Sherry Antonetti, who writes “Chocolate for Your Brain,” sends some writing tips — “to be broken, amended, ignored or destroyed as necessary.”
10.) Keeing a notepad with you. Thoughts that are funny are more fleeting than a tweet. Edits are for later. Recall isn’t editing. It’s guessing and knowing while you’re in the ballpark, what you thought earlier was brilliant, pithy and much better than the scrap of leftover mental wit you’ve concocted now. Wish I’d written down what I thought last night.
9.) Humor is about relationship, or the lack of it. The amount of mercy you dollop in indicates whether it is scathing satire or simply a warm grin or somewhere within the standard deviation of all things humorous. Decide which flavor each piece is, dark chocolate with sea salt, creamy milk with nuts and all things inbetween. Stay consistent within each work.
8.) Never use the same word twice to describe a singular thing unless repetition is part of the setup. It leads to more descriptive and humorous phrases. For example: Congress … political opportunistic hacks … blood- and soul-sucking government bureaucrats … elected leeches with jobs …
7.) Progression and misdirection. Up or down, things should ultimately either go where you’re not expecting or build the tension in getting to where everyone expects but by a route not easily discerned. Comedy must build and then deflate, or take us beyond what is the perceived basic level. The rule of three is known, but to really work the concept, try pushing to five. The fifth has to finish it, but it allows for a roller coaster experience, with a climb up a hill, a crest, a dip and then a big ending.
6.) Read aloud. We add words in our heads when we read to make what we write make sense. Reading aloud is the fastest way to tighten a piece.
5.) Write some fresh daily. Edit yesterday’s. Reread, tweak and submit on the third day.
4.) Invert clichés. It’s a quick way to create a fresh turn of phrase.
3.) Relax and allow yourself to enjoy playing in the deeper part of your imagination pool. As serious as the business of writing is, humor requires a degree of humility and willingness to endure the Sisyphean struggle that is life with a grin.
2.) If you can’t spot the relationship between your setup and your punch line, it isn’t funny. If it requires mental gymnastics, emotional origami and superior working knowledge in an obscure field to get it, it still needs work.
1.) Humor is like a Snicker’s bar. It’s sweet. It has some nuttiness. It fills and it contains a core of truth, which the laughter makes enduring. Because no one ever wants to eat a pure dose of nougat.
The Erma Bombeck Writing Competition, established in 1997 and sponsored by the workshop and the Washington-Centerville Public Library, pays tribute to Erma Bombeck, one of the greatest humorists of the 20th Century. The contest, held every two years, opens for online entries ($15 entry fee) Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012, and closes at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012. Entries should be 450 words or fewer and cannot be published more than once in the calendar year 2011 (blog posts are allowed).
A $500 cash prize and complimentary registration to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop will be awarded to four winners: humor category (Dayton-area entry and a global entry) and the human interest category (Dayton-area entry and a global entry). The panel of judges includes authors, syndicated columnists and other experienced writers. Some entries will receive feedback, and winners will be announced in mid-March. For complete contest details, visit http://www.wclibrary.info/erma/index.asp.
The Library’s Celebration event will feature syndicated humor columnist and author of Rebel Without a Minivan Tracy Beckerman.Tracy has been a columnist for eight years with the weekly Independent Press newspaper in New Jersey. Her column, “Lost in Suburbia,” is carried by more than 450 newspapers, 250 websites and reaches an audience of nearly 10 million readers in 25 states. The library’s event will be Wednesday, April 18, at 7 p.m.
To gain success as a writer, whether as a hobby or author of the next smashing bestseller, it’s vital to develop a strong habit of writing something everyday. Every. Single. Day. A habit like brushing your teeth (or breathing … if you don’t have teeth).
Even when the laundry’s piled to the ceiling, you have the sniffles, your boss is being an immature jerk, you have jury duty, PTA and whining kids, still make time to write at least a couple of paragraphs … about anything.
What you write each day doesn’t have to be for publication. It’s simply about developing the habit, the practice of stringing words together, defining your personal style and of summoning that creative spark.
For example, yesterday was hectic enough to leave me cross-eyed. After eight hours at my job, making dinner and wrangling kids to bed I didn’t feel like working on magazine articles or even updating my blog. However, I wrote a couple of paragraphs about how funny my boss looks when he gets angry. I described in detail the vein that pops out of his forehead, the magenta shade that his ears turn and how his pupils retract down to the size of BB’s. It was an entertaining bit of descriptive writing that charged my batteries enough to want to work on the paying assignments.
