Tag Archives | how to write funny

Spotlight on Funny: Clementine

When I wanted to do a series of posts on writing funny, Clementine by Sara Pennypacker immediately popped into my head. Even though I read it a couple years ago, I remember laughing and I remember crying.

It’s easy to pick out a funny premise.
It’s easy to pick out funny when it’s a juxtaposition of two opposite ideas.
It’s easy to pick out funny when it’s a hyperbolized story.
It’s easy to pick out funny when it’s slapstick or physical comedy.

But Clementine wasn’t any of those things. I had to really look at it and read again to see where I smiled and then why I smiled.

Clementine’s interpretation of what was going on was usually wrong but believable. That’s what made this story funny.

  • For example she often got in trouble for not paying attention. One time, she claimed she was paying attention – to the lunch lady and the janitor kissing outside.
  • Clementine wanted to help her friend, Margaret, when she got glue in her hair. Clementine ended up cutting off all her friend’s hair to make it even.
  • And at the end, she overhears and misunderstands her parents, and thinks they want to get rid of her. This time her misinterpretation wasn’t funny, but very moving.

So, in all these examples, the reader understands what is going on but the scene is layered with Clementine’s humorous interpretation. And the key is that Clementine doesn’t think it’s funny. To her, it is very serious. Which makes it all the more funny. And moving.

And, Marla Frazee’s illustrations of two girls with no hair cracked me up every time.

Humor take away: Show your character’s wrong interpretation of situations and the resulting consequences.

Are there any other books, middle grade or YA or early readers that do this?

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Spotlight on Funny: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

Um, yeah, I got sucked in by the first paragraph. Read the whole book. Laughed out loud. Loved it. This wasn’t just a “funny” book. This was a story with heart and humor.

Premise from inside cover: 

Sixth grader Tommy and his friends describe their interactions with a paper finger puppet of Yoda, worn by their weird classmate Dwight, as they try to figure out whether or not the puppet can really predict the future.

Opening lines introduced the heart of the conflict and what was at stake. I immediately knew I would read the whole book.

Each chapter is a different case file narrated by Tommy’s classmates. And Tommy and his “unbeliever” friend, Harvey, add in their comments at the end of each chapter. Each case file is surprising, original, and moving.

And, of course, Tommy has to figure out if origami yoda is real before he makes a decision concerning a certain girl.

What great writing concepts can I steal from this book?

  • It wasn’t funny for the sake of being funny.
  • Each case was unique, specific, funny – but believable.
  • An original and humorous premise.
  • The author knew the target audience.
  • Perfect mix of great telling and showing.
  • A cast of fully developed characters.
  • Mystery introduced early on.
  • Satisfying ending with heart.

Humor take away: funny premise and suprising the reader on every page.

What stories do you remember that had a funny premise? Or a book that kept surprising you page after page?

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Writing funny is serious business.

Some books crack me up. Others that are meant to be humorous – fall flat. Some aren’t laugh out loud funny but make me smile. Others are serious with just enough humor that I’d call it a funny book.

I’d love to be able to write a brilliant post explaining how to be funny, but I don’t think there is a formula. And I keep reading that once you try and dissect funny, it’s not funny anymore.

I’m going on a journey. When I read a book that is funny, I’m going to spotlight it here on the blog and share why I thought it was funny. I’ll spotlight two this week. And maybe we’ll figure out how to inject some humor into our own writing.

To get us started here are some universal ways to be funny:

  • exaggeration
  • ridicule
  • hyperbole
  • surprise or reversal of expectations
  • word play
  • juxtapositions of opposites

So much of it comes down to the tone, the writing, and how it’s presented. And as with everything when it comes to writing – knowing how to be funny and actually writing funny are two different beasts.

What books pop to mind when you think of funny? And are there ways you inject humor into your writing?

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So what makes a character funny?

And this seems to be the trick question.

There are funny characters and then there are funny stories and because you have one doesn’t mean you have the other. And funny situations/premises are easier to write than creating a character that pops on the page and makes the reader laugh.

Here are some of the pitfalls a writer could fall into when writing a funny character:

  • It’s only knee deep (as in cracking jokes) and the funny seems forced.
  • Too much funny and not enough heart and the funny falls flat.
  • Adding quirks (as in dress or mannerisms) just makes a character quacky.
  • As with everything, if the funny is not intrinsic to the story then it’s just fluff.

I have noticed one thing about some comedians. Behind all the jokes, laughter, and funny is a world of hurt. (Okay, maybe not always, but often.) Cracking jokes and making people laugh usually covers the broken soul inside. Funny is a great self-defense mechanism and a way to avoid talking about the real issues, the real hurt. And that might be a great way to add heart to your funny character.

Thanks for some great comments on my post last Friday, Bring on the Funny Girls. My commenters came to some great conclusions. Does it really matter which sex writes a funny character? Well, no. I just found it extremely interesting that not many males write funny girl protags, just female side kicks and secondary characters.

So, today, instead of listing characters you found funny; go deeper, and tell me why they were funny.

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