Let’s be honest, the business of being humorous can be very un-fun. Good writers make comedy seem easy and natural, but you never really know how much concentrated effort goes into each funny scene and amusing conversation. Not everyone can call on their wittiest self at the snap of their fingers — and on top of that, we don’t all appreciate the same kind of humor.
That said, there are some general ways to be funnier in your writing. Whether you’re composing a poem, publishing a book, or writing an article, here are five ways to flex your humor muscles! (Spoiler alert: it does not involve scrolling through endless memes and waiting for osmosis to transport all that good-natured banter into your brain.)
1. Imagine you’re talking to your funniest friend
Everyone has someone in their lives who they can always rely on for a good laugh. Or someone whose company makes them feel more comical in conversation. It’s the atmosphere that they create — relaxed, carefree, lighthearted — which brings joyful ideas into your head.
When you’re writing a humorous scene or an amusing article, try dipping your pen into that atmosphere by imagining that you, or your character, are talking to this wonderful, laid-back person. It’s a first step toward putting you at ease, and letting your inherent humor shine through! You may find the tone of your writing lightens considerably. And sometimes, even more so than momentous punchlines or top-notch puns, this can make all the difference to your readers’ experience.
Now that you’re in the right mood, let’s jump into some more specific tricks.
2. Apply the Rule of Three
I like to think that three is the magic number for almost everything — often, characters come in trios, stories happen in three acts, and meals are consumed in three courses. And in comedy, the Rule of Three is rather well-known. It dictates that when listing three things in succession, you can create a pattern with the first two and then misdirect with the last — and there you have your punchline.
You’ll catch a lot of comedians doing this on a daily basis, from John Oliver to Trevor Noah (it’ll be hard not to notice, now that the cat is out of the bag). Check out this little verse by Bill Engleson, in response to Haiku challenge 321, to see the Rule of Three at work in satirical poetry. Or watch any classic NBC comedy — again, it’ll be impossible not to notice it now!
3. Have a “wait for it” moment
With the Rule of Three, you don’t wait to deliver the punchline. But with other forms of humor, a little pause before the deciding word or phrase is an easy and useful way to deliver a bit. Given that you’re writing, rather than speaking, a “pause” of sorts can also help you set the tone and let the audience know that you’re telling a joke, without having to say so. This is something to keep in mind if you’re a naturally sarcastic writer whose humor requires a bit of context.
To do this, simply use an ellipsis (…) or an em-dash (—) to indicate a pause in speech. Remember, though, that this trick shouldn’t be overused. Not only can it disrupt the flow of the writing, but it can also make your joke seem obvious, which is not what any writer wants. There’s a fine balance to maintain when you want to appear effortlessly humorous.
4. Use words with plosives
Being funny often comes down to a single word, because apparently, some words are funnier than others. Not just because they sound made-up, like bumfuzzle or codswallop, but because they contain sounds that are supposedly more amusing. These sounds are called plosives, and are associated with letters such as b, p, d, k, t, and g. You can see how the examples I listed exhibit this phonetic quality — and how even simply replacing other letters with these might make a serious word sound more humorous. (“That’s why they call it murder and not muckduck.”)
What you can do when writing is remain mindful of plosives when picking your words. It’s a minor thing, but again, it helps to build the playful tone in your piece. Instead of searching, why not use fumbling? Instead of shocked, why not flabbergasted? Even small changes like these can make your writing sound 100% funnier.
5. Share an anecdote
You can strategically think your way through a comedic scene or paragraph, but you can also tell a hilarious story — that is, if you’ve got one that fits the theme. Stories are always a wonderful way to connect with people, so if there’s a personal experience that you found hilarious, share it in your writing!
Anecdotes are also the perfect tool for bloggers and non-fiction writers, because they inject personality into your writing. Even un-funny ones can make a great hook or introduction to an article — imagine what a genuinely funny one might do.
Those are some tips to help you set a cheery mood and inject humor into your writing, whatever the form or style. Remember to keep a light heart, not think about it too much, and always get someone to read your work before it goes live (just to make sure you’re not being too funny) — and you’ll turn out just fine.
Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories. She tries her best to be funny in writing and very occasionally succeeds.
© 2020- Desiree Villena Copyright reserved. The author asserts his moral and legal rights over this work.