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So how does one exactly craft a truly humorous book?

Discussion moved to this forum by Amazon on Nov 25, 2012 6:21:36 AM PST.

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Showing 51-75 of 108 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on Jun 22, 2012 3:55:50 PM PDT
Then you've obviously not read John Vorhaus's "The Comic Toolbox: How to be Funny Even If You're Not".

Most of the advice I've read on this forum centres around "being yourself" or "let the spontaneity happen", which doesn't necessarily work. Apparently, and I'm basing this on those types of responses, people *still* believe in the myth that you must be born funny and if you weren't, then there's no chance you'll ever be. There's a huge difference between telling funny stories at a party where you're the centre of attention, and then parlaying that interest in humour into writing. SO not the same thing.

I've done professional stand-up for over fifteen years, have published numerous comedic novels and short-stories in national magazines and have even appeared on NBC sitcoms and at The Kennedy Centre in DC, and I'm here to tell you, believing that comedy is some mystery from on high is simply nothing more than a myth from folks too lazy to actually study and learn the craft. Stand-ups that make it look too easy worked that material TO. DEATH., in front of numerous open mic audiences, taping it, writing it, re-writing it, re-working it and sometimes chucking all of it to begin again.

Humorous authors do the same thing, but the ones who are truly in the know will get the onions up to get on stage and deliver that material, listening to their tapes, finding out if the delivery was lacking, if their act-out garnered laughs, if they crafted the joke correctly (and believe me, for a writer, there is NOTHING more beneficial than getting in front of an audience and performing your own material, for it's in that performance that you learn if you truly have what it takes to make others laugh, because reading your writing in your own head isn't the same as someone else hearing it aloud) if their timing was off; still others will get involved in improv comedy groups and learn how to think on their feet (I also studied with Second City).

I studied stand-up with what's known in Los Angeles as a punch-up artist. He worked on M*A*S*H, SOAP, The Golden Girls, Webster and nearly all the popular NBC/CBS sitcoms in the late eighties/early nineties. Once the writers had made it as funny as they knew how, then they gave the script to him, and it was his job to punch it up and make it even funnier. He was cognisant of where the laughs should go (yes, there is a formula for sitcom writing for this), if his dialogue sounded stilted or not (and that's something you simply can't do from a cerebral point of view; it MUST be visceral, which means you perform it into a tape recorder, for example), if his characters' lines are in keeping with their nature, and if his punch lines spark across that comic gap between the comic premise and the comic reality.

Vorhaus's book takes you through exercises that teach you how to bridge that all-important gap, what a comic premise is and how to craft it into a story, how to shut off your internal editor while writing the comedy and then re-engaging later when it's time to edit, how to increase the stakes for your character so when they finally act on what they want the comedy will be all-out and perfect, how to craft full and real characters and how to write for them.

It's not a mysterious process. It's lots of hard work, and isn't for the faint-of-heart.

Posted on Jun 23, 2012 1:50:50 PM PDT
As a pro-writer with a few successful comedy books on his backlist, I must partially disagree with the Carl Reiner comment in that if you don't find something laugh-out-loud funny as you're either researching it or writing it in the first draft, your reader probably won't.

For example, there's a scene in my book The Art of Fart: The Joy of Flatulence! involving my father which still makes me roar with laughter and it's a scene almost everyone who contacts me refers to as being the funniest thing in the entire book.

Posted on Jun 24, 2012 2:07:24 PM PDT
WN says:
Well, here's the thing... I haven't actually read all of the comments posted on this thread. I will, I will. Promise. I'm gonna make a quick comment anyway. The old saying "truth is stranger than fiction" applies here. The funniest stuff EVER is spontaneous. If you can capture that spontaneity in writing, you've achieved. Period.

Posted on Jun 26, 2012 3:46:01 AM PDT
Mark, you have hit the nail on the head. Spontaneous humor is without doubt the most effective. That's why I always advise any writers to simply go hell for leather at a first draft and NEVER even think about editing until that final full stop is on the final page.

It's when you're in full flow that the best creativity pours out and that applies as much to comedy as it does to any other genre.

Posted on Jun 27, 2012 11:18:04 AM PDT
My personal fave is finding the humour from misunderstandings, arising from different meanings ofthe same words. English is wonderful for that.

