One Writer’s Journey

October 11, 2018

Writing Humor: Oddly Specific

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:57 am
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Way back when I first started writing, I attended a conference workshop on how to write humor.  At the beginning of the session, the presenter encouraged us to imagine our character’s backpack.  What would be inside?

He explained that the expected items might include a math book, a spiral notebook, a pencil, even half a sandwich.  Humor comes in when you make things oddly specific.

Instead of a math book, your character might have Escher’s Basic Geometry.  Half a sandwich?  That’s going to depend what type of sandwich.  PBJ?  Boring.  Half a peanut butter, bologna, onion, and pickle is something else altogether.  I have to admit that I’m only so-so at this.  My son?  He’s a natural.  Three of the five items in the script below were his.

In fact, he’s the one that reminded me of this exercise.  He was telling me about a class exercise in sociology class.  It was about societal expectations and how people react when unexpected things happen.  Each student was asked to write down four things – a place, a food, an item, and a dollar amount.  It turned out that the professor was using them in a Mad-libs style script that went something like this.

Him:  I’m sorry we’re at the food court.  If I’d had ($3.26) more, I’d have taken you to (Paris).

Her: That’s okay.  This is great.  I’ll take (Church’s Chicken) and (zebra cakes).

Him:  And thank you for my gift.  I’ve always wanted (a bootleg copy of Incredibles 2).

This would have been a lot less funny if he had said he wanted to take her to the country or the beach.  Paris. That’s a place we can picture and seems a bit out of reach for anniversary food court types.  Again, chicken and cake?  So what.  Church’s Chicken and zebra cakes?  It’s a combination worthy of pregnancy.

Specific and off.  It isn’t what makes all humor funny but it is something that you can slip into most any type of fiction.  Instead of a favorite teddy bear, your character could have a stuffed bullfrog.

Play around with some details in your story and see if you can bring a smile to your reader’s face.


June 23, 2014

Writing Humor

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:27 am
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Konigsberg’s award winning novel.

Recently I read an interview that Lee Wind did with Bill Konigsberg about Konigsberg’s novel, Openly Straight.  Openly Straight recently won the Sid Fleischman award for humor writing.  Konigsberg talks about writing humorous scenes in a novel that is not necessarilly comic.

Here are some of Konigsberg’s tips:

  • When you rewrite, keep the funny.  Cut what isn’t.
  • When you are going about your non-writing day and a funny phrase pops into your head, write it down.  Message yourself.  Leave a voice mail.  Do whatever it takes.
  • Keep track of these funny bits because inspired is often funnier than revised.
  • In fiction, funny for funny’s sake doesn’t necessarily work.  It also needs to move the story along.

These tips really hit home with me because so many authors talk about revising things to make them funnier.  In my own writing experience, funny things pop into my head or they don’t.  Yes, I can sometimes take a funny bit and make it funnier but the thoughts just kind of pop into my head in some kind of freeform humorous flightly inspiration.  I can’t analyze somethign and make it funnier.  I can’t contemplate it or think about it and get there. I just have to helter skelter stumble right into the middle of it.

Maybe, just maybe, I’m not the only one.

You can read the entire interview here.


April 1, 2014

Writing Humor

humorThe other day I was reading the Write for Kids post on how to create your own writing niche.  The idea was to take an overused idea, such as the bed time story, and give it a twist to make it new and different.  One of their suggestions was to take “bedtime story” which many editors will tell you that they see way too many of and, with a twist, change it to “wake up story.”

Today, it hit me — what a great way to create a humorous story.  That’s what Aaron Reynolds did with Carnivores.  Instead of having a person who wants to be a vegetarian because he likes animals, you have an animal, specifically a carnivore, who wants to be a vegetarian because no one likes him.  If you haven’t read this story, go get it from your library.  It sounds like an odd twist but it works and it works well.

How can you employ such a twist with some of your own stories?

Instead of a story about a child who is afraid of clowns, you might have a clown who is terrified of children.  Your rhino doesn’t want to play football.  He wants to dance with the flamingos.  The mom in your picture book doesn’t council caution, but take some risks.

