On Writing Humor


Recently I’ve received a number of requests from high school students about how to write humor. I only seem to receive such fan mail when it is time for term papers. I’ve concluded that a high school teacher somewhere is way too busy grading papers or is insane, letting students write a humor columnist for advice.

Since no teenager would be caught dead reading the newspaper and “Dear Abby” gets too much mail anyhow, the kids probably Googled “humor columnist” and I had the good fortune, or misfortune, to come up first on the list, making me their automatic favorite. The other way to become a favorite with teenagers is to loan them your car keys.

The most important thing for teens to remember about writing is that you have to know how to read first. Fortunately, libraries are becoming obsolete and teens have computer labs where they can pretend to be doing research while actually browsing hot pictures of other teens on Instagram. If they find an interesting picture, they can then practice reading by browsing posts, which will say something like, “What R U doing? OMG, R U 2 bored 2?”

The second thing to remember is that to be a writer you have to write. While this seems obvious, it is amazing how many people don’t get it. Write every day about something, about anything. Don’t worry about whether you can write well; just write. Blogging has become popular on the net, so there are many places to practice not being able to write. Numerous examples of writers who can’t write can be found on websites like Blogger and WordPress.

The next thing is to learn how to spell and use punctuation. Nothing is as distracting to a reader as grammatical errors, poor spelling, and lack of punctuation. Fortunately for the average teen, word processing programs have an amazing feature called “spell check.” which has improved term paper grades by at least one letter and decreased the market value of red pencils. Unfortunately, computers are stupid when it comes to things like word play and literary devices; therefore, students will still be unable to sleep in class.

While we are on the topic, there is another wonderful feature on most word processing programs called a “thesaurus”. The thesaurus used to be a top-secret reference manual known only to creative writing teachers and the CIA, but now that they are on computers, everyone can use them. If you find yourself using the same adjectives over and over, such as, “I met a cool guy at a cool party,” try replacing some of your cool adjectives with other cool words.

Tone, unlike a ringtone, is not something to download on your cell phone. The language of a piece conveys the tone or attitude of the narrator. I am sometimes asked, “What makes you funny?” Or alternately, “What makes you think you are funny?” When you write frequently and creatively, you develop a style of your own that is an extension of your individual personality. You can read other writers for inspiration, or just drink beer, but don’t try to write just like someone else.

There are many literary devices that writers use. Humor writers often use “hyperbole” or exaggeration to create effect. Humor writers are given more “creative license” with truth than other journalists. Exaggerations in journalistic writing should always be obvious and not an attempt to fool the reader.

If the dog hasn’t eaten your English book, study similes, metaphors, personification and those other repugnant literary devices that your teacher probably went over the day you cut class. Conclusions are especially important in humor writing. An unexpected ending can be just like the punch line is to a comedian and leave your reader with a smile.

Keep your articles short and concise. Editors often believe that if you can’t say it in 650 words, it doesn’t need to be said. With that advice in mind, the rest of this article doesn’t need to be said.

Copyright 2006 Sheila Moss

About Sheila Moss

My stories are about daily life and the funny things that happen to all of us. My columns have been published in numerous newspapers, magazines, anthologies, and websites.
This entry was posted in Crafts/Hobbies, Humor and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to On Writing Humor

  1. Tim Willow says:

    It all seems to be about defying expectation. Yet if you write something surreal, it’s easy to forget other people have to at least understand it 🙂


  2. Mike Drooger says:

    Thanks for all the free advice. I was thinking of going to college to learn to humor write but now I don’t have to, which means you saved me mega bucks. Not to mention the embarrassment of going to college as a 56-year-old man. Thanks again!

    Liked by 2 people

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