But I'm sure that i wouldn't have the courage to do stand up...hats off to anyone who can.

Posted on Jul 6, 2012 10:19:49 AM PDT
Teri Jo says:
Well, here's my 5 cents worth. I think you write. My book is a bunch of little tales, and it basically reads like I talk. I didn't write it to get famous, or make gobs of money, which is really good, since neither happened, right? I wrote it for my friends and family, and it turned out funny simply because that is how I see life. Or at least my readers tell me it turned out funny. They could be lying, but ya know I figure if they paid for the book, they paid to lie if they want to, right?
My rant about comics usually starts with how they think they have to shock you with obscene material or cuss a lot. Neither is true. Of course, I love Bill Cosby. He made me laugh with nary a cuss word or bedroom scene.
Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin were hilarious in their movies .. where they had to be good and not cuss. So it CAN be done.

All right all right, I'm stepping off the soapbox before I get airsick or something

Posted on Jul 6, 2012 7:50:09 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 6, 2012 7:50:56 PM PDT
Claus says:
Since you're writing, obviously using wordplay is one of your greatest assets in humor. Double entendres, hidden (but not TOO hidden) jokes and references can turn a good book into a great book.

Posted on Jul 7, 2012 3:15:18 PM PDT
Where is everyone, then?

Posted on Jul 7, 2012 5:35:49 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 7, 2012 5:36:52 PM PDT
I've done a bit of stand-up (18 gigs) but I gave it up because I was drinking far too much, usually after the show but not always. Anyway, one of the weirdest things is that you can do a joke several times and get good aughs from it, and one night do the same joke and nobody gets it. Most comics will tell you the same thing, or at least they told me the same thing. I suppose it's like that with literature. I mean, I think Three Men In A Boat is one of the funniest books ever written, the sarcasm and irony and the real-life observations are terrific, but here's the thing, I know people not only don't think it's dead funny, but don't even think it's funny. I don't think there's a sure-fire way of writing a funny book, but if there was I'd definitely tell everyone and not keep it to myself. Honest.

Posted on Jul 7, 2012 6:13:10 PM PDT
Tex says:
Funny writers just see things in a funny way....I just read for the second time, the funniest book of the year....Don't Mess With Travis. by Bob Smiley. Serious stuff ...relevant..historical...FUNNY. One would need to see our current political system as funny to write this wonderful novel

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2012 7:02:01 PM PDT
It's called "working at the top of your game" (yes, it actually has a name), and it is THE hardest thing to do and be consistently funny. Cosby, Seinfeld, Degeneres, Tim Conway, Engvall, Henry Cho--they all work consistently at the top of their game without needing to resort to the basest and most general type of humour in order to get a laugh. I've always worked clean, and in addition to being the most difficult to do consistently, it is definitely the most rewarding.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 7, 2012 7:31:34 PM PDT
I'm thinking most don't read previous posts before tossing their hats into the ring.

There IS sure-fire ways to write good, solid comedy (see my post from June 12). The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You're Not The only difference in whether you put it in fiction format or perform it live centres around story arc, well-rounded characters, etc.

I don't know why everyone gets their shorts in a knot when worrying over whether anyone can truly know if one can write a funny book. You NEVER see anyone walking around, wringing their hands, flop-sweat and worrying if they'll be able to write "good" stand-up. Why? Because if you've got something to say, then you get up on that stage and you say it. No one, least of all the comic, worries over the word "good." It's subjective and everyone is going to define it differently. The comic who is truly srs about his craft learns that there is a right way and a wrong way to craft a joke, then he performs his material within that paradigm.

It is the same with fiction. Exactly the same, and there should be no machinations, no mysterious prayers to a fictitious muse in hopes that simply "being yourself" and relying on the adage that "truth is stranger than fiction" is all you need in order to please the gods so you can be blessed enough to write a funny book.

Grow up. Writing comedic fiction IS. A.CRAFT. It takes years of hard work to fully master, but it can and has been done by those who bothered to learn how. Now, if you don't care to take it srs and don't care that you'll probably remain a mediocre hack the rest of your career then by all means, keep thinking all it takes is for you to simply be yourself, do a few entendres and the rest is left to chance and hope. Before long you'll be riding high in the obscure lane at the Piggly Wiggly.


