A writer’s voice is what attracts readers to stay on the page, finish the piece, and return for more. Voice makes writing uniquely the author’s, and it can sink the poem, feature story, or op-ed piece for one reader and elevate it for another. As you’re learning how to write with humor, keep the following things in mind!
Humor is Important to Voice
Humor can be a great part of voice. In fact, some would argue that it is a necessary part. Humor helps the reader:
- remember key points
- want to continue reading, even if it’s a mundane topic
- refocus attention and think creatively
Remember the old adage “Laughter is good for the soul”? It’s true! Psychologists say that laughter boosts mood and creativity. If a reader laughs at humor in a piece, he or she is more likely to remember the topic and act on it — tell another person to read the material, further explore it, or make the two-story birdhouse the author wrote about.
Don’t Worry If You’re Not Naturally Funny
Humor may naturally be part of the author’s voice, or it can be strategically added. There are techniques for how to write humorously, and authors who do not generally ooze funny material can still engage an audience by reworking a piece, adding humor in a second or third draft.
Here are some ways to add humor into your writing:
1. Use an illustrative joke or anecdote, especially employing comparison. Say you are writing an article about becoming a babysitter. Your target audience is young, female, and eager to learn how to deal with children. If you want to convey the notion that bedtime is tough for babysitter and kids, you could add a comparison joke such as “Bedtime is as much fun as getting a pack of coyotes to stop howling at the moon.” You get the idea.
2. Use exaggeration (hyperbole) to make your point. For instance, “My cat flinches at the sight of food not labeled gourmet.” That’s exaggeration. The overblown image illustrates the point that cats can be finicky. Exaggeration helps introduce the topic in an informational piece or human interest feature.
3. Use self-deprecating humor or take little jabs at yourself. The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield built his career on beating himself up. As a writer, you can use his technique in this way. Say you are writing a feature on your recent diet. You might start by poking a fun at yourself: “Yep, I go on diets as often as some people get haircuts.” Or, “What was I thinking when I gained weight by eating 10 of those healthy, 100-calorie oranges?” The jabs draw the reader’s empathy and hopefully, interest, to read through and enjoy the article.
4. Rework some cliches. TV and radio commercials have taglines that are so often repeated they become familiar. For instance, “Where’s the beef?” from the old Wendy’s commercials can become “Where’s the chief?” in an article about absentee bosses. Other cliches are “strong as an ox,” “big as a house” — you get the idea.
Keep in mind these guidelines on how to write with humor work best when they are used in moderation. You still want readers to remember the point of the piece! You are using humor as a tool, not writing a joke book or comedy script. Humor should shine light on what is being said and not detract from it.
Finally, working with a writing tutor can be a huge help if you want a second pair of eyes on your work. Comedians test out their jokes long before stepping on stage at comedy clubs — and as a writer, it’s worth seeing how readers react to your work as well. Good luck, and keep writing!
Photo by CarbonNYC [in SF!]