Archive for the ‘Funny!’ Category

10 Tips for Winning Writing Contests, Scoring an A, or Attracting an Agent/Editor

January 27, 2014

1. Hook your readers with a vivid scene right away. How? Read on.

2. Specific senses will get your reader to experience your story.

Example: Gary D. Schmidt’s Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy begins like this: Turner Buckminster had lived in Phippsburg, Maine, for fifteen minutes shy of six hours. He had dipped his hand in its waves and licked the salt from his fingers. He had smelled the sharp resin of the pines. He had heard the low rhythm of the bells on the buoys that balanced on the ridges of the sea. He had seen the fine clapboard parsonage beside the church where he was to live, and the small house set a ways beyond it that puzzled him some. Turner Buckminster had lived in Phippsburg, Maine, for almost six whole hours. He didn’t know how much longer he could stand it.

3. Show the protagonist’s problem right away. Turner’s is shown in his feelings shown in the last sentence.

4. Character dialogue must move the story forward. If it’s just talking back and forth to talk, remove it.

5. Use adverbs sparingly. Change them to verbs.
Example: He said loudly. Change to: He shouted.

6. Create suspense with tension. Author Steve Mooser employs the element of time. He says, “If the bad guys are due into town at sunset, if Friday is the day of the school play – that’s the easiest way to build tension.” In Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, the hourglass shows how much time Dorothy has to live.

David Almond created atmosphere with action verbs and specific images in Heaven Eyes:
Mud. Black, sticky, oily, stinking mud. It was January who dared to lean out of his raft first. He dipped his hand into what should have been water. He touched mud, black mud. It oozed and dribbled from his fingers. The raft settled, and mud slithered across its surface, onto our clothes. It seeped through to our skin. It seeped through the tiny gaps between the doors. I took my flashlight out, switched it on, saw the doors disappearing as they sank . . . saw that we were being slowly sucked down into the sodden earth . . . Our feet, our hells, our knees were caught in mud . . . I grunted, whimpered, groaned. I slithered forward. . . My head filled with the mist and darkness.

7. Everyone loves humor. The unexpected is funny. Two unlike characters or objects placed together can be funny.

8. Read your piece out loud. Is it balanced? Not big chunks of description or pages of pure dialogue, but evenly paced?

9. Eliminate vague words: Possibly, many, pretty, terrible . . .

10. What has the protagonist learned or how has your character changed in some small way?

After several drafts, put away your manuscript for a while. When you return, read it aloud with fresh eyes. Are you having fun? If not, rework the story until it’s just right. You’ll feel that tingle of excitement when it works!

Twist a Movie Title: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Commerce

July 29, 2013

A friend told me while listening to NPR, there was something on Twitter where people were taking movie titles and making them sound boring.

Examples: Harry Potter and The Chamber of Commerce

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington State

A Streetcar Named Mild Interest

Singing in the Shower

So I tried it. How about:

The King and Liz

The Princess Toiletries.

Pulp Orange Juice.

One Fluttered Over the Bird’s Twig

To Swat A Mockingbird

Dial M for Milktoast

The So-So Years of Our Lives

Shawshank Perspiration

Some Like it Luke Warm

12 Discontented Men

The Wizard of Fresno

Writing Prompts:

1. You try it. It’s fun!
2. Choose one of the titles you’ve created or one of the titles above and write a story, script or poem to match. It could be a spoof or whatever you want it to be.
3. Create another art form for the title. What medium will you choose?

This Dog Shows Character!

March 12, 2013
Who did this?  The answer is obvious by the reaction of the characters involved.
Writing Prompt:
1.  Using a character’s facial expression, action, thoughts and/or dialogue, show guilt or innocence in a story or poem.
2.  Choose a character you know in your life.  Show this person or animal’s character through action, details, and/or dialogue in a personal narrative. 
3.  Write a poem showing character.  Author Jane Yolen defines poetry as “compressed emotion.”  Take out any words that aren’t absolutely necessary.

Writing Humor

September 26, 2012

 The author A. J. Jacobs wrote The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World  as he read the entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica.  What’s unusual about this book is the reader gets a look into the factual world with Jacobs’  offbeat sense of humor, as he intermingles it with quirky facts he has learned.    

Wouldn’t it have been great if he could have written those encyclopedias when we were doing our homework?   

