Writing humor for the fun of it

humor writing

Freud said that laughing was a way of coping with anxieties about sex and death. Author Elyse Singleton told workshop attendees in Denver that humor can be the positive outcome of negative realities.

While discussing the practical mechanics of deliberately creating humor, Singleton listed 10 basic elements of writing humor into a story.

  1. Style — How a story is told is what makes the story funny. Style is the way you make people laugh.

  2. Surprise — The punch line, which can be a one-liner, can come as a surprise, out of nowhere. Throw people off guard. Saying something quirky can bring listeners out of their serious selves and make them laugh.

  3. Quirky Perspective — Everyone sees things differently, never the same as someone else. Singleton cited Jerry Seinfeld and David Sedaris, who express the way they see things through comedy.

  4. Be Blunt — Say things that others may be thinking. Singleton said it is hard for women to be blunt because they are taught to be nice. She suggested using words for good instead of evil and that being blunt doesn't mean being offensive.

  5. Play on words — Old-fashioned puns don't work, but using an unexpected word does work. Singleton suggested reading lots of humor such as Seinfeld or Dave Barry. "People are sitting ducks for humor, and it's great to make fun sometimes," she said.

  6. Brevity — Don't get carried away trying to be humorous.

  7. Set Up — Most jokes need to be set up. Singleton said that Neal Simon was great with one-liners, but not so good at set-ups. A set-up can be one sentence or it can be an entire chapter or even an entire book.

  8. Timing — What's funny right now may not be funny 10 years from now. Try to determine if your audience is ready to laugh at a particular subject. You don't always have to be funny, Singleton said. Sometimes you can be friendly.

  9. Word Play — Make sure every word is needed. Take out all unnecessary words, write tight and edit yourself.

  10. Irony — The use of irony in humor is expressed best with an expected ending. Singleton quoted Mark Twain saying," I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened."

Elyse Singleton

"You can sell humor almost anywhere," Singleton said, adding that humor is the thing that people do. "Write funny stuff, but have fun," she said.

— Donna Hunt, Texas Press Women

NOTE: If you didn't get a copy of Elyse Singleton's handout and would like one, contact Judi Buehrer at jlbuehrer@earthlink.net