What's So Funny? (Serious Tips for the Humor Writer)
Here’s the thing about writing comedy: it can be mighty subjective. One person’s laugh-out-loud might be another person’s eye roll. But still, you’d be hard-pressed to find an editor person who doesn’t want comedy. Comedy sells! So how do you find that sweet, giggling spot?
Know Your Audience
As an adult, you probably have a good grasp of what makes adults in different age groups laugh. Still, if you write funny essays, check out a market before blithely sending off that witty piece of writing. Studying a few issues of your targeted magazine (or anthologies) first will give you a good idea of the kind of humor that works for a particular editor (or if he or she even likes humor).
If you want to write funny for kids, though, you’ll need to do more homework.
What cracks up a four-year-old is guffaws apart from what tickles the ten-year-old. And the sixteen-year-old might be amused by humor that anyone over 40 will never understand. So what’s a writer to do?
Read! Study the writing that makes your target audience laugh. If it’s funny kidlit you want to pen, take that pen and make notes on what makes you smile when reading humorous (and best-selling) picture books, middle grade, or young adult novels.
Read to a child and watch his or her reactions. (And if you don’t have kids handy, go watch a comedy movie. You’ll be surprised that the children and adults are often cackling at different bits!)
And you can help yourself even more by researching the age groups and what makes them laugh. Scholastic, for example, has a wonderful article about humor and the young child.
But hold on a tic. I’m not suggesting you copy another author’s voice and/or style of humor. You’ll need to find your own voice and/or style. Build your comedic muscles by reading those who’ve mastered the art of making others laugh. And then you can move on to the next step.
Listen to your critique partners or beta readers. If they don’t get the humor—and they know you!—rethink it.
If an editor doesn’t get the bit you’ve written—or doesn’t see any humor in it—then you have missed the mark. Don’t waste time, trying to explain the comedy. Rewrite or revise completely (and live to tell another joke another day).
Here’s the bottom line: no one wants to have to work to get the punch line. But people do want to laugh. And if you can deliver the funny, they’ll keep coming back to whatever you write.
(Even if they’ve heard the joke a million times.)
~Cathy C. Hall