Friday, June 29, 2012

How and Why I Write Humor -- a Guest Post by Joanne Levy

So here I am writing a post about writing funny. There isn’t much funny in writing about humor. Even the word funny stops sounding funny if you type it enough times.  There.  It’s gone.  Funny is no longer so.  

On to the serious business of writing humor. 

I’ve been told I’m funny person (despite the above, which strongly indicates to the contrary).  In my opinion, that’s a pretty good place to start if you’re looking to write humor—you kind of need to know what makes people laugh.  I write my funny on instinct and don’t really think about it too much, so it’s hard for me to talk intelligently about how I write funny.  But I’ll give a shot.
SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, my middle grade debut, is about Lilah Bloom, a girl who gets hit by lightning and can then suddenly hear ghosts.  I guess it’s not a very funny premise, but trust me; there are a lot of funny moments in it.  Lilah is twelve, so that means there is a lot going on in her life, from puberty to starting to think about boys. Then you throw in some mischievous ghosts, including a meddling dead grandmother, and you’ve got the potential for a lot of really funny scenes. One of my favorites is when Lilah is at her friend’s birthday party. The girls are consulting a Ouija board:
     “Okay,” Alex said, obviously taking over. “Everyone put your fingertips on the thingie.”  
     We all did. Of course, except Anita, who was watching from her spot in the corner.  
     “Okay, Tamsin. What’s your question?” 
     Tamsin took a breath. “Who will I marry?”
     Everyone gasped. We all knew Tamsin was currently crushing on Tyler Landis, an eighth grader. He was an excellent hockey player who hoped to one day make it to the NHL. Alex liked to tease Tamsin that her future boyfriend wouldn’t have any teeth, but Tamsin said with his NHL contract, he’d be able to buy himself a whole mouth full of teeth.
     Personally, I’d rather my husband have his own natural teeth, thank you very much. But I guess Tamsin wasn’t bothered by dentures.  
      All of a sudden, the plastic thing started to skitter and move under our fingers.  
     “Oh!” Anita yelped.
      It was moving over towards the left side of the board.  
     “Where’s the T?” Tamsin said. “Oh. Never mind.”
      Suddenly the piece started moving back towards the center.  Toward the T. 
      I glanced at Alex, who looked at me and we both knew: it wasn’t being guided by any spirits.
I love the banter between the girls.  This is not a homogenous group of tweens—they are all different, bringing their own personalities to the table, making them a dynamic group to watch.  Their differences make their interactions a lot more interesting than if they were all similar personalities.  I think this is an important part of writing characters—make them different from each other to give opportunities for banter and conflict.  Even small conflicts, like discussing which boy is cute and why, can bring about funny conversations.
What makes me laugh most about this scene is Tamsin obviously moving the pointer. And she gets it wrong the first time, so has to adjust and start pulling the pointer the other way, still under the ruse that it’s the spirits moving it.  She’s not fooling anyone, but Lilah and Alex play along, letting her make even more of a fool of herself to ensure her crush’s name is spelled out by the ‘spirits’.
What inspired this funny scene?  Well, what inspires a lot of my funniest scenes: real life.  A very similar experience happened to me when I was a kid, probably about Lilah’s age.  A group of us had come upon a Ouija board and were asking it what boys in our class liked us.  I’m sure we were all moving the pointer around, and I even remember one girl trying so hard to discreetly move it to spell out her crush’s name, that her knuckles were white*.  Looking back, that scene is very funny to me, so of course I had to put it into a book.  
* (there is a chance that girl may have been me)
What about you? How do you decide what funny things make it into your book?

Visit Joanne at her website,


  1. Real life is funny isn't it? But not many people have the give of humor, much less being able to put it in their writing.

    1. Real life IS funny. That's where I get all my best stuff.

  2. It was great meeting you, Joanne! I really enjoyed the snippet you left for us to read. The title is a keeper, too.

    I don't give a lot of thought to humor while I'm writing a scene. I usually insert some through particular characters, who've I've developed with a funny bone. ;D

    1. Thanks so much - I'm glad you enjoyed the little excerpt. And it's the characters make the funny, absolutely!

  3. I definitely find funny events from life finding their way into stories. I also have a little journal I keep in my purse. If something makes me laugh (in life or on TV), I write it down so I know events or situations that I think are funny for future reference for stories!

  4. Buying