Comedic Writing Tips… Again

The use of inher­ently funny top­ics and words, at least one per­son, a little exag­ger­a­tion and a touch of curi­os­ity and danger: these are just some of the essen­tial ingredi­ent­s for suc­cess­ful humour­ous writ­ing, says Scott Adams, cre­at­or of Dilbert.

In an essay very sim­il­ar to a post he wrote almost four years ago (pre­vi­ously), Adams tells us an amus­ing story about sex and French fries before dis­sect­ing it and explain­ing how to “write like a car­toon­ist” (i.e. with humour):

The top­ic is the thing. Eighty per­cent of suc­cess­ful humor writ­ing is pick­ing a top­ic that is funny by its very nature. My story above is true, up until the exag­ger­a­tion about the French fry in the sinus cav­ity. You prob­ably assumed it was true, and that know­ledge made it fun­ni­er.

Humor likes danger. If you are cau­tious by nature, writ­ing humor prob­ably isn’t for you. Humor works best when you sense that the writer is put­ting him­self in jeop­ardy. I picked the French-fry story spe­cific­ally because it is too risqué for The Wall Street Journ­al. You can­’t read it without won­der­ing if I had an awk­ward con­ver­sa­tion with my edit­or. […]

Humor is about people. It’s impossible to write humor about a concept or an object. All humor involves how people think and act. Some­times you can fin­esse that lim­it­a­tion by hav­ing your char­ac­ters think and act in selfish, stu­pid or poten­tially harm­ful ways around the concept or object that you want your read­er to focus on.

Exag­ger­ate wisely. If you anchor your story in the famil­i­ar, your read­ers will fol­low you on a humor­ous exag­ger­a­tion, espe­cially if you build up to it. […]

Let the read­er do some work. Humor works best when the read­er has to con­nect some dots. […] The smarter your audi­ence, the wider you can spread the dots. […]

Anim­als are funny. It’s a cheap trick, but anim­al ana­lo­gies are gen­er­ally funny. It was fun­ni­er that I said, “my cheeks went all chip­munk-like” than if I had said my cheeks puffed out.

Use funny words. I referred to my two school­mates and myself as a troika because the word itself is funny. With humor, you nev­er say “pull” when you can say “yank.” Some words are simply fun­ni­er than oth­ers, and you know the funny ones when you see them. (Pop Quiz: Which word is fun­ni­er, observe or stalk?)

Curi­os­ity. Good writ­ing makes you curi­ous without being too heavy-handed about it. My first sen­tence in this piece, about the French fry lodged in my sinus cav­ity, is designed to make you curi­ous. It also sets the tone right away.

End­ings. A simple and clas­sic way to end humor­ous writ­ing is with a call-back. That means mak­ing a clev­er asso­ci­ation to some­thing espe­cially humor­ous and not­able from the body of your work. I would give you an example of that now, but I’m still hav­ing con­cen­tra­tion issues from the French fry.

via @brainpicker

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