Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Making Your Readers Giggle

Hi everyone! First off, I want to thank you all for the warm welcome, and I also want to thank my fellow Alley Cats for allowing me to team up with them. They truly are such a blessed, gifted group of women, and I consider it a privilege to be counted among them.

If you read my interview, you probably remember that I write southern romantic comedy, and I love my genre! So for my first blog post, I'm going to talk about something I'm still learning myself... how to make people laugh. These are tips I've gathered from ACFW workshops taught by people like the fabulous Jenny B Jones and Janice Thompson, as well as a few things I've figured out myself along the way. Hopefully you'll find they work for you as well!

You may be thinking, "Well, this is good and all, but I don't write comedy. How does this blog affect me?" I'm glad you asked. Even what we consider literary classics make use of comedy--take a look at Shakespeare. You don't have to be a romantic comedy writer to throw a joke or two into your prose. Giving the reader a comedic moment will allow him or her a little breathing room to process the deeper message of your book. And if you do write comedy, all the better!

1) Be specific. This is something I picked up from Jenny B Jones. It's amazing how the more specific you are, the funnier something becomes. Maybe your character burns a batch of brownies. (I know, you're thinking--that's not comedy, that's a tragedy--but stick with me.) Not very funny, right? But what if smoke begins to fill up the kitchen, and she's on the phone with her neighbor who sees the smoke coming out her open window, and then the neighbor calls the fire department, and the first firefighter on the scene is the very attractive man your character met last week, and then she realizes she's wearing fuzzy socks and her Hello Kitty pajamas?

2) Be ironic. Establish an expectation for the reader, and then surprise them. I'm not talking about the kind of surprises that will make your readers hate you, like killing off a beloved character without warning. I'm talking about inverting an expectation for the sake of humor. One way to do this is to put a twist on an old cliche: "Before you gossip, walk a mile in her Spanx--you'd be grouchy too." Another way to do it is to take a stereotype and then twist it for the sake of humor. The possibilities are endless.

3) Be yourself. I think grammar jokes are funny. I run and flail when I see a wasp. I inwardly cringe before touching public doorhandles. In real life, these things make me a nerd. On paper, these things suddenly become funny. Start paying attention to the details in your own life, and you'll realize your quirks make excellent fodder for your characters. Do you sing loudly to yourself in the car? Do you have a unique way of cleaning ceiling fans? What do you do when you see someone in the mall who you don't want to speak with? Write that in your book. Don't worry. We won't tell anyone these embarrassing moments actually happened to you.

4) When in doubt, use a kid, a grandmother, or an animal. For some reason, these things are always funny.

Have you tried your hand at writing comedy? What tips do you have to share that helped you find a humorous note in your writing? Can you think of any examples from your day to day life that might work well as a comedic scene in your book? I'd love to hear your funny stories. :)

*Dog photo taken from

Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. Born and raised in the South, her favorite vegetable is macaroni and cheese, and she loves sweet tea. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. She's thrilled to be represented by the fabulous Karen Solem. You can read more of Ashley's thoughts on writing, crafts, and life on her personal blog: She's also on Facebook and Twitter (writerashley).


Beth K. Vogt said...

Um, I think the dog in that photo hangs out with both of my dogs . . .
Thanks for the fun column.
And really, I had no idea macaroni and cheese was a vegetable. Good to know.

Keli Gwyn said...

Great tips, Ashley. I like how you showed us by using examples. Nice to know our embarrassing moments and quirks can serve us in our fiction. =)

Angie Dicken said...

Good post, Ashley! I am such a drama person, it's hard to be comedic in my writing, but I will keep your tips in mind! Glad to have you as a fellow Alley Cat!

Unknown said...

Ashley, loved your post. I don't consider myself a very funny person, and so I worry that comedy in my "serious" story, will be hard to come by. :) I appreciate your tips. When I work through re-writes, I am going to look for ways to implement them. :)

Lindsay Harrel said...

Yay for a fellow M.A. in English grad! We nerds, I mean, professionals, need to stick together. (I think grammar jokes are hilarious too. Have you ever read Grammar Snobs Are Big Meanies? Great book.)

Great tips, too! I'll have to look at adding humor to my ms.

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

New e-mail subscriber here.

Thanks for this great list. So applicable and I need all the help I can get!

I am not naturally funny in print, to the point that my last portfolio in college (8 years back) included the teacher comment, "I hope more humor finds it's way into your stories... especially considering how goofy you are in class."

So I've been wondering about it ever since.

My hands-down favorite beta-reader was the guy who made an Excel grid of "reactions" and included the specific places (p. #, paragraph sentence) where, among other things, the words made him laugh.

I had tears in my eyes before I was done with his review. It wasn't scads, but it was true: I had tied funny to the page!

