10 Tips for Writing Funny Stories
If you’re not sure how to approach your work like a humor writer, follow these ten tips for how to write funny:
- Accept that you have the potential to be funny. Writing humor might come more easily to some, but everyone has the potential to be funny. Take a crack at it and see how you can add humorous elements to your short story, novel, or text. Find a voice—maybe it’s your main character—to channel your humor through.
- Master timing. Comedy writing creates small narrative arcs that peak with a funny climax—often a punchline. If you carefully build that narrative and know when to pay it off, you’ll be rewarded when the audience laughs as the punchline. Be thoughtful and deliberate when writing humor rather than slathering your piece with funny words to try and force a laugh.
- Let funny come naturally. In other words, don’t try too hard. Good comedy can be overt, like slapstick. It can also be more subtle, with funny moments throughout a story. Think about how you would tell your best friend a funny story that happened to you. Use your natural sense of humor, timing, and rhythm, and know when a funny moment fits into your story. Slide funny words, humorous stories, and one-liners into your text where it feels right.
- Use observational humor. The funniest writing is based on universal experiences that your reader is familiar with. Write your observations of the world with a different point of view to highlight their absurdity. Even the most mundane elements of everyday life can be turned into funny things. Case in point: The TV show Seinfeld turned real-life situations into hilarious sketches through comedy writing.
- Make fun of yourself. David Sedaris is one of America’s funniest humorists and writers, famous for his personal essays that are often self-reflective and self-deprecating. Turning the focus on himself in an honest and vulnerable way makes his stories relatable and funny. When writing humor, think of your first-person experiences and how they can be incorporated into a short story, novel, or memoir to add humor.
- Embrace the impossible. Stretch reality a bit in your story. “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” That common phrase emphasizes a point by making an extreme, unrealistic statement. Humor often utilizes absurd, unbelievable scenarios.
- Write for your target audience. As every humor writer knows, a good joke that’s funny for one crowd might not work for another. Humor is subjective. What high school kids laugh at is different than what a group of parents might find funny. Your funny stories and humor should be about subjects your target audience can relate to.
- Keep your jokes short. Stand-up comedians might have a long setup to a joke as part of their act. Their job is to tell funny short stories, building tension for a big payoff at the end with a great punchline. When you’re adding humor to your writing, though, it’s different than standing in front of a rapt audience. You want to integrate jokes into a good story, not have them dominate your piece. Keep your setups short. Readers will lose interest and your joke will lose steam if you take too long to tell the whole thing.
- Include an element of surprise. Good comedy relies on the unexpected. Combine incongruous thoughts. For example, one standard pattern of humor writing is the rule of three—a bit that has three beats. The first two are the setup, and they establish a logical pattern of similar thoughts. The third beat is the punchline, which breaks the pattern with a completely unexpected statement. It catches your audience off guard and makes them laugh.
- Subvert clichés. For writers, using clichés is often taboo. When writing comedy or telling a funny story, however, clichés can create humor when they’re exaggerated, subverted, or presented out of context. For example, “They lived happily ever after.” It’s a cliché used far more often than just for fairy tales. Put a spin on it. “They lived happily ever after... until she met her real soulmate.”
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