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Make "Em Laugh Tags: writing humour




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

            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?


Terms And Conditions Tags: writing agreements

Terms and Conditions

How often do you do something on the computer and it asks you to agree to the terms and conditions? How many of us read these before hitting “I agree”?

            This is where I have to raise my hand too.

            Usually this is not a problem, but on occasions you really should read the small print and know what you might be signing up to or more significantly for a writer, signing away. If you don’t it can mean forfeiting ownership of your story or poem.

            This issue has come to notice over recent months because of a change at Woman’s Weekly, a UK magazine which buys fiction regularly. The new owners of the company have changed writers’ contracts so that instead of buying fiction with ‘first rights’, they now demand ‘all rights’ from their authors. Many established women’s’ fiction authors are furious because if they sell their work to Woman’s Weekly under these new terms they will no longer be able to re-use it (in an anthology for example), claim ALCS royalties or even be credited as the author of the work – although the new Woman’s Weekly management have said this wouldn’t happen.

Woman’s Weekly is not the only women’s magazine to demand all rights so if you want to reuse your work you must check the contract you are signing.

Similarly, some, less scrupulous competitions also require ‘all rights’ from entrants, even if you work is not a winner. This means effectively that you’ve lost the piece— you can’t enter it elsewhere and you can’t rewrite it.

            So, in short, it pays to check the terms and conditions carefully before entering a competition or signing an agreement.

            If in doubt, ask for guidance. Query with organiser. In the UK The Society of Authors is one organisation that gives advice and contract vetting for members.

            For more information about the new Woman’s Weekly contract see the article 

or check out the Womag Writer blog 



The Ideas' Shop
Category: Writing
Tags: writing not writing

(The might be part of the problem - its called sun and is a fairly rare occurence where I currently live...)

                                   The Idea’s Shop
I’m having a lean week, by which I mean, not that I’m on a diet but I haven’t written much. This is partly because we’ve been busy with other things but sometimes being busy gives me ideas to jot down. This week no ideas have come. 
     I’ve tried the usual tricks — listening to conversations in cafes, looking at news headlines, reading, checking the Writers Abroad muses — but so far, nothing. 
     I do keep an ideas book where I jot down possible story titles and themes but even this hasn’t yielded anything this week. 
     I could just write. Free write. But I like to have a story idea roughed out on my head and know the ending before I begin otherwise I know to my cost, I end up with many, many half written pieces that just end up getting binned. 
     The situation isn’t worrying me yet, but it is niggling. I have time to write but nothing to work on. I know ideas will come back. This has happened before, usually when my routines are disturbed. I need to get back into the groove.
      And I have plenty of reference books and ideas sheets to turn to (a personal favourite is Linda Lewis’s Writer’s Treasury of Ideas), but I should like to get through this myself. Meanwhile I’m trawling through old stories that haven’t got anywhere but are still lurking at the back of my computer. Hopefully I can rework one or two of them and that will jump start my writing again. 
      Or maybe I can pop out to the ideas shop…
      Any tricks you use to help with a lean patch?
      Any favourite books which help?
      Do you keep an ideas book to help with motivation?
      And do you have the same problems if you are writing a novel? Or have you done enough planning to get through the blank patches?

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