Casey said...

Oh I giggled on the line about Spank! Too funny. ;-) I'm not very good at writing comedy, but I do love to throw in some tidbits into my writing! Here is one of my favorite lines from my WIP:

The kid eyed him for a moment, taking in Braden’s best jeans still wrinkled from their first wash and the tie he’d dug out of purgatory for the funeral.

Even if it's just me, it makes me giggle. ;-)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Great tips, Ashley! I loved Janice's humor session at the ACFW Conference. As for things I'd love to incorporate into a story, I get inspiration every time I go to yoga class. Everyone's so quiet and serious...a classic moment to insert a loud noise. ;)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

This is great, Ashley! I've been writing for years but only recently started writing romantic comedy. I love it, and these are super tips and examples. I was thinking about my new story the other day, trying to figure out how to make it funnier, and I said to myself that I should definitely have a kid in there :)

Julia M. Reffner said...

I love this! I have to admit I'm pretty serious in general, so I really have to make the effort to add comedy. I love your practical ideas here, I have a very strange sense of humor so I have to admit sometimes I don't write "funny" because I'm not sure if what I think is funny would make anyone but my husband and 25-year-old brother laugh. But I have lots of kids in my book, so this is an angle I could work on more.

Ashley Clark said...

Great comments, everyone! Julia, I know what you mean about doubting your jokes. I do that all the time too. That's one reason I'm so thankful for having Angie as my critique partner... she has the sweetest way of telling me when something makes no sense at all! :)

Anonymous said...

I'm laughing b/c I avoided someone in a Target parking lot--my mom. Terrible. Maybe not so funny, come to think of it.

Pepper said...

YAY!! It's the fabulous, Ashley Clark!!!
And she's funny! :-)

Do we onlly get to pick ONE example from everyday life? I have five kids and a crazy dad, these examples happen in spades.
I almost started laughing while riding in the plane to Houston yesterday.
Big plane. Small seats. and a very tall, large, unhappy looking man riding all scrunched beside of me. He kept nudging me with his elbow to make more space and would inevitably give me a look like it was my fault he bumped into my arm. I was practically plastered against the window as it was. 2 and 1/2 hours worth of plastered against the window.
After about the third nudge/look, I almost laughed out loud because it was funny. What else can you do? A fist fight on a plane with a man twice your size isn't really an option. Funny thought, though

I love twisting phrases too. I have one in my rom com where my heroine thinks:
"Open mouth and insert foot up to the kneecap"

After seeing Mr. Gorgeous helping a child, my heroine thinks:
"A picture worth a thousand Hershey bars."

Okay - babbling now.

Btw, Janice Thompson is FAB-U-LOUS!!!

Angie Dicken said...

Oh gosh, Ashley...wondering how many times I took something serious and it was a joke?!? I am so self-conscious about my sense of humor!
Pepper, love your writing!!:)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Ashley!!!!!!!!!!!!! You really ARE funny! I think I am funny in real life, but I don't know that it always transposes onto the page. I'd like it to, even though I like to write historical fiction. I mean, there were funny people back in medieval times, surely!

Pepper said...

Oh thank you, Angie. I just want to hug your for that comment.

And Sherrinda IS funny in her medieval. Oh heavens, it's such a fun story. Love it!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Thanks, Doc! I think YOU are funny, and then you are even funnier because you crack yourself up about being funny! I can't wait to meet you in real life one day. :)

Pepper said...

(snicker) Sherrinda, if I laugh at my own stuff then at least I know SOMEONE thinks it's funny.

As a matter of fact, I'm rereading a scene right now and just cracking up!
Not sure whether it's narcicism or insanity, but at least it's not boring

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

And Pep, are you alone in a hotel room right now? Laughing at your own writing? I love it!

Pepper said...

Cracking myself up!

Angie Dicken said...

Oh, Pepper, wish I were in a hotel room alone right now, I wouldn't be laughing though...I'd be sleeping through the night for the first time in 10 months!! :)

Pepper said...

TOTALLY understand that wish, Ang.

You will live past this, though :-)
What's the saying?
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger (or makes you crazy ;-)

Joanne Sher said...

James Scott Bell in art of war for writers says something like "to write comedy, make life a tragedy." The idea was that people who take their "small" problems way too seriously are FUNNY - The Odd Couple, for instance. You also have some great tips here! Thanks!

Lorrie Kruse said...

Great advice. Even if you don't write comedy, you still need funny moments so your reader can smile and laugh since real life often leaves us lacking there.
(A Life Worth Living - Life's detours can sometimes lead to the best path. Available July 2012)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Great tips, Ash! I also love writing my characters with quirky little neuroses for comic relief. Funny how the strangest little things from your life can really land well on a page :)

Congrats on becoming an Alley Cat!