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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Funny Side of Writing: Insert Your Topic Here

Okay, the title is not actually “Insert Your Topic Here.” It’s something along the lines of “How Humor Applies to Two of Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Basics of Creative Writing.” For the handful of people on the QueryTracker Blog Team, though, this month’s assigned title is “The Funny Side of Writing: Insert Your Topic Here,” so a handful of people got the joke before I explained it. It’s a bit of an inside joke – an extreme example of the fact that all humor is inside humor.  

Ooh, that’s much better. Forget that bit about “How Humor Applies…” The real title of this post is now The Funny Side of Writing: All Humor is Inside Humor. Plus some stuff about Kurt Vonnegut.

Humor presents an extreme example of Vonnegut’s advice: “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” There is no such thing as a joke that: (a) will not offend anyone; (b) every reader will get; (c) can be explained to those who don’t get it in a sufficiently humorous way those who “got it” won’t be bored; and (d) having traversed the minefield that is (a) through (c) on this list, anyone thinks is funny.

Humor is such an effective tool because, done right, it creates a bond between the writer and reader that makes the reader feel special. She “gets” the joke, which means she is in on the little secret the joke presents. This can happen one of three ways:

  • ·         The very direct way that hopefully made the title of this article amusing to five people – The existence of an actual inside joke, like a subtle literary reference few of your readers may pick up on, making those who do feel Überspecial.
  • ·       Letting the rest of the riffraff in on the joke – The explanation provided in the first paragraph of this post, which is, generally, the worst option. That said, some writers (Douglas Adams = God) explain things in such a clever way the reader feels special having received the explanation and joining the “in crowd.”
  • ·         Building the humor from the inside out, first giving the reader the inside information, then making the joke it’s based on – The second paragraph of this post, which is a different version of the same joke about the title. I’m still messing around with the title, sharing the process of replacing the ridiculous one with something more descriptive, but by bringing the reader (that’s you, btw) along, I (that’s me, btw) create the insides of the inside joke: My title sucks because I cut and pasted the stupid thing. Here I am, two paragraphs in, still groping for a title.

Of all Vonnegut’s rules, or any rules of writing I’ve ever seen anywhere, though, the one I think is most important to keep in mind with respect to humor is the Fourth: Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action. If I ever form some kind of humor writing cult, THAT will be the password, and the initiation will involve writing that on your private bits in goat blood or something else sufficiently weird that it would be impossible to forget.

Now that I look at it, that is a rather long sentence. Yeah, it would definitely need to be “something else sufficiently weird.”

And I live on a farm. It’s not goat blood I’m worried about running out of.

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