Posted on Jul 8, 2012 5:11:23 AM PDT
It can't be done... Unless you are Dave Barry and here is why:

Chapter 1
Those Elvis Days

Mankind is a destructive sort. The sort that has the motives and the abilities to change life as we perceive it to be and yet can obliterate it at the same time. We have a spirit that makes us unique. It is spirit that makes self realization possible and lifts us from our own earthen vessels. Our spirit makes us distinct and above all other organisms, but our spirit also makes us destined to destroy ourselves. We are souls and ghouls floating around in a spiritual cosmos seeking meaning and yet are in a physical world seeking fame, fortune and power. The latter inevitably leads to destruction.
No other creature other than man strives for fame. For instance, a wolverine does not seek to be the most famous wolverine. He just wants to survive. The natural order dictates that living things simply seek survival. All life has the propensity to destroy other life for sustenance, but never seeks to destroy its own kind (with the exception of sex of course; uh, sex kills). The only life form that seeks to willfully destroy itself is man. Although Darwin claimed our existence amounts to" survival of the fittest," the reality is our own want for survival has led to prosperity for the ingenious, survival for the mundane and the pursuit of fame for the vane. Survival of the fittest has morphed into survival of the prettiest for the creatures that seek fame. Fame is the bane of mankind; a self assured road to destruction. Egos rule the world and have made it what it is; ironically ego is also the essence that will destroy our world. This is the true reality that few can see as they are blinded by their own egos. Hmmm. So let's all party and do drugs and read on:

It was a dark and stormy night... just kidding. Actually it was dark because it was nighttime and the weather really isn't important at this point.

The Simpletons - A Study in the Politics of Rock and Roll

Posted on Jul 8, 2012 6:21:33 PM PDT
Splinker says:
I find that the most important thing to do when writing a funny book is to show it only to people who flatter you.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 8, 2012 7:03:30 PM PDT
SPLINKS?!?? What are you doing here??

Posted on Jul 8, 2012 7:06:04 PM PDT
I think that humorous writers are like most successful writers - they know what they are writing about, they have the details of the world they are depicting but they can't change it, so they exaggerate it into absurdity. The three great Florida wacky crime novelists: Barry, Hiaasen and the comic genius Tim Dorsey were all journalists. Dorsey was a police reporter among other things. He probably saw terrible things, but when you are done crying you still can't change anything, so he choose biting satire as his response. In a way these authors are like canaries in the coal mine, but instead of suffocating they make wise ass comments. Currently Sijin Belle is a contender. She worked for a giant poultry processor for ten years and she has a wicked sense of humor. Her novel Big Chicken will convulse you with laughter, but in the end you'll wonder who is being treated worse: the chickens or the workers. Like the Florida writers, she is a whistle blower with perfect comic pitch.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 8, 2012 7:50:53 PM PDT
Splinker says:
I want to learn the ways of comedy.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 8, 2012 8:05:58 PM PDT
So, you're not even going to say hello?

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 8, 2012 8:18:45 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 9, 2012 6:33:36 AM PDT
Splinker says:
Apologies. I am drawing a blank. Do i know you under another name?

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 9, 2012 6:59:02 AM PDT
I think he followed me.


Posted on Jul 10, 2012 7:10:43 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 10, 2012 7:23:34 AM PDT
C. Moore,
You are very intuitive.
You wrote "I'm thinking most don't read previous posts before tossing their hats into the ring." So you wrote about me right there. So after reading them all (so far) I want to add a little more.

Thanks for your advice here. Finally I have found some one that is SERIOUS about his HUMOR. You have given me the inspiration to re-read my book and start editing with your thoughts in mind. I look forward to more of your suggestions here. So how do I know that you are a great humorist? It is because you are freely giving away your wisdom. If you weren't any good, you would be hoarding your knowledge.

Let me tell you a "funny" story about my book. It took me over a year to complete the darn thing. When I was done, I was so exited I put it on Kindle immediately and went to print and got my first draft. I knew I was going to edit it a lot more, but I just wanted to see it in print. As you probably know, it was my first child and I wanted to see her - imperfections and all. I had the sense to put her away for awhile. I would have to forget about her for a few months so when I looked at her again, I would be able to put away all of my prejudices and start over again.

