Humor Writing: Just Let it Flow!
We are all familiar with the notion of 'Before' and 'After' shots and the big changes that can take place between one and the other! You are now going to apply the theory behind this concept to your writing. If you plant the 'seed' and water and feed it with your creativity, passion and determination, you can be guaranteed a great crop of writing.
You may already have written a funny skit or story. Or you may now have to turn your mind to creating one, well whatever it is -- just start writing! Let's limit it to no more than 2 or 3 pages.
When you have finished writing your skit or story put it aside i.e. put it out of your mind, and don't keep revisiting it as you proceed through this article. Promise me now?
Don't think about it!
Don't consciously think about what you put down on the paper -- word by word or line by line -- just allow the words to pour out as they will onto the paper (or not as the case may be).
Don't sanitize your thoughts or words. Don't worry about whether they are relevant or not, and most certainly, don't assess whether they are funny enough or funny at all, for that matter – not at this stage anyway.
JUST PUT THEM DOWN, NOW!
After having put your script aside for a few hours or a day, reread what you wrote, put it aside and write the same story again.
And Rewrite again!
Just one last time, after having a break of a day or two – rewrite the story again. There is a point to this which we shall go into later. Please, just rewrite (it's for the second last time!)
Basic Humor Exercises
Now I know you may be feeling a bit sick of writing by this stage, but sometimes, as a writer that's exactly how you might feel, and you have to write anyway.
Let me tell you that there are very few writers in the world who enjoy every single minute of their craft, there are even fewer who only sit down to write when they feel that wonderful instinctive urge and feeling of enlightenment. It's not like that.
Most of the time writing is just hard work!
† Laugh at yourself first -- whether we feel embarrassed or not about the situations that have happened to us, we should make ourselves the first target of our humor. Not only is it safer that way but people really warm to those that they see can have a laugh at themselves. When people warm to you, the battle is half won!
Think, what's funny about you or something you do or have done in the past? Do you do impressions for example? Can you do funny drawings or possibly even do something as simple as lifting your eyebrow or wiggling your ears. If you can't think of something, ask your friends and family – that's if you can take it!
All jokes aside, its amazing what gets a laugh and you only need something small to start with, not an epic masterpiece.
So the exercise now is to write a short story about this funny side of yourself. If it helps, write the story as if it is actually happening to someone else. Possibly read it out loud to a friend or partner and ask their opinion (but only if you feel they will be constructive and not overly picky and/or critical).
† Laugh at someone or something else (possibly a pet) -- Funny pets or friends are real assets to a comedy writer. Friends of mine have always been fortunate in this regard, as every single pet (usually dogs) they've had has had the most wonderfully bizarre and humorous characters. One dog when put to bed in their garage could actually open the tilt-a-door from the inside, trot to the front door and, giving a low warning sound, would alert the kids to let him in so he could then sleep on one of their beds for the night. Another friend had a budgie that became overly fond of beer and mixed his words up hysterically when intoxicated.
The trick if you have a funny friend is not to appear as if you are putting them down or making fun of them but rather to actually be having fun with them. Show appreciation for their funny side and praise them by saying that you going to use their story in one of your skits.
Now the exercise is to put together a very short humorous talk about one of your pets or friends (no more than one or two paragraphs).
† Concentrate for a week on only watching comedy programs on TV or on DVD -- possibly invest money in boosting your comedy library and don't limit yourself to comedy from your own background or country. Try old Abbott & Costello films, the Fawlty Towers series, The Castle (great Australian film), Patch Adams, a Fish called Wanda and so on.
The exercise here is for you to really carefully consider what has actually amused you and pick from each film or series episode, one topic that you could use in your own writings (not exactly, of course, but to model your joke after).
The good news is that you can definitely learn to write humor!
The full story is that the practical skills of the writer's craft can most definitely be taught and the discipline to do the work can be acquired, the only thing that can't be taught is the 'raw talent'.
I have observed many times over the years how people who appear to have no talent for a particular skill almost magically seem to acquire a particular talent with patience and perseverance! How did they do it? Where did it come from?
Well, the raw talent was there all the time, of course! It's just that the people concerned stopped listening to all those ignorant people who laughed at their dreams or who told them "you could never do that - don't kid yourself" etc.
Another thing I have noticed is frequently people who either criticize or make fun of others' dreams are also people who were too frightened to take a risk and have a go themselves – they want everyone to remain the same as them, stuck in the same old rut with that same old sense of quiet desperation and dissatisfaction.
It's normal to be frightened at the beginning
It's amazing how many people have a fear of writing – a number of people even seem to view writing comedy as some type of sacred profession – a sacred profession reserved for the special few. It isn't sacred, of course, but it is a very special art form indeed.
It's only natural that you are nervous and frightened when you start. Everyone is, even if they don't appear to be so or admit to it. Some people are just better at putting on a confident front than others, in other words they are AAI – Acting As If ! You can do the same – consider giving it a go.
