What's So Funny? These Writing Tips

Looking to add a bit more humor to your writing, journaling, or personal history? Here are some tips I shared in a podcast episode (that's no longer available) with my friend Elizabeth Dillow, who shared her funny business here.

I frequently write a bit of humor into my journaling and personal stories, but not exactly in a laugh-out-loud funny way. I'm not going for high comedy or punchlines, just a lighthearted, humorous take on daily life.

For me, there are two different approaches I use to lighten up my personal stories: writing techniques and writing devices. But first, some expert advice.

The Hard "K" Sound

Playwright Neil Simon, author of The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, and Biloxi Blues, among others, has been dubbed "Broadway Master of Comedy." In his play The Sunshine Boys, it is pointed out that the hard "k" sound is the funniest sound in the alphabet. 

"Fifty-seven years in this business, you learn a few things. You know what words are funny and which words are not funny. Alka-Seltzer is funny. You say 'Alka-Seltzer', you get a laugh... Words with 'k' in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that's a funny name. Robert Taylor is not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomato is not funny. Cookie is funny. Cucumber is funny. Car keys. Cleveland... Cleveland is funny. Maryland is not funny. Then, there's chicken. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny."

Do you agree? Start paying attention, and you'll notice that this is true! If you need proof that Cleveland is funny, please consider exhibit A (language warning), exhibit B, and exhibit C. Even the word "comedy" itself fits the theory. (p.s. this could explain the popularity of a certain word that begins with "f.")

Now on to my eleven writing tips. Why eleven? Well, it's funnier than both 10 or 12, because it's unexpected, and it also might remind you of the best scene in Spinal Tap.

Writing Techniques

As you may have noticed, even the funniest story that ever happened to you can be difficult to express in a humorous way once you start writing. You have to be deliberate about how you write, if you want the humor to come across. Below are a few techniques to try, which you'll find illustrated in one of the more amusing posts I've written recently, "Some Days You Just Can't Win."

1. Exaggeration. 
From the blog post: "As I try to order, Keira wails at supersonic levels when her window is UP. But every time I roll it DOWN, she leans forward and shouts her own preferences at the intercom."

2. Understatement.
If your scrapbook layout includes a photo of a baby grimacing after eating a pickle, an understated caption like "You could say she's not a huge fan of pickles" is much funnier than the more direct "She sure hates pickles!"

3. Unexpected Combinations.
When writing a list, it adds humor when the last item in your list doesn't quite fit in with the rest. For example, here's a recent Facebook update I posted: 
Learn how to melt away a double chin, which house plants cure anxiety...and my tips for summer scrapbooking. It's all in this week's Woman's World magazine.

4. Fake Gravitas.
The contrast of writing in a dead serious tone about something that's actually hilarious adds ironic humor to a story.

5. Vocabulary.
When you're going for a humorous effect, always go for the more unusual, exaggerated or bizarre word. Back to that blog post, notice that Keira tried to "fling my phone over the banister" instead of trying to "throw" it. I "devoured" three fun-sized candy bars instead of "ate" them. The tomato soup "oozes" onto the floormat instead of "spills." There's no doubt that "oozes" is the funnier word. 

6. Brevity and Variation of Sentence Length.
Also from the blog post, Keira "puts a dishtowel over her face to play 'married' and promptly walks into a wall. Hard. Needs mega soothing." Notice how this combination of longer and shorter sentences is both punchier and funnier than if I had said, "And then Keira walked into a wall really hard, and I had to soothe her."

Writing Devices

Here, I'm talking about the initial set up of the story. If you start out from a humorous angle, you don't have to try quite as hard to be funny with your phrasing. Here are a five idea

1. Charts. I have used charts for humorous effect over and over again. You can be funny in the categories you choose, and then simply add a checkmark in the column that applies. The reason this works is the unexpected factor. When you see a chart, you expect something serious, scientific, data-driven. And then you start reading. 


2. Memo. The contrast between the formal memo and the lighthearted words you can include in your message can add humor to a page, especially if you use a product from knockknockstuff.com

3. Pet Peeves. A page listing your pet peeves is an easy way to inject humor into your scrapbooks. I created a page years ago, without even using a photo, and most of the peeves still stand. Most especially: "Close talkers, loud talkers, and people who poke or nudge you for emphasis while conversing with you.”

4. Writing Like a Reporter. Tell a lighthearted story in news reporter style, as I did on an old 2005 layout about an impromptu recorder concert my 4th-grade stepson put on for his cousins:
"Talented 4th grader Jeremy Lucas favored a rapt audience with an impromptu recorder concert in his living room. Lucas's mad record skills brought the house down. 'The house' consisted of his dad Travis (also the event's photographer), his stepmom Angie, and his favorite cousins Zach and Riley. After an encore and a standing ovation, all participants stayed for a sleepover."


5. Top 5 Funny Facts. This can be a quick and easy page that lists amusing little details about your personality, either directly in your journal, on a social media post, or on a scrapbook page. Here's a page that appeared years ago in the now-defunct Simple Scrapbooks magazine, where I was the managing editor.

Yes, I do spontaneously, accidentally adopt people's accents right in the middle of conversations. I have to really concentrate to avoid it. Just imagine how difficult it was for me to recently visit Alabama! In fact, after we landed, I lapsed into a drawl with the very first Southerner I spoke to: the Delta airlines gate agent. (Hopefully she just thought I was a local. Yeah, right.)

Angie LucasComment