Now we can actually slide some humor into your writing. Let's keep it simple for now - we'll start by adding some funny bits into articles, columns, blog posts...any kind of straight, informative writing. It's all about using the right lines at the right times. Strategic application is key, like you're going to war with your article or something.
The optimal rule to follow: once you've cracked a joke, MOVE ON. Tossing in a few other lines after you've fired one off takes focus off the punchline and risks killing the joke in the water. Usually the best thing to do here is to save it for the end of the paragraph. This way, the paragraph builds up to the one-liner and the punchline bring it home, allowing the reader to laugh during the line break. That way, you get the most bang possible.
But placement is one thing. The other, vitally important factor is that you don't advertise the joke. A one-liner has to strike the reader like an assassin's bullet, and lots of beginners kill that chance by waving signs that a joke is coming. And it's not just outright telling the reader - this can also happen when a writer completely switches topics just to cram a joke in place. In The Sideways L, I talk about jumping tracks to make a joke, but while the punchline can't stray TOO far from the setup, same goes for the setup and the rest of the paragraph before it. Advertise the surprise like this and, well, you've gone and killed the surprise, which was kind of the point.
I like to avoid this by writing out the article first. Draft it, revise it, whatever. Then I dive back in and find lines I can use for setups, preferably lines already trailing the end of a paragraph. Either that, or I whip up a new line that flows off the paragraph's conclusion. This way the joke flies with what's said before. Voila - 80% less "look at me, here comes a zinger parade".
Of course, you don't have to stick to one smart remark per paragraph. I know I just told you to move on after firing a one-liner, but sometimes there's ample room to follow up with a joke that plays off the previous one. I call 'em toppers. Same rules apply with these - move on when you're done and make sure your toppers match the flow and topic of the paragraph. Oh, and don't drag it out TOO long. Maybe one topper, two toppers at most, otherwise you risk making the jokes more obvious.
Now, it might be harder to twist a setup you wrote yourself rather than a headline you ripped from the newspaper. Straight news lines are pretty straightforward, unaffected by the quirks of your own writing style. Good thing humor has a ton of tricks. Next week I'll show you another way to create those one liners, which should give you a major assist when playing off your own words.
YOUR ASSIGNMENT: Next time you write an article, column, blog post, or whatever, go ahead and work a joke into it somewhere. You don't have to publish it in the final product, of course - there's a time and place for that. But see if you can twist up a line you wrote and get some humor from it.
- Make Your Writing Funny – More Comedy Writing Books - June 16, 2011
- Make Your Writing Funny – More on Relationships - June 2, 2011
- Make Your Writing Funny – When Is It "Good Enough"? - May 19, 2011