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How to Write Funny Even if You're Not Funny
Written humor usually produces a grin rather than a fall-off-your-chair response. Read funny writers like Bruce Cameron, Kinky Friedman, or Erma Bombeck. Notice their quirky take on everyday events. Keep your eyes open for the absurdities that abound around you.
While I don't think being funny can be taught, you can use techniques that lighten up your text, increase readership and retention, and make writing enjoyable.
What strikes us funny is surprise. Surprise your readers and you wake them up. Here are eight ways to add mirth to your memo.
- Rule of Three: For some reason, we are drawn to lists of three, not two, not four. For instance, "Adopt a pet: a dog, cat, or hamster." To make that threesome funnier, surprise us with the third on the list. "Adopt a pet: a dog, cat, or elephant." "...a dog, cat, or flea." "...a dog, cat, or cactus." The first surprise is with something big that isn't usually a pet. The second is something small you may find at PetsMart but not sold as a pet and the third isn't an animal, but you don't have to clean up after it. Use alliteration in your threes, too. We ate a burger, a bun, and a barrel of Pepto Bismol.
- Exaggeration: You can describe your birthday cake as big, or as big as a breadbox (remember those?) or 16" by 12" by 18" high. You can also say your cake was as big as a Humvee, a 747, or Montana. Now, that's a big cake!
- Overstatement: This is the first cousin of exaggeration. Johnny Carson said, "It was so cold today, or hot today, or rainy today that..." The audience would ask in chorus, "How cold was it?" Johnny didn't respond that it was 30°. Johnny would give a ridiculous overstatement. "It was so cold, M&Ms wouldn't melt in your mouth."
- Understatement: "How happy were you when you won the lottery?" "I was so happy I gave everyone in my family a gumball." "I felt so wealthy, I ran right out and bought a Porsche calendar."
- Anecdote: Use humorous stories to get your point across. For instance, if I were writing about how ubiquitous and powerful Starbucks is, I could just say Starbucks is ubiquitous and powerful. I could tell you the number of Starbucks that have opened in the last ten years. I could tell you that there is a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks in Vancouver. I could exaggerate and tell you there is now a Starbucks in a Starbucks. Or, I could tell you how Bailey The Wonder Dog insists on stopping at Starbucks every time he passes one. He also insists on stopping at every tree, but in Colorado there are now more Starbucks than trees.
- Headlines & Puns: Puns are often used in headlines. A Time Magazine article announces "The Flurry over John Snow." A garden shop sign states, "We shall sell no vine before its time." A tire store boasts, "We skid you not."
- Words Ending in “k” or a Hard “"c”: I once spoke about the size of my first microwave oven. Instead of exaggerating by saying it was as big as a Saab, I said it was as big as a Buick. "Buick" got the laugh. The alliteration of the "Bs" in "big" and "Buick" helped the chuckle factor, too. A deli menu invited the customer to think outside the lox. Notice the hard "K" ending, pun and play on words.
- Upset the Expected: Take an old cliché and surprise your reader. "Look before you...bump into a wall." Moviemaker Samuel Goldwyn said about directors, "They bite the hand that lays the golden egg."
Practice using these techniques. You'll develop your funny tome.
Karen Susman is a Speaker, Trainer, Coach, and Author of 102 Top Dog Networking Secrets. Karen works with organizations that want to maximize performance. Programs include Humour at Work; Balance In Life; Networking Skills; Presentation Skills; and Building Community Involvement. Order new guidebooks on humour, networking, time management, and community involvement by calling 1-888-678-8818 or e-mail Karen@KarenSusman.com.. www.KarenSusman.com.
Published in Networking Today, April 2005.
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