I’m not saying any of these ideas is brilliant but take out a story that you’ve been told isn’t original enough and start applying a twist here and a twist there.  Go for the wild and wacky.  It might not work but then again the results might be something fun — like a wolf who tries to eat berries instead of bunnies.


April 3, 2013

Writing Humor and My March Reading

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:31 am
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I didn’t get as much writing done as I’d like this past month.  I know.   That list looks pretty impressive, but what you don’t see are the numerous titles that went back to the library unfinished.  I’ll start reading just about anything but nothing on earth says that I have to finish it.  Most books didn’t fail because the writing was bad it was simply far too serious or depressing.   Writing humor into your book can salvage many a sour situation.

In Alchemy and Meggy Swann, Karen Cushman introduces us to Meggy, a young girl with painful hip dysplasia.  Today, this problem could be mended but in Elizabethan England in meant a life of hardship and pain.  To the physical pain, add the emotional pain in that many people believed that such infirmities reflected a rotten soul.  But Meggy has grown up in an ale house (think bar).  When someone in the streets of London hurls an insult her way, depending on her mood, she might just lob one right back and coming from Meggy it is sure to be a winner.  She and her friend Roger make a game out of playfully insulting each other and their creative is sure to make the  reader laugh.

In My Life Next Door, the humor often comes in contrasts.  The main character’s mother is . . . controlling and that’s if you feel like being polite.  She demands such perfection that she vacuums her way out of the house every morning so as not to track up the living room carpet.  When the main character meets the kids next door, she is introduced to a delightfully inappropriate preschooler who pulls things that only an adorable four-year-old could get by with.  George isn’t particularly found of clothing and obsesses about a wide range of topics from black holes and tornadoes to cephalopods and what kind of pigs they make bacon out of.  You can’t help but laugh, but given that this story involved threats and a hit and run, you really and truly need the humor.

Both of these stories deal with life and death situations but they also contain a good deal of humor.  I can’t help but feel that the dark moments feel all the more dark because they contrast with the funny.  Is this a situation that you could set up in your own work-in-progress?

  1. Borden, Louise.  His Name was Raoul Wallenberg: Courage, Rescue, and Mystery during World War II (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children)
  2. Brackston, Paula.  The Winter Witch (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press)
  3. Cannon, A. E. illustrated by Lee White  Sophie’s Fish (Viking)
  4. Cushman, Karen.  Alchemy and Meggy Swann
  5. Ferris, Jeri Chase.  Noah Webster & His Words (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children)
  6. Fitzpatrick, Huntley.  My Life Next Door (Dial Books)
  7. Healy, Christopher.  The Hero’s Guide to Saving the Kingdom (Walden Pond Press)
  8. James, Miranda.  Murder Past Due (Penguin)
  9. Jio, Sarah.  Blackberry Winter
  10. McReynolds, Linda.  Eight Days Gone (Charlesbridge)
  11. Norton, Patricia J. A Cub’s Grub and other tales (Short Vowel Phonics)
  12. Norton, Patricia J. A Dog, a Cat and other tales (Short Vowel Phonics)
  13. Norton, Patricia J. Max the Cat and other tales (Short Vowel Phonics)
  14. Park, Barbara.  Ma! There’s Nothing to Do Here!  (Randomhouse)
  15. Saenz, Benjamin Alire.  Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers)
  16. Smith, David J.  If the World Were a Village (Kids Can Press)
  17. Smith, David J.  This Child, Every Child: A Book about the World’s Children (Kids Can Press)


November 12, 2012

What Happens when You Put NaNoWriMo to Music?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:07 am
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Anyone who has ever had a deadline and come up with creative ways to avoid writing will identify.

I may not be doing NaNoWriMo, but I still thought this was funny.  Okay, I should probably admit that the funniest part to me was Rick in the very beginning.  He reminds me way too much of so many people I know — including myself.

Special thanks to Debbie Ridpath Ohi who brought the musical to my attention.  Her blog,, is for authors and illustrators of children’s literature.  She is also a cartoonist and writes a NaNo themed cartoon.  Funny papers online!   (Rick would love it.)

Enjoy and then . . . get writing!



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