Sunday, 14 April 2013

So - how do you write funny?

Following on from my last post, when I wondered what made you laugh (knowing that my silly clip makes most of you smile, at least, proves nothing - except maybe to show that we share a sense of humour), I thought I might ponder on how to write funny. (I know, sometimes my grammar is dreadful.)

I can only speak for myself - so I'd be interested to know how anyone else tackles this.

I find it extraordinarily hard to make myself laugh. I see why so many comic writers work in pairs - they set each other up. What is wonderfully ridiculous when bounced between the two of them might be flat and uninteresting when looked at alone.

For a start, I rarely set out to be funny - so if I manage to amuse myself it's a surprise. And I've found from my writing group that things that I hadn't realised were funny are worth sniggering over only if I hear someone giggling when I read something. I don't write jokes: unintentionally comic phrases slip into my work without me attending to them. Like worms, they eat their way in. For instance, I have a piece about sharing a room with a rat in Laos - an incident which stretched my sense of humour to the limit but which had someone chortling when I read it to him.

Having said that, there are a few pieces that set out to be funny - such as a poem about squat toilets, and  the blogpost about my singing washing machine. I suppose I think they have comic value in themselves, and only need me to put that into words - I am the conduit of the humour rather than the origin of it.

But there I get stuck. So, my writing friends, do you set out to be funny? And, if so, are you willing to share a tip or two? (Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all begin the day with a good guffaw!)


  1. It would indeed be excellent but it's not my usual early morning activity! I never try to be funny. Some people say that my blog posts make them laugh and that's great but for me if someone is trying too hard to make their writing funny it backfires on them. In other words, I haven't got a clue what makes writing funny. I shall return to see what others think.

  2. I don't think you can write 'funnyness', but you can describe amusing situations in a way that others can relate to and find funny. Other people's discomfort is often seen as funny (your ratty room-mate for example), but what makes one person laugh out loud will release a rye smile in another - there's nothing you can do about that. Irony is even more difficult and best when incidental. I was extremely surprised when people said they enjoyed the dry humour in my books, so I'll simply keep writing how I write.

  3. I certainly set out to write funny in a lot of my children's books - it's one of my redrafting tasks to see where I can bump up the humour. I think a lot of humour can come from the mismatch between how the protagonist interprets what's happening and what the reader understands about it. Plus all the usual suspects - bathos, embarrassment, unexpected surprise. Plus language - I think the rhythm of humorous writing is important. Nice post!

  4. Jo, I don't actually set out to be funny very often, but quite often, the events I'm writing about were very funny to me at the time, so I try and convey that humour when I recount them. That aside, I often think the things we find funniest are things we recognise in ourselves or others. For instance, I love the Off the Leash cartoons about dogs. So many of the pictures are of situations I know to be true because I have a dog too. That just makes them hilarious somehow - it's the shared experience of being taken for a ride by our animals. Whatever it is, I love to laugh, so if I can give others a laugh too, all the better!

  5. Thank you all. I wonder if writing funny for children is different - they have a more immediate sense of humour, love the absurd, any undercurrent of toilets of bodies - so Jenny, writing for children, can approach it in a more direct way. While the rest of us hope to 'entertain' (which is a much more flimsy concept) and if there's a titter along the way, then that's a bonus.

    Plus it's impossible to amuse everyone - Val falls about over dog jokes, but non-dog-lovers might have no idea why that's funny.

    Great to have such thoughtful replies.

  6. I actually do try to be ,, humourous rather than funny..but for me, the method lies in working with real events (shopping/going to the bank) and then using the 'best' words to bring them to life. I think writing humour is much much harder than any other form of writing - you have to pick exactly the right word and construct sentences so that the reader will be led gently along the path to laughter.

  7. I think when you write something you think is funny it's sometimes the way you read it back to yourself.I do that and then wonder if other people will read it the same way as me.I don't know if I'm explaining this quite right.