Wednesday, January 22, 2014
WRITER 2 WRITER: WRITING HUMOR
Funny books. Kids love 'em. I know my kids have been avid fans of Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid for years. But writing humorous books for kids requires a certain flare that I don't think I really have, though I did try to infuse humor through my fantasy books in the form of the snarky talking walking stick, Xerxes.
I wish I had a magic formula, but I don't. What I can share is a thought or two I gleaned from listening to Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver at a conference this summer, co-authors of the Ghost Buddy and Hank Zipzer series. You can read a hilarious interview with Lin and Henry in the January issue of Middle Shelf Magazine HERE. Maybe I'll throw in a few thoughts of my own too.
One thing about Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver is that being funny is second nature to them. Everything that comes out of their mouths is funny, so of course their writing is funny too. But comedians and experienced actors do not have a corner market on writing funny. Here are some ideas that might help you.
Kids tend to exaggerate in normal everyday speech. When your characters are describing something stressful or exciting, make it over the top. For example, instead of saying something like "That candy bar cost me a whole two dollars!" Say "That freakin' candy bar cost me the whole of Fort Knox!" Or "Johnny, I called you three times! Didn't you hear me?" Say "Johnny, I called your named like a gazillion times. Do you have marbles in your ears?" Also characterizations and situations can be over the top too, like a super hero who wears whitey tidies and window curtains.
2. UTILIZE THE STRAIGHT MAN
Abbot and Costello, Lucy and Ricky, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Pinky and the Brain! Every great comedy duo has both the funny man and the straight man. Jokes are that much funnier when played off the serious guy who either doesn't find it funny or just doesn't get it. Winkler and Oliver's character Billy Broccoli and The Hoove are great examples of this. The Hoove's hilarious jokes are often lost on Billy, but the readers laugh every time.
This opposition can be applied not only to characters, but also theme and genre. Gretchen McNeil, author of Possess, Ten, and 3:59 weaves horror and humor together in a way few other authors can. She injects typical teen snarkiness into the scariest of scenes, and the incongruity of it makes for an entertaining read. Some great examples of this in films include Arachnophobia and Tremors.
3. ACT IT OUT
Once you write a scene that needs to be funny, try acting out with a partner. Humor comes more naturally while we're talking. So read the scene aloud, encourage improvisation, and see where it leads. Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver do this while writing their books, and the results are hilarious!