Excerpt From How to Write and Share Humor:
PART I: CAN I WRITE FUNNY?
Some writers do not know they are funny. Some writers can’t put their funny into words, and some want to use humor to loosen up their audience. How hard is it to write funny?
Chapter I: Let’s Talk Humor
A few years ago, while surfing the net, I came across this great quote from author and literary analyst Michael Cart. I found Mr. Cart on LinkedIn and asked him to follow me, but I got no response. However, in his defense, and as anyone on LinkedIn knows, if a person you don’t know asks you to be a connection, that person is probably a stalker. Yep, LinkedIn is the most paranoid social media platform available, and it makes people crazy with suspicion, but I still like it.
Anyway, back to the quote from Michael Cart, which I assume is correct because I did read it on the internet and everything you read on the internet is true so…
“Humor is the Rodney Dangerfield of Literary genres. It gets no respect.”
That quote blew me away. It is so profound that it deserved to be centered, italicized and put in quotation marks. And it is one hundred percent true. We all know we like to laugh. We watch comedians, sitcoms and funny movies. Our Facebook feeds are saturated with funny pictures, headlines and witty sayings. While I have no scientific data to back this next statement up, I would guess that humor is the fourth most popular type of post on Facebook. Posts about puppies, kittens and, of course, the consumption of wine seem to grab the top three spots.
Despite its amazing popularity, humor still is the black sheep of the literary world. It’s a mystery as to why this is. My guess is that those in the “real writing and reading world” put down humor because they struggle writing humor, and that fact ticks them off.
HUMOR IS ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT GENRES TO WRITE
I don’t mean to burst your bubble so soon out of the starting gate, but a lot of people do NOT write humor well. And I’m not just talking about the ability to write jokes or humorous essays. I’m talking about possessing the ability to infuse humor into their work even a tiny bit. It’s a difficult task and not for the weak hearted. Humor, if not done well and even if done well, can be misconstrued, judged or viewed as offensive. So you have to be careful with your words and project how they will affect your life and those in your life.
Who should not write humor?
· Anyone who hates to laugh
· Anyone who finds no humor in everyday life
· Anyone who needs to be liked all the time
· Anyone who is afraid to be offensive
· Anyone who must declare out loud to the world as often as possible how hysterically funny he or she is (if you have to keep telling people you are hysterical, there’s a better than ninety percent chance you are not hysterical).
What are some of the major challenges to writing humor?
· It is hard to translate the cadence of spoken word to written word.
· It is hard to create descriptions that paint your story in a humorous way.
· It is hard to create dialogue that represents the tone of the story you want to tell.
· It is hard to let go of inhibitions that have plagued you since you left the womb.
· Don’t fret. In this book, we will cover many of these challenges for you. So take a deep breath and read on.
CHAPTER II: To Niche or Not Niche
I guess if we want to truly understand the humor genre, we should start at the beginning and ask “What is humor?” I could give you the dry dictionary definition, but that’s boring. Instead, I’m going to give you my definition. Humor makes us smile, chuckle or laugh so hard coffee shoots out our noses when we read and drink at the same time. Humor tickles our funny bones and transforms a bad mood into a good mood. Humor is powerful stuff. In case anyone is wondering, comedy is a category under humor and is defined as a humorous art form, which can be written or oral and results in physical laughter. There are also many sub-genres of humor. Some of the more popular include:
· Observational Humor – Finding comedy in everyday life from your neighbor’s habit of walking around outside in his underwear to funny road signs
· Situational Humor – From trips to the emergency room to getting pulled over for a ticket to finding snakes in your bed—sure they sound terrible, but if they are not happening to you, they can be pretty funny.
· Satire – Making fun of culture, society, politics, religion, etc.
· Bathroom Humor – Fart and poop jokes never to go out of style.
· Relationship and Family Humor – Spouse and kids and all that goes with these topics, plus dating and divorce
· Stage of Life Humor – This can sometimes overlap with relationship humor as it encompasses topics such as empty nest, middle age, mommy bloggers, widowhood and menopause.
· Caustic or Snarky Humor (takes no hostages) – No one is protected from witty barbs.
· Melting Pot Humor – In this category I include everything from silly or funny photos with captions to fictional essays.
Do I have to find a niche?
Let’s assume you have the gift for humor but you don’t know what to do with this gift. The number one question budding humorists ask is “What should I write about?” I might be a rebel here, but this is my take on this sensitive topic. From day one in classrooms, kids and adults are taught “WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW.” I’m not against this advice for beginners, but I am against that advice if two years down the road, you are still writing only what you know. Talk about boring. Writing is fluid; writing is a journey. Make sure you book the trip and take that journey to the unknown or else you might find yourself stuck in a pile of mediocrity with no hope of escape. That sounds so dramatic, right? Okay, you might not die in a pile of mediocrity, but you will be trapped until you get the guts to try some fresh material. Take some chances!
I hear what you are saying: “I need a niche; I need a niche.” And, yes, to an extent that is true. You are not going to write about being a single dad if you are a polygamist with twenty-two kids. You are not going to write medical humor if you vomit when you get a paper cut. However, recognize the limitation to your niche. You cannot still be a “mommy blogger” when your kids have received their own AARP cards. You cannot be known as the menopause maven when your hot flashes and dry vagina turned cold a decade ago. In other words, it’s the theory of Natural Selection: adapt or become extinct. Be creative, move on, push that envelope and find your funny elsewhere. It’s okay to leave a niche behind so you can grow as a writer.
One other point while we are talking about what to write. Humor does not mean your entire life has to be an open book. Sure, write about experiences, but be careful. Not everyone in your life will delight in the fact that they are put on public display. Learn the difference between writing about experiences in a humorous way and humiliating your friends, family and possibly yourself.
Write down what makes you laugh. Why do you find these topics so funny? Can you come up with five subjects that tickle your funny bone? Turn that idea into five sentences.
Donna Cavanagh is founder of HumorOutcasts.com (HO) and the partner publishing company, HumorOutcasts Press which now includes the labels Shorehouse Books and Corner Office Books (HOPress-Shorehousebooks.com). Cavanagh launched HO as an outlet for writers to showcase their work in a world that offered few avenues for humor. HO now features the creative talents of more than 100 aspiring and accomplished writers, producers, comics and authors from all over the world. Known for its eclectic content, HumorOutcasts has something for everyone. As a writer herself, Cavanagh is a former journalist who made an unscheduled stop into humor more than 20 years ago. Her syndicated columns helped her gain a national audience when her work landed in the pages of First Magazine, USA Today and other national media. She has taught the how-to lessons of humor, blogging and publishing at The Philadelphia Writers’ Conference and the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop. Recently named Humor Writer of the Month by the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, Cavanagh has penned four humor books Reality: Fantasy’s Evil Twin, Try and Avoid the Speed Bumps, A Canine’s Guide to the Good Life (which she wrote with her dogs Frankie and Lulu) and the USA Books Contest finalist Life On the Off Ramp. Cavanagh hopes her latest book How to Write and Share Humor: Techniques to Tickle Funny Bones and Win Fans will encourage writers not only to embrace their humor talents but show them off as well.
How to Write and Share Humor is available on amazon.
Paul De Lancey