Thursday, June 25, 2009

Writing Humor

Here are some general answers to frequently asked questions people ask me as a humor author. In future posts I will explore each of these subjects in more depth.

1. What’s the secret to making people laugh? Writing humor is like drawing caricatures. You take true things that happen, or annoyances that are common to most people and you enlarge or exaggerate them and make them silly. For example…In one essay from “Confessions of a Completely Insane Mother,” I have exaggerated my problems with garden pests into a war against bugs…and I have enlarged my daughter’s love of nature to be a crusade to save roly-poly’s. When other people have the same grievance in common with you, they laugh, because it is soothing and reassuring to laugh at other people who have the same problems.

Humor is also about surprises…you have to set people up with a very serious point and then totally hit them out of thin air with something ridiculous. If you’ve ever read Dave Barry, you have seen him do this over and over. Irony is also a big part of making people laugh. When you take a person who thinks he is suave and cool and he's totally not...that is funny.

2. What about the characters, are they part of the humor, and are they true to life? The characters are what make the story funny and interesting. How they overcome their various ridiculous obstacles is something that puts the icing on the cake, humor-wise. Exaggeration is expected in the humor genre. The characters are usually sort of true, but blown out of proportion. In my book “Confessions…,” I have taken true characteristics of people in my family and exaggerated them in each person to make them funny. For instance I have a mind that is always coming up with impractical new ideas to solve problems…and in the stories I blow that trait up into a character who is constantly coming up with these outrageous schemes to solve every tiny family issue.

If you read stories by Patrick McManus, you’ll notice he does the same things with his characters….and even his characters’ names are part of the exaggeration. For instance he names a very “smooth” girl that he dates, “Velveeta,” and his very straight-laced wife is named, “bun” as if she always wears a bun in her hair. Funny characterization is the best form of humor in any writing because when people love your characters, they will keep coming back for more.

Next time
: I’ll explore the use of irony in writing and how it can make your writing more saleable.

Kersten Campbell, author of "Confessions of a Completely Insane Mother" ( blog:


Jaime Theler said...

Great insights. Thanks, Kersten!

Kristy said...

I've been exploring the use of humor in writing a lot lately. Thanks for the tips!!!

Christine Thackeray said...

Thank you. I'm not funny and I know I'm not funny. Keep it up, there may be hope for me yet.