Posts Tagged ‘Writing Humor’

Why did the turkey cross the road?

August 30, 2012

On our morning walks my neighbor and I have rescued dogs, cats and even a pet ret.  But the other day we had to lead wild turkeys across a busy road during morning commuter traffic. 

“Come on, darlings,” cooed Hilde, as she encouraged the group of birds to the other side.  

“Gobble gobble,” they replied.

I played the roll of Officer Michael from the book Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey.  Holding up my hands in the universal signal for stop, I stood in the center of the busy intersection until the first batch made it. Cars, school buses, and trucks obeyed.  Several turkeys scurried back, unwilling to brave the long trek.  Nodding, I mouthed, thank you to the drivers and moved aside.  Drivers smiled and waved at us in return. 

“Gobble gobble, gobble gobble,” said the lead turkey, waiting to cross; turning her head first left, then right,  looking to see if the road was clear. 

“Contrary to popular belief, these birds aren’t stupid,” I said. 

“Smarter than humans,” said Hilde.

When we saw the turkey was ready to cross, we walked back into the middle of the street so the traffic could see us.  One by one, the turkeys followed each other in a line.  Everyone in the cars looked amused except one woman with two children in the backseat.    When one turkey paused midpoint, trying to decide what to do, the woman in the car pounded the steering wheel.

Next, the woman, bashed her head against the steering wheel.   Finally, the turkey made up its mind to go back where it came from.  Now the woman threw her hands in the air.  I can imagine her dialogue inside the vehicle.  Would it be appropriate for children’s ears?

When the traffic cleared, we led the third group forward, this time without any turkeys changing their minds. 

Whew.  This was more exhausting than a vigorous hike.  Now I knew what it felt like to be a mama turkey.  

No.  Don’t say it. 

Now.  On to America’s political conventions . . .

Writing Prompts:

1.  When the unexpected occurs in your story, remember to write about the reactions of characters.  Check your latest work.  Do you have characters react to others actions?   Write about an action that causes several people to react.

2.  Write about an event that causes one person to react with humor and another to react with tension.

3.  When has something caused you to be late?  Miss an important event?  Write about this in a “missed opportunity” way and then write it in a humorous vein.

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 www.sarahwilsonbooks.com ) 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 http://youtu.be/q1mAGQAw3Oc
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 Room for Laughter/ Take My Wife, Please . . .

February 22, 2011

When I opened Growing Up Laughing:  My Story and the Story of Funny by Marlo Thomas, I expected to read a celebrity memoir recommended by a friend of mine.  What I didn’t expect was to laugh all the way through the book with the jokes, the interviews with comedians, and the author’s own special brand of humor.

Thomas, whose father was the legendary comedian, Danny Thomas, writes of being a child hanging around her father and his famous funny friends.  He starred in the show “Make Room for Daddy” and later his daughter had her own television show in the 60s called “That Girl.”  

As a child, I grew up watching “That Girl”, and even wrote to Thomas requesting her autograph.  (Which I received on a mass-produced photo still in my childhood album.)  It was a break-through show, because Thomas did the first t.v. sitcom where a SINGLE WOMAN lived on her own without needing or wanting to be married.  BRAVO!  She had to fight the network male executives to do it, but she did.  And many of us young girls watching, appreciated and loved her for it.

But what I didn’t know then was that Marlo Thomas learned a heck of a lot of her comedy timing and techniques from  her famous father. 

“Dad adored making an audience laugh, but he also loved bringing them to a hush.  He used to tell me that a good storyteller knows how important the silences are, and is never afraid of them.  Dad controlled his audience like an orchestra conductor.  He was Mr. Cool.”

What does this have to do with writing your short story, poem, or personal narrative for our Young Writers Contest?  What does it have to do with writing your chapter book for children? 

Everything. 

Why?  Writing humor is the hardest thing in the world to write.  It’s all based on timing, and this timing is based on silences and pacing.   In fact, all writing is pacing.  So every time you sit down to write, make sure you read your work aloud when you are through.  Pretend YOU are a stand-up comic.  Even if you aren’t writing funny, pretend you are telling a story to a friend. 

Where should the pauses be?  Where should the excitement in your story “rev” up?  Where should it quiet down and relax?  Where should there be dialogue for character growth or tension? 

Many writers take acting classes.  To become actors?  No.  For the timing!  What was I in my other life?  I taught creative drama and improvisation.  I directed children’s plays.  It all ties together. 

So if teachers or editors comment on how you need better pacing, read your work aloud. Consider an improv or acting class.  Share your work with trusted writers to help you know when the pacing is right.  That’s what Marlo’s father did with his friends. 

Remember this about humor:

It’s based on the unexpected.   Misinterpretations of what someone says can be funny.  Humor is best when it’s based on character.  Humor is based on truth.  Exaggerate the everyday average to make it funny.  And finally, above all, have fun!