by Rachael Phillips
First, I suppose we must examine why we should use humor in our writing. One look at the U.S. census gives us a mega-hint: America's population stands at 312 million plus. Every single one of these people needs a laugh. Most could use two.
How do we create humor? After conducting extensive research--and being charged with only a few misdemeanors--I formulated the following suggestions:
- Do stupid things. Staying in hot water pays off--if not in your insurance rates, definitely in your prose. People who survive telling their mothers-in-law mother-in-law jokes or accidentally overdrawing their bank accounts to write tithe checks either develop a great sense of humor or die trying.
- Collect people who do stupid things. If you're married this should be simple. If you're single and have no parents, children, siblings, roommates or relatives, go to the airport, museum, corner convenience store or Sunday school and find some. No one in the history of the world has observed your particular collection of people with your unique twisted point of view. Record your fellow humans' odd appearances, names, mannerisms and actions in written or computer files. Retrieve them later and shake-and-bake as you design characters and plots.
- Read the funny papers. Humor gives birth to humor. Barbara Johnson, author of Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy and numerous other funny books, collected clippings, sayings, comics, pictures and other chuckle-inducing goodies in a shoebox to read on her tough days. Organize your own collection of never-fail belly-laughers, including forwards, blogs, articles, etc., in a computer file, folders or shoebox (or a safe, if they're potential blackmail material). When your article, blog or chapter needs funny and you just received an audit notice from the IRS, your collection can help jump-start your sense of humor when you need it most.
- Waste lots of time doing nothing. In a multi-tasking world, doing only one thing has become a lost art, and doing nothing is mortal sin. But if we don't think, we won't laugh. Tell jokes to your plants. Sit and stare at your feet a while (feet are always good for a giggle or two). Try to slide a Cheerio from your nose into your mouth. Do anything that takes you out of grown-up mode and gives you a grin. You'll write funnier, and your kids/grandkids will love the Cheerio trick.
- Generate lots of bad writing. I've written biographies, magazine articles, Christmas novellas, devotional pieces, Bible reference materials and romance novels. But my weekly humor column often presents the biggest challenge. After five years of columns, I often must freewrite pages of totally lame stuff before I sense it's going somewhere. The key here, as John Vorhaus, author of The Comic Toolbox, says is to "kill your ferocious editor" and simply record the weird thoughts in your head. Of course, you'll have to resurrect him/her later in the final stages of your piece. But humor writing involves relaxing, not reporting, and it always requires taking a risk.
These techniques have worked for me, and so far, my bail hasn't been too awfully exorbitant. What methods do you use to make funny?