But before I could do that... I had a massive stroke. I was in the hospital for a week and when I got back home I found I could not read or write. The cognitive part of my brain was literally half dead. One of the first things a did was pick up my book. I opened it up and I could not read it or understand it. My thought was, "I don't know if there is anything more ironic than this. I can't read the book I wrote. God, you really have a sick sense of humor".

Anyway, that was 2 1/2 years ago and I have slowly re-learned myself how to read and write and use my computer again. However I still have aphasia. For example, I call a dog a cat, I call my elbow my ankle and I call my wife my husband... ad nauseum. But I can tell you that I have a great new respect to the craft of words and how to use them. That is the funny thing about irony... it is so ironic.
Until the next time,
Positive Cynic

PS... Just a thought and I would like everyone's input. Why write at all? Why do we want to try and make people laugh?

Posted on Jul 11, 2012 4:21:58 AM PDT
reader says:
This is me - Michele Brenton using my husband's computer because I'm too lazy to go upstairs and use my own.

I find people think my light stuff is funny. Often they think I'm funny when I think I've said something extremely sensible. I write 'funny' poetry and 'serious' poetry. So far I haven't been told my serious stuff is funny - which is a relief. But my funny poetry is just poetry I couldn't hand on heart call serious because I wrote it with tongue in cheek or as a poem version of a joke including punchline etc

Some of my most successful funny poems are ones I thought were simply light-hearted.

My latest ebook (which I won't link to as I don't want to spam - you can look it up if you are that way inclined) is very short and grew from a funny parody review I put on Goodreads in response to Fifty Shades of Grey. People were so encouraging that I wrote another two and bunged it up on Kindle in super-fast time wrapped in a cover I drew and coloured-in myself.

It is low quality cheapo satire of a low quality (no longer cheapo) fanfic.

Folk seem to enjoy a wry mickey-take of something that has done well. I enjoyed writing it. It has been in and out of the paid poetry best selling lists for the last week since I put it online for purchase.

Actually maybe that is the real trick - if you honestly, genuinely enjoy what you are writing and you have a tight little excited jumpy happy feeling in the pit of your gut while you are writing - then maybe you are on the right track to being amusing?

I also find to my smug pride and joy that I sell (the proof of the pudding is where people put their money) the same number of books in the US as in the UK. So I'm not experiencing that problem of not being found funny on one side of the sea or the other.

In fact I gained most of my confidence to publish from being part of a poetry community based mainly in the US where my lovely US and Canadian pals were very appreciative.

That said I agree with C. Moore that writing comedy is a learnable craft. In my case I have always read and watched comedy of all types and different nationalities from a very early age. I also had a bash at stand-up a long while ago and stood in front of strangers while my mouth dried up realising it was much nicer to make people laugh at a distance and while they are not near enough to throw something at you.

Before I did stand-up I researched the medium for a year or so learning about the Rule of Three and many other comedic techniques. Interestingly enough I spotted most of the comedic structures and techniques turning up in the Harry Potter books which led me to wonder whether JK Rowling spent much time at the Edinurgh comedy festivals and either subliminally or deliberately absorbed these over the years?

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 11, 2012 9:02:26 AM PDT
I can't sing. I can't dance. When I pick up my Les Paul to play even my dogs run and hide. So, this is my best chance of entertaining.

Posted on Jul 13, 2012 5:38:13 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 13, 2012 5:41:14 PM PDT
Picture the action. Use specifics. Someone afraid of ants is funny, but someone leaping off the ground as if he were catapulted by a slingshot, ripping his shirt from his flabby body and waving it overhead like a flag of surrender, running in circles, and screaming, "Help me! Help me! Ants are crawling all over me!" is a whole lot funnier.

Posted on Jul 21, 2012 3:42:02 AM PDT
Simon Drake says:
How to write a funny book - confidently.
1. Throw every misconception on the subject matter out the window.
2. Abandon all hope that anyone will laugh with you.
3. Accept that at your best, the crowd will laugh at you.
4. Accept that if you plan to write something funny, people; friends and family included, will look at you weirdly.
5. Write it, edit it ten thousand times, publish it, and wait.
That's what I'm doing with my latest book:

Alien Contact and Diplomacy: Get it Right or We Suffer
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Discussion in:  Meet Our Authors forum
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Initial post:  Jan 11, 2012
Latest post:  Nov 25, 2012

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