Funny books. Kids love ’em. My kids have been avid fans of Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid for years, and they’re not alone. Dav Pilkey’s hit sensation has sold more than 70 million copies, and the latest addition to the series has been on the New York Times Best-seller List for 86 weeks. Even more astonishing is Jeff Kinney’s series, which has sold over 150 million copies! Hard Luck has been on the list for 446 weeks, while the author’s newest title, Dog Man, currently dominates the list’s top spot. So, there’s no doubt writing funny is worthwhile.
When I first started writing, I wanted to make kids laugh. Not all the time (I’d leave the gut-busting chortles to Pilkey), but an occasional chuckle was fine by me. Unfortunately, writing funny requires a certain flare that doesn’t come naturally to me. So, to infuse humor into my books, I turn to the masters for advice.
Remember Fonzi from the hit 70’s sitcom, Happy Days? He’s a best-selling author now and as funny as ever. He and Lin Oliver, founder and President of The Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators co-write the hilarious Ghost Buddy and Hank Zipzer series.
One thing about Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver is that being funny comes second nature to them. Everything that comes out of their mouths is funny, so of course their writing is funny too. But comedians, actors, and best-selling authors do not have the corner market on humor. Here are some ideas from Henry and Lin that any author can use.
When writing dialog, write over the top. Instead of saying, “That candy bar cost me two whole dollars!” say “That freakin’ candy bar cost as much as Fort Knox!” Or instead of writing, “Johnny, I called you three times! Didn’t you hear me?” try “I called your name a gazillion times! Are there marbles in your ears?”
Characterizations and descriptions can be over the top too, like a bald super hero who wears whitey tidies and window curtains for a cape.
2. ADD THE STRAIGHT MAN
Abbot and Costello, Lucy and Ricky, Pinky and the Brain! Every great comedy duo has the funny man and the straight man. Jokes are funnier when played off the serious guy who either doesn’t find it comical or just doesn’t get it. Winkler and Oliver’s characters Billy Broccoli and The Hoove from their Ghost Buddy series are great examples of this. The Hoove’s hilarious jokes are often lost on Billy, but readers laugh every time.
3. ACT IT OUT
Once you write a scene that needs to be funny, try acting it out with a partner. Humor comes more naturally during conversation. 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 uproarious!
Still lacking confidence to craft a laugh-out-loud scene in your book? Check out Writers Digest’s How to Write Funny for more great tips!