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Make "Em Laugh Tags: writing humour

 

MAKE ‘EM LAUGH

 

First thing in the morning I check the news headlines. Death and destruction dominate. There’s not much to smile about. No wonder humour is highly prized by readers, competition judges and editors. Something that makes people happy is always welcomed.

            So how can you inject some humour into your writing? Below are a few ways, by no means an exhaustive list, but something may strike a cord.      

Exaggeration – make something worse than it really is.

Take for example Christmas. Everybody knows the neighbour who starts with a Christmas tree in the garden and then collects all sorts of lights and ornaments that flash and glow until his house is covered in glitz and there is no chance of anyone sleeping as it is brighter than day.

            I’ve sold a couple of stories to magazines that exaggerate the mishaps of families on Christmas Day, from a power cut so the meal can’t be cooked to the family getting drunk and biting the tops of the chocolate liqueurs to suck out the fillings. Use your own family situations and exaggerate them to create an amusing situation — the barbeque no one can get lit, getting lost on a hike, the car breaking down…

Incompatible – something is unexpected and not what we would perceive as normal.

             In the same way as a punch line of a joke, incompatibility often works because it leads to one expectation but gives us another. You can read a short (50 word) story of mine here that uses this technique https://onthepremises.com/minis/mini_39/.

            In her novel, Faith Fox, Jane Gardam’s character of an elderly lady is taken out for a meal, not to the restaurant she is accustomed to, but a fast food chain. She comments on all the little details, like the food coming in cardboard packages, queuing up to order and the sachets of sauces. None of it makes sense to her, but she find she quite enjoys it.

Self-deprecating – be modest or even critical of yourself in order to invoke humour.

Alan Bennett is a master of this technique. From his diaries: “I’m sent a copy of Waterstones’ Literary Diary which records birthdays of various contemporary figures. I turn to my own… first British self-service launderette opened.”

Metaphors and similies – choose comparisons that make people giggle.

I have a copy of the novel Crocodile Soup by Julia Darling. The story is crammed full of interesting similies and metaphors, which make me smile each time I read it. “Talking to Jean was like trying to converse with a weather vane. She swung in all directions…”

Irony – using words that would normally signify the opposite meaning to underline the truth.

Bill Bryson’s travel books ripple with irony. Take the following example: “They were having a festival of litter when I arrived…”

Finally your characters dialogue can be used to humorous effect, showing up their own personality and possibly causing problems. In Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding, her character Mark Darcy admits, possibly too honestly, “I don't think you're an idiot at all. I mean, there are elements of the ridiculous about you.”

But, be wary of confusing humour with insult. Mocking risks alienating your reader. But do humour well and you’ll be the popular with editors and readers alike.

Any tips for injecting humour into your work?

What are you favourite humorous novels/short stories and how do they make humour work?

 

Early Words
Category: Writing
Tags: Writers Abroad writing ex-pat writers first books

Following on from Sue’s excellent post last week about what inspired us to write, I decided to look at our first reading experiences. I’m guessing that we all learned to read – or were read to – before we learned to write? That was certainly my experience.

I owe my early love of books and reading to my mother, who was an avid reader herself. Every night, when I was tucked up in bed, she read me a story. That was one of my favourite moments of the day. Like all children, I especially liked the stories I already knew by heart and I would say the words out loud when she came to them. (‘“Pooh,” said Sir Guy of Gisbourne.’)

It’s too far back for me to remember the very early picture books. My earliest memories are of the Ladybird books. They were little hardback books, both fiction and non-fiction. All were written as an illustrated story. The ones I particularly remember are the classic fairy tales, the Crusades, Robin Hood, What to Look for in Winter and What to Look for in Summer.

I was delighted to learn that the Ladybird books are still published under the Penguin imprint. But they are no longer in their original format. The company was founded in 1867 by Henry Wills when he opened a bookshop in Loughborough. In 1914, the company first published its range of children’s books, using a ladybird logo. The first ladybird with open wings was replaced by the classic closed-wing Ladybird logo in the 1950s.

You can see some of the old-style covers on this website, which is dedicated to the Ladybird books. 

I graduated from those to a set of Newnes Encyclopaedias with red leather binding and gold-tooled lettering. My favourite volume contained the Greek, Roman and Norse myths, to which I returned time and again. And, joy of joy, I discovered dinosaurs, an abiding passion during my childhood.

From there, my tastes veered towards the supernatural. I loved the idea of a parallel world to ours, peopled by strange, and sometimes menacing beings. Books that greatly influenced me included:

  • The Borrowers, tiny people who lived in the wainscot and “borrowed” things like empty cotton reels to make stools;
  • The Forest of Boland Light Railway, by a mysterious “B.B.”, in which a community of elves living in a forest construct a railway line to transport them from their village to their silver mines; and
  • Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath.

I must have been a rather whimsical child, but oh to recapture that “land of lost content.”

What were your first reading experiences?    

 

What Made Me Need to Write
Category: Writing
Tags: Motivation Inspiration Family History

What motivated you to write?

 

They do say a picture speaks a thousand words. But we are writers, we have thousands, nay hundreds of thousands of words to share. Sometimes though the pictures speak to us like no words can. They hold a universal language.

 

They can also be the inspiration behind our writing, can’t they?  At this time of the year I am inclined to think again to what inspired me to get back to writing. It was in the mid 1990s. I had received my birth father’s military file from Ottawa - not available until 50 years after his death.

 

There were over 300 pages of copies of telegrams, of reports, of hand written notes. But just one photo:

 

My father, FJ Roberts RCAF. Before his promotion to Pilot Officer.

Before being awarded the DFM for courage.

 

He was a Sgt. then in the RCAF, before he embarked for England for further training and to join RAF 103 Squadron at Elsham Wolds Lincolnshire. Part of Bomber Command in WWII.

 

Photo courtesy Ed Suarez (RIP Eddie).

RAF 103 Sqadron Elsham Wolds.

My father is the tall guy beneath the second prop. from the left.

This (very large) photo was sent to me by a survivor who knew my father well.

 

I visited what was left of the base over twenty years ago. I stood in the remains of the mess hut. I could hear the clamouring of voices having breakfast after returning from a night mission.  I still have a chunk of the old runway from which the Lancasters took off on their night raids. The crews all so very young.

 

I met with the elderly lady whose job it was to hand out the emergency kits. She knew my father as one of those young boys. She had many stories to tell and gave me this:

 

Photo courtesy J. Rooke (RIP Joan).

The crew of the Lancaster JB400/401 in 1943.

My father back row far left with the big ears.

The Lancaster took off from Elsham Wolds on 2 December 1943

and never returned.

 

***

 

It was this experience that cause me to begin writing, creatively, after a long career in only writing technical documentation.

 

My first book evolved into more fiction than fact and I rewrote it during my first Nano. I have done nothing with it. I have no desire to do so. But writing it did two things. I was able to lay my thoughts down in print. And it got me writing again. Now there is no stopping me.

 

75 years ago, 5 days after I was born, my father died along with the entire crew of his Lancaster in the 5th Berlin Raid. They are together in a collective grave in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Charlottenburg, Berlin.

 

 
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