Example:  “Elisha Gray filed papers with the patent office on February 14, 1876 for his telephone device – – just a couple of hours after Alexander Graham Bell filed his.  Gray really should have rearranged his schedule:  first, the patent application, then the grocery store.”

How often do you read an article or book and smile or laugh?  Ask yourself, what exactly did the writer do?  How can I try this same technique?  Practice, practice, practice!  And don’t miss Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically:  One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible and Drop Dead Healthy:  One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection.  

He’s covered intellect, body, and soul.  What’s next, A.J. Jacobs?

Writing Prompts

  1. Tell something to your reader and then hit them with an amusing observation or compare what said to something within your own life or culture that is universal and relatable. 
  2. Read humor.  Use the author as a model and write in that style choosing a subject which is your passion. 
  3. Read EVERYTHING you write out loud, as humor depends upon rhythm and pacing. 


Find the Comic In YOU!

January 24, 2012

We laughed our way through a terrific comedy workshop this past Saturday at the Walnut Creek Library with nearly sixty middle school students improvising, writing, and critiquing their way through humor.   There was enough talent in that room to produce several books, a magazine and a sitcom script or two. 

When I asked students to introduce themselves and share a moment of humor, one boy said, “My name is __________ (name protected so he won’t sue me) and I blew up my mother’s laundry room when I was four.”   Turns out the scientific genius was experimenting in his basement, so he wasn’t hurt in the procedure. 

The young man next to him stated, “My name is ___________ and I helped my brother blow up our mother’s laundry room.” 

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to meet the mother.  I wanted to find out what medication she was taking.  Did I mention these boys are available for stand-up?

After this group entertained me and Susie (Sarah Wilson ) as they performed a comedic drama improv with such advanced skills I wanted to call Hollywood, we left feeling elated and knew this group would go on to write and tell some very funny stories with the humor techniques we discussed and demonstrated. 

How can you be funny in your own writing? 

Look for humor all around you in your own life. 

Use exaggeration when appropriate.  Timing is important (read all of your work out loud!) and find examples of irony, satire and parody in books and movies so you can incorporate these in your own writing.

Have fun being funny!

1.  Write about a humorous memory from your past.  Read it out loud to make it as funny as it can be.  Remember that short words and short sentences work well in comedy.

2.  Watch
and use it to inspire a funny poem or story told in the point of view of a sloth. 

3.  Write a poem or story from the point of view from an object.  Remember to use his or her senses.  What does it really feel like to be this object?  Check to make sure you use action verbs!

Make ’em Laugh! Free Comedy Writing Workshop!

January 16, 2012

What: Make ’em Laugh!  Write Funny: Learn comedy techniques from two published authors

Who: Grades 6 – 8                             

When: January 21, 2012  9 a.m. – Noon

Cost: FREE!

Where: Walnut Creek Public Library, 1644 N. Broadway, Walnut Creek, CA  94596 


What makes readers laugh?  How can YOU create humor in your writing?  Develop quirky, funny characters through games, writing tips, techniques and exercises so you’ll produce a humorous plot, action and dialogue in a terrific page-turning story.

Two professional children’s authors who love writing share their best secrets on writing! You’ll get a chance to ask questions about the publishing world, write, play some games, meet other writers, and “talk books.”

 Led by children’s authors Sarah Wilson and Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff.  

Visit them at  and

 Bring pen and paper and get ready to WRITE!

Register for the Walnut CreekJan. 21 workshop here:

*** Special Note***  Good idea to bring a notebook or clipboard too, as we may only have chairs and not desks in this room.

McSweeney’s Become a Columnist Contest!

August 26, 2011

So you want to be a columnist?  Here’s your chance!   

From McSweeney’s: 

It’s that time. New columnist time. Column contest time. We’ve done it each year for the past two, so we’re doing it again, basically the same way:

1. Form and content is open. We are looking for writing that is engaging and interesting, in a “we know it when we see it” way. It would probably be a mistake to look at our current columns and try to replicate them. We love those columns, but they came about by authors simply following their own paths. Write about subject matter you’re interested in, in the way you find most compelling. Our site is primarily known for printing funny things, but columns need not be comic in nature. They just need to be good reading. Please take your time to make your submission as good as possible. One of the criteria we’re looking for is a writer who is reliable and obsessive over their own work.

2. Length is also open. In general, we find anything over 2000 words begins to be taxing on readers when read on the Internet, but if the length is justified, we’re the last ones to complain.

