.
  2. Find a crazy truth and then embellish it to the point where everyone can see its craziness.
  3. Have fun when writing it (at least for the first draft).
  4. Take your writing seriously, but not yourself.

Sounds pretty fun to me!

Photo credit: The cover of Gillian Fetlock’s (aka Billy Frolick’s) book Downtrodden Abbey. Which I find hilarious, despite the fact that I LOVE Downton Abbey

P.S. You may notice I’ve switched to American English. I’ll be writing this way (or at least trying to) from now on. For all of my Australian readers (all two of you that is), I’m sorry! 

P.P.S. Good luck to all of you NaNoWriMo writers out there! You can do it!


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