Good amateurs at anything can easily become professionals – many sportsmen, for instance, start out as amateurs, and upon turning professional often wipe the floor with the so called top dogs of the professions. That's how Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali) got started – he went from winning an Olympic Gold Medal to Professional World Boxing Champion.
So, simply see yourself as a professional who just hasn't been paid yet ! Think about yourself as consummate professional who will be paid and acknowledged when the time is right.
Another silly mistake a lot of beginners constantly make (and one to be avoided at all costs) is to compare their writing work to that of the best comedy writers (i.e. of television programs, nightclub acts, etc). Those routines and scripts are not only usually the result of multiple writers (some being the combined result of a large team effort), but are also the product of many hours of work – having been rewritten and polished a number of times over, before the final and finished product is presented to the client.
No one is a born writer
DISCIPLINE, PATIENCE & PERSEVERANCE are three qualities you will need to develop (if you don't already have them) as they are necessary if you are to become a good comedy writer.
Most people can be witty on occasion or even every day (for a while anyway), but by no means does an ability of the caliber necessary to turn out sufficient humor to submit to anyone (newspaper, TV program, club or magazine) just happen by itself. So what is the difference between being able to tell the odd witticism or two and being a writer of humor? It's in the discipline, perseverance and patient determination to go on until you succeed.
All three of these qualities can be learned – that's the great news!
FEAR in its many unpleasant guises is always the thing that stops people succeeding at what they want to do, stops them from achieving what they want.
With regard to writing, it is often the simple fear of putting yourself (and your material) out there. It's that old fear of rejection and being made fun of again. Conquer this and you will be on your way to succeeding.
You must learn how to handle rejection -- don't take it personally. Remember that rejection is part of life, it's a numbers game. In some cases, it may just be down to the fact that your material has been rejected solely because the organization you sent it to only required a certain amount or type of humor at the time of your submission.
Or it could be that the person who reviewed your material is a lousy reviewer and misjudged the material? It happens. But at the same time be prepared to accept suggestions for changes and to adapt. Every joke or line you write doesn't need to be a winner – it's a statistical impossibility. Don't be crushed by rejection; just become more determined to improve and go on to write enough jewels to make all that mining worthwhile!
Believe me, all writers suffer setbacks – some are minor, others may appear major but you need to persevere. Overcome the tendency to quit too soon, be determined to persevere until you win and you will!
I suppose many people would question the premise upon which this statement is made -- many questioning its accuracy. Let's face it, some people are rather pedantic at times. Don't rush to accept other's definitions of what is art and what is not. It is my strongly held personal belief that there are few things more artful than the well chosen word.
Let's look at two quick direct definitions that illustrate the fact that humor writing is an art form!
(i) "An art form is an artistic expression, such as writing, painting or architecture"
(ii) "An art form is the specific shape, style or quality an artistic expression takes…"
Your own ideas
Many of us have our own very definite ideas about what is funny or not but some of us don't. What is funny to us may not be funny to others, it is true. But some of our own humor is bound to be funny to a certain percentage of others, isn't it (i.e. those we share a sense of humor with anyway)?
This is where fear can again rear its ugly head – sapping your confidence – especially when you are new at writing. Don't be too hard on yourself, expecting that you need to come up with some new and wonderful different idea each and every time because you don't need to at all.
Top professional comedy writers are being continually challenged to come up with new ideas or (at least) new slants to old ideas. Actually there are few genuinely new ideas; they are usually new slants on old ones. You will gain confidence over time however, and remember that you will be well served for the future by watching, listening and becoming well acquainted with the many different styles (of comedy writing and delivery) of working comics.
Listening and reading will provide you with a whole catalog of new and changing topics – so it makes sense, doesn't it, to read and listen (rather than just focusing on subjects you think might be funny, because most things can be turned into humor).
There is nothing wrong at all with basing some of your writing on the material of others and reworking it to suit your own style and personality. It's only a matter of you doing what many other writers have done before you and that is to find new ways to say the same old thing. You will learn by experience and practice how to give a standard topic a fresh slant, by which I simply mean the way by which YOU uniquely handle the humor in a topic.
- The Writing Process -- Read, Listen, Watch and Start!
- Humor Writing Process: Getting in the Flow
- Understanding the Definition of Humor
- Humor Writing Strategies: The Importance of Starting and Maintaining Your Comedy Journal
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- Understanding the Art of Poetry
- How to Develop a More Focused Approach for Research
- Elements of Mystery Writing: Violence and Murder
- Novel Writing: Illustrative Details/Exposition
- Forms of Creative Wrting
- Paranormal Romance Writing: The Supernatural and Magical Creatures
- Conducting Research Using Online News
- Selling Your Screenplay: A Screenwriter's Guide to Story Types, Genres, and Target Audience
- Paranormal Romance Writing: Heroes and Heroines