3. Submissions should contain the following: •a brief description of the proposed column (keep it short; just tell us where you’re coming from) •one full example column •brief descriptions of three additional installments of your column •a short biographical note

4. Submitting your submissions. All submissions should be both pasted into the body of an email and sent as a .doc or .rtf attachment. Please arrange the material in the order outlined in #3 above. Any submissions that fail to provide all the requested information will be ineligible for consideration. All material should be previously unpublished, including personal blogs, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever thing is invented between now and the end of the contest. There is no fee for contest submission. Submissions should be sent to

5. Previous winners and current or past columnists. Are not eligible for the column contest this time around. 6. Please submit only one entry per author. Pick the idea that’s most compelling to you and run with it.

7. Deadline. Submissions will be accepted until the end of the day Friday, September 9th at 10 pm Eastern time. Winners will be announced no later than September 23rd. Please include a phone number where you can be reached in case of e-mail failure.

8. Prizes. We have prizes. Cash prizes. The top five selections will each receive $500 and a one-year contract to write your column (twice a month or thereabouts) for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. We do reserve the right to choose fewer (or more) winners than our planned number of five.

9. Responses to submissions. You will receive notice of receipt of your entry; however, because of the volume of submissions we will not be able to respond personally to each entry if they are not advancing in the contest.

10. If you have any questions that aren’t answered here, please feel free to send them to

For more information visit

Throw Unusual Characters Together

May 18, 2011

A friend sent me the video below, which made me think of how some of the best writing can come out of making two very different characters interact  in a scene.

What happens?  Will there be conflict?  Friendship?  Humor? 

Add to the mix, make one or both of the characters be a “fish out of water.”   The uncomfortable feeling in an unlikely setting can add to the humor and/or conflict.

* Place a cowboy and a circus performer in a fancy ballroom with a king and queen.   Why are they there?  What happens next?

*A gang of thieves kidnap a Hollywood actress and a Harvard professor.  Why?  What happens next?

*Or write about the unlikely friendship in the video below.  Why did they become friends?  What happens next?

Wimpy Kid Contest, California Writers Club Young Writers Contest Banquet, and Pleasant Hill History Contest

May 16, 2011

Enter the Wimpy Kid Contest!   $500 for you and $1000 for your library!

Deadline is June 10, 2011  For more information and guidelines, visit:


Remember:    This Saturday, May 21, is the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch’s Young Writers Contest Banquet which will be held at Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant in Pleasant Hill. 

    • As we’ll have many guests, REGISTRATION WILL OPEN AT 11:00 AM, a half hour earlier than our regular 11:30 schedule.
    • To acknowledge this special event, the cost per guest is reduced to $20 per person, the equivalent of our regular member rate.
      • Sign-in:  11:00 a.m. – noon; Buffet Lunch
      • Presentation follows
      • Zio Fraedo’s Restaurant, 611 Gregory Lane, Pleasant Hill, CA, 94523

      About Abigail Samoun

      Abi has worked in children’s publishing for over a decade. During that time she’s edited board books, picture books, middle-grade novels, and early young-adult novels for Tricycle Press, Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Little, Brown. Her books have received numerous honors including a CCBC Charlotte Zolotow award, an SCBWI Golden Kite, a Pura Belpre Honor, a Smithsonian Notable, and a New York Public Library Ezra Jack Keats award.

      Abigail also edited the middle grade series Edgar & Ellen which has sold over a quarter of a million copies worldwide and inspired a cartoon series on Nickelodeon. She has just launched a brand-new children’s literary agency with agent extraordinaire Karen Grencik.

      For YOUR reservation, please send an e-mail to Joanne Brown.  by noon May 18.  Seating is limited. 

    • _____________________________________________________________
    • Pleasant Hill History Writing Contest
    • More information will be posted here this summer, but in honor of Pleasant Hill, California’s 50th anniversary as a city, there will be a middle school writing contest with $ awards $ for essays about living in Pleasant Hill.  Students may research and interview people to discover the rich history of Pleasant Hill. 

Too funny for words?

March 19, 2011
Sometimes the visual says it all.  So in your writing, make sure you show and don’t tell.  Show by writing action, dialogue and specific details.
After viewing the video link below, write a scene with the theme of guilt.  You can make it funny or devious, and have the character try to throw off the clues of the evidence.  But in your scene make sure you show the character of the guilty party.  Have fun!