In order to write well, you have to be willing to write. Period. No excuses! As dozens of writer friends have said, sit your butt in the chair and start writing. You’ll feel like writing after you get started.
To read more of Angela Weight’s habitual writings, visit sanitywaitingtohappen.blogspot.com.
Registration for the 2012 Bombeck Workshop is now open and will continue on a first-come, first-served basis until sold out. Past workshops have sold out quickly, sometimes in days, closing out literally hundreds of writers who missed their opportunity to attend. To register, simply follow this link:
After you register, be sure to share the news with friends via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and all of those old-fashioned real-world ways!
See you in April!
Need a jumping off point? Rose Valenta says look no farther than the morning news.
Do you often suffer from writer’s block? You need a quiet place to write and some inspiration. If you happen to live in a household with teenagers and grumpy old folks with no available quiet space, not even in the basement, there is a solution. You can go to your local sporting goods store and purchase a pair of earmuffs designed to protect you from ear damage caused by rapid machine gun fire (Xbox) or transient impact noise.
You should only wear them while writing for an hour or two, so you won’t miss the kids trying to kill each other in the next room.
Now, about the inspiration: I always check the news sites. There is nothing funnier than reading about a politician trying to get himself out of a jam or someone getting detained by a TSA agent at the airport. You can brain dump about what you are reading and before you know it, you’ll have a humorous column. You can see one of mine on my blog after I read about the 2012 Obama campaign.
Ivy Eisenberg offers some advice for finding humor while on the hamster wheel:
It’s 12:02 PM. I’m in my corporate office in a pin-striped suit. I am writing jokes. They are not “for work,” though you can bet a number of them are about work. I’ve been working full-time for 28 years — just until my humor career takes off. Though I can’t afford to quit work, I refuse to stop writing.
Here are my strategies: I carry notebooks and pens in my handbag. I carry a digital recorder to capture my comedy nuggets while I’m driving. I use a little flash drive so I can carry my drafts to and from the office without leaving them on my work hard drive. I always have Post-its in case hauling out a notebook is too obtrusive during a meeting. Finally, I spend my lunch hour with all those funny voices in my head, those voices who can turn any workday disaster into a good laugh.
Ivy Eisenberg has been writing, storytelling, and performing humor for more than 20 years. Check out her blog at www.schmeightschmatchers.com.
Erma Bombeck was very comfortable in front of a television camera. (See her here on Oprah. Her segment begins at the :55 mark.)
TV doesn’t always come so naturally to writers, though. Syndicated columnist Tracy Beckerman has done her share of TV appearances and offers some tricks of the trade:
I recently met a guy and was introduced to him as a humor writer.
“Oh, cool,” he said. “Say something funny.” I didn’t really have a funny response so I just karate-chopped him instead. It worked: It made him forget he asked me to say something funny.
This is a problem a lot of humor writers encounter: the expectation that we can perform funny, whether socially, on stage, or on camera, simply because we write humor. There are some of us who can do that successfully, but for many, there is a good reason why we spend our time behind a computer screen and not on a TV screen. However, since getting the word out about what you write often necessitates public appearances, and even sometimes TV appearances, it is helpful for those of us who are a little camera shy to have some tricks up our sleeve on the off chance The Today Show calls:
1. Try to find out what the questions are in advance. Not always possible, but usually you can at least get a general topic or focus from the producer so you can prepare some funny responses in advance and not have to rely on making fun of the host’s bad plastic surgery.
2. Have a couple of funny stories in your pocket that you can pull out no matter what the question is. A good lawyer always has a response ready no matter what gets thrown at him in court. A good humorist should have a funny retort ready at all times that does not include the release of bodily gases.
3. Wear something funny. Not your whole outfit, because then you just look like a lunatic, but one thing that is comment-worthy. The interviewer will definitely mention it and then you can say something funny about it, or …
4. Bring a visual aid. Don’t overdue this (I mean, I wouldn’t bring a goat on the show with you), but something that can help you make a funny point. For instance, one time I brought a bumper sticker I made that said, “Reluctant Minivan Driver On Board.” (Trust me, it was funnier in context).
5. When all else fails and you are sure you are going to screw up, give the camera guy and the director mass quantities of chocolate before the shoot. That way they’ll make you look good no matter how badly you do on camera.
Tracy Beckerman writes the syndicated humor column and blog “Lost in Suburbia.”