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July 2nd, 2008
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Writing Excuses Episode 21: Humor
Writing Excuses Episode 21: Humor

from http://www.writingexcuses.com/2008/06/30/writing-excuses-episode-21-humor/

This episode is about humor, how to make people laugh, with a particular focus on writers. How do you write humor, why do we write humor, more suggestions about how to write humor, and a writing prompt to get you started. Now if we can include cute, naughty, bizarre, clever, recognizable, and cruel elements in our jokes, we'll get the laughs. Like a brick doesn't.

How do you write humor?
  • I write things that make me laugh and hope that other people have the same sort of sense of humor. Then I go back, look at what I've written, take it apart, and see why I laugh. This helps me refine the punchline. Most of my humor is punch line driven, not funny situations. Dialogue. You do beats -- 1, 2, bam -- 1, 2, bam.
  • I write dark humor. Most of it is audacious -- did he really say that? It's surprising.
  • most of mine is based on the character's voice.
Why do we write humor? Like fantasy, why not?
  • we write humor because if we want to be evocative of emotion, humor is one of them. We need to make people laugh, cry, scared, excited.
  • the best stories have a humorous element.
  • I write things that I think are funny. Horror needs humor. For example, when the protagonist is a 15-year-old sociopathic serial killer, if he's not funny, people will not identify with him. It's hard to identify with sociopathic killers.
  • Larry Niven said that humor is an interrupted defense mechanism. Often we laugh because the alternative is to shriek in terror or to cry. Even puns, are a corruption of language, and we either get angry or laugh.
  • It comes back to fulfilling promises. Humor is fulfilling promises in unexpected ways.
  • or breaking the promise, but we can point to how it fulfills it.
  • surprising but inevitable -- a joke is often funny because we don't see it coming, but it needs a good setup.
  • fantasy walks the line between the original and the familiar. It's the strange attractor of the familiar and the original. Humor is the same. For example, Terry Pratchett describes a man doing something very unusual as being like a dog trying to play a trombone. The combination of a dog and a trombone is humorous.
  • the descriptions where a narrator is telling a joke by describing something using words you wouldn't expect. The Norse god moves his arm, and the muscles flexed like parking Volkswagens.
  • or Douglas Adams, "the Vogon ships hung in the sky exactly the way that bricks don't." [and the tech laughs]
  • written humor is very different from performed humor
how do you write humor?
  • Scott Adams says you need to hit at least two out of the six: cute, naughty, bizarre, clever, recognizable, cruel. However, this seems to give a tool for analyzing jokes, but not necessarily for writing them.
  • a lot of it is trial and error. One thing I tried made people laugh if they knew me. Now I try to make the humor text-based instead of personality-based.
  • part of that is establishing a narrator, then playing off the narrator's voice.
How do you do that?
  • watch the evening talkshow monologues -- Leno? Most of them are strawmen, put'm up and knock'm down, one-liner after one-liner. Then watch Craig Ferguson (? I don't know the US shows). He has a 15 minute monologue, with the jokes connected, and he'll set up a joke early and then pay off on it later.
  • preparation -- lay the foundation, then hit the joke. A lot of it is foreshadowing. You need to foreshadow jokes just like you foreshadow plot twists.
[We'll skip lightly past the spoiler about a person in one of Brandon's books who curses using nuts, walnuts and such, and then makes a final reference to seafood -- and yes, guys, I do know the joke, I've spent a fair amount of time in the Southwest. Kind of a regional joke though, I've known people on the East Coast who wouldn't have any idea what you were talking about.]

Can of Worms: humor, non sequiturs, puns, how to be funny without losing your character or plot

And the writing prompt: write something funny in which strong profanity is appropriate but doesn't happen.

See you next week.

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From:webbiegrrl
Date:July 2nd, 2008 06:26 pm (UTC)

Good Writing Advice Here (not mine - I wish!)

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Wish I could take credit for the words to the wise, but did you see Katy's post "Getting Over Rejections..." over on her graystonedreams LJ?

As to your post, I find the remarks here in your post about "how do you write humor?" to be, excuse the wordplay, amusing. I'm going to have to memory this post, Mike! Good stuff to knock my brain back on track when I get lost in the trees as I always do. Thanks!

-sry
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From:mbarker
Date:July 3rd, 2008 12:37 am (UTC)

Re: Good Writing Advice Here (not mine - I wish!)

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Thanks - hadn't seen that. This (and the other Writing Excuses postings) are transcripts of the podcasts. Howard Taylor (Schlock Mercenaries), Brandon Sanderson, and Dan Wells do 15 minute audio talks. And I usually transcribe (roughly) their talks. So - credit to them for the wisdom.
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