Review: How To Write Funny

When I was at Half Price Books (my go-to spot for gift shopping) last December, I picked up a copy of How To Write Funny, edited by John B. Kachuba. Looks interesting, I thought. Apparently I thought so in 2001, the first time I bought and read it, and in 2006, when I read it again. So I passed the new copy along at the chapter Christmas party and reread the old copy I found on my shelf.

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How To Write FunnyHow To Write Funny is not a technical manual for humor writing. Most of the contributors agree that humor in writing stems from the mindset of the author more than from any tricks of the trade, although there are certainly technical suggestions throughout. The articles and interviews cover a range of writers and writing genres: fiction and non-fiction, short and long, prose and poetry. Many of the contributors confess that they tried and tried to be “serious” writers, but it was like fighting nature. That’s true the other way around, too—it’s not easy to write “funny” when your nature wants to write “serious.”

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The heart of the book is really about the nature (there it is again) of humor. What makes people laugh, and why? This is terribly subjective, of course, and pulls a wide variety of ideas, many depending on age, gender, ethnicity, and culture. Not all humorists are the same, either: the person who tells hilarious stories may not be a writer, and the writer who has you falling off your chair laughing may be too shy to speak in public. Many of the contributors list the authors they love, and the name that comes up time after time is Mark Twain, followed closely by Robert Benchley and P.G. Wodehouse.

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Most helpful for romance writers is Jennifer Crusie’s article, “Happily Ever Laughter: Writing Romantic Comedy for Women.” She points out that women respond to situational humor rather than jokes. “Nothing is a tragedy,” Crusie says, “if you can laugh at it.”

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Several other funny women are included, and their approach to humor is much like Crusie’s. Connie Willis says, “Exaggerating the literal truth, if it’s done well, shows us the emotional truth of a situation.” Esther Friesner, in “Take My Wizard . . . Please,” discusses humor in fantasy and science fiction, and by extension paranormal. Patricia Case tackles “Writing ‘Funny Bits’ for Kids.”

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“The funniest fiction,” says Roy Blount Jr., “involves characters who are not trying to be funny.” Remember Burns and Allen? (Hey, I know some of you are as old as I am.) George was the straight man. It was Gracie, with her totally unique view of the people and events around her, who was funny, and she had no clue. She was just being herself.

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Joe Lansdale talks about mixing humor and horror. Bill Bryson points out that British and American humor can be quite different. And Tom Bodett says, “I don’t think you can write funny unless you think life is funny.”

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How To Write Funny may not actually teach you how to write funny, but if you lean that way, it will give you some ideas. It’s available as an e-book from Amazon. You may have to hunt for a paperback copy.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Leslie
    May 23, 2016 @ 23:35:51

    That’s so true that a person can be funny and not necessarily write funny. It’s not something that can be forced.

    Like

    Reply

  2. JF Owen
    May 28, 2016 @ 19:58:16

    I wish I’d read that book fifteen years ago. I might have humor figured out by now. 🙂

    Like

    Reply

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