How to Write a Funny Story
Why did we ask Dan to share his comedy secrets? Because we're having a fiction contest, and the theme is FUNNY STORIES THAT ARE FUNNY. Check back a little later for more details! —Sparkitors
If you clicked on this post, then you might be a sad writer who creates dark stories about shadows and moths. That’s OK! We can help hone your funny bone. Don’t have a funny bone? Use your funny tooth. (It's located three teeth west of the sweet tooth, and directly above the gravy tooth, near the cosmic tooth.)
The first rule of comedy writing is: There are no rules. The second rule of comedy writing is: Fight Club is real and you should tell all your friends. The third rule is: Just because it’s yellow, that doesn’t mean it’s lemonade.
You can ask ten different comedy writers for advice on writing a funny story, and you’ll get ten different responses, including the ever-so helpful, “Shut up, kid. Get me a napkin!” So feel free to ignore any and all of the below Commandments of Comedy Writing. There is no right way to be funny…though you must never use your left hand. Ever.
Find the Nugget
First, use the word “nugget” frequently, because it’s a funny word. But “nugget” is more than just a funny word. The key to comedy is to find a nugget of truth, and then exaggerate that truth. You need a nugget. Without the nugget of truth, your story could be a random assortment of nonsense. You could type, “Farts!” That’s kind of funny, but it could be made so much more humorous simply by adding in a nugget of truth such as, “Kevin farts!” (It’s funnier still if you know Kevin, which I do not.)
Think of your favorite funny stories, TV sketches, movies, vases, or cakes. Chances are they all have a nugget of truth—a fact or factual starting point that anchors the wackiness. Even the absurd Monty Python sketches have a truth nugget, something the audience can identify and relate to. You need a nugget. Go get a nugget!
No One Gets (Really) Hurt
This sounds like huggy-wuggy mom talk, but it’s a law of comedy. No matter how many horrible things happen to characters in a comedy, no one dies and everyone is fine when it’s over. The cast of The Hangover might go through hell trying to find their missing friend, but we can laugh along because we know there will be a happy ending. You can break this rule, and write drama-dies, but a story filled with chuckles should rarely end with: And then Jackson put the pistol in his mouth, and the pistol whispered, “Farewell.”
Don’t Try Too Hard
If a joke doesn’t come to you in the first 5 minutes, walk away. The longer your struggle, the worse the joke will be. This is just like the time that the King of England once…um…wait. It’s like a soup that you rub on your face and then…no. It’s like…um…things and such. Kevin farts!
Never, Ever, Explain Yourself
Explaining a funny story is like adding, “Get it?” to the end of a joke. It weakens the story. Be proud of your humor. People will either get it or they won’t.
Funny: Pete’s grandfather was a bit old-fashioned; he shaved with a straight razor, didn’t own a microwave, and still used MySpace.
Not as funny: Pete’s grandfather was a bit old-fashioned; he shaved with a straight razor, didn’t own a microwave, and still used MySpace. That is funny because even though MySpace is old, the grandfather would have little use for a social networking site. Kevin farts!
Name a Character “Donuts”
That’s a funny name. Use it.
The “Call Back” means you write a funny joke or scene and refer to it again and again. If you read Blogging Twilight, you might remember the term “Sarcasm Hand,” a phrase that was repeated throughout the blogs and morphed into Sarcasm Hands, Sarcasm Feet, Sarcasm Fists, and Sarcasm Entire Body. By repeating the joke again and again, it becomes an inside joke between you and the reader. Suddenly you and the reader are like best friends.
Do the Opposite
When writing a funny story, play with expectations. Maybe a big scary biker dude turns out to be kindergarten teacher. The shy, nerdy math geek might be a sexpot. A dog could be a cat wearing a dog costume. Think of the following situation: A young woman is babysitting. She puts the kid to bed and spends the night on the couch. She falls asleep watching TV when the phone rings. She answers.
In a horror story, there’s a serial killer on the other end.
In a romance story, her boyfriend is on the other end.
In a drama, it’s her ailing sister.
But in comedy, it could be anything. The audience doesn’t know what to expect. It could be a goofy, bumbling serial killer asking for directions to the house. Maybe it’s a British walrus named Sir Thaddeus Nosebottom.
Kevin nearly farted.
Don’t You Dare Use the ESPN Joke
If a character has psychic powers, or thinks he has psychic powers, do not let the character say, “It’s like I have ESPN or something.” If you break this rule, I will come to your house and remove your hands. You will also need to turn in your Writer’s Badge and Writer’s Pants.
Avoid Potty Humor
You're not twelve anymore. Stop writing about bodily functions. It's cheap and lazy. You're better than that. If the situation is unavoidable, please fine a classier way to express it.
Kevin's bottom burped.
Do you consider yourself a funny writer?
Related post: Writing for SparkLife FAQ