Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Writing Humour - Part Two

Exactly one month ago I wrote a post on humour: this is the sequel.

There are rules to writing humour as there are rules for any form of genre writing. The most important of these is to have a story to tell, the second most important is to have good characters to tell the story through. But what about the humour itself.

What makes people laugh varies from nation to nation and person to person, so you have write what makes you laugh. Even so, there are still some guidelines you can follow.

Left Field

A simple form of humour is to write something then suddenly hit the reader with the unexpected, some that comes out of the blue.

"I was sat at the bottom of the garden a week ago, smoking a reflective cheroot, thinking about this and that - mostly that - and I just happened to glance at the night sky. I marvelled at the millions of stars glistening like pieces of quicksilver thrown carelessly onto black velvet. In awe I watched the waxen moon ride across the zenith of the heavens like an amber chariot towards the void of infinite space wherein the tethered bolts of Jupiter and Mars hang forever in their orbital majesty. And as I looked at all this, I thought, 'I must put a roof on this lavatory'." (Les Dawson)

You may well have smirked at the first sentence's aside (mostly that), but the whole piece is intently serious, an overdone description of the night sky, the kind you can get away with in comedy, and at the end, instead of a punchline associated with the night sky, it turns into something completely different. It comes out of left field.

You can, of course, do the same in a single sentence.

"No man should plant more garden than his wife can hoe." (English saying)


Otherwise known as puns. Simple to do if you put some thought into it.

"Gardeners' Film Club: Back to the Fuschia starring Michael J Foxglove; The Plums of Navarone; Sleeping with the Anenome; Rebel Without a Cos; Clay Jones and the Temple of Doom." (I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue)
"First things first, but not necessarily in that order." (Dr Who)


The oddities and frustrations of life being laughed at, and the real life examples of unintended humour. It can come from events or people. Sometimes you can take an moment or a thought and exaggerate it.

"To a gardener there is nothing more exasperating than a hose that just isn't long enough." (Cecil Roberts)

- Have English class barriers broken down
- Of course they have, otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here talking to someone like you.
(Sandra Harris interviewing Dame Barbara Cartland)
"Oh that's just typical. Five minutes before the most important party of my life and the house gets destroyed by a giant sandwich." (Rick, The Young Ones)


Another form of observation, this one lies in describing an individual, place or object in a certain way.

"A black hole of egotism." (Nicholas Wapshott on Rex Harrison)

"Pavarotti is not vain, but conscious of being unique." (Peter Ustinov)

"He was always hovering somewhere, waiting to be offended." (Peter Ustinov)

"Christmas is a three day festival dedicated to the birth of Bing Crosby." (Willis Hall)
"If God had intended man to live in England he would have given him gills". (David Renwick)

There you have it, another quick trawl through writing humour. On Friday I'll have lots more humour with some funny pictures, odd videos and strange stories.  Adieu.

(All quotes borrowed from 'Great British Wit', by Rosemaie Jarskie)


Nearly Martha said...

Sometimes I think I write quite funny things. Then I come across Les Dawson and it's a whole diffrent league.

Cindy Keen Reynders said...

I love humor, and they say laughter is healthy.

Gabriel C. Taylor said...

Great examples. I love writing humor, though I tend to keep it to myself as there are so many better humorists out there. Perhaps someday I'll be more comfortable with sharing my humorous writing.

Martin Willoughby said...

Martha: That's because he honed craft for forty years.

Cindy: It works for me.

Gabriel: Share it. It's the only way you'll find out how good it is.

Bish Denham said...

I love wordplay. My dad could manipulate a conversation and get you to say something so that he could lay out a pun. We never knew when it would happen!

Caitlin said...

Thanks for following your last post about humor up! I'm terrible at writing comedy. Just awful. Bookmarking this for future reference.

Freya Morris said...

Haha - some great funnies in there. Really makes you think. I love the left field one. I think this hits my funny bone the best.

Martin Willoughby said...

Bish: I had a dad like that, but he just told awful jokes.

Caitlin: The more you practice, the better you'll get.

Freya: It's the anticipation of the long stories that build up the tension, so it can all be released in a laugh.

Victoria Lindstrom said...

I love humor, but am horrible at writing it. Thanks for the great tips, Martin. (I'm jotting them down!)

Martin Willoughby said...

Victoria: You're very welcome. The tips should help you write some funny scenes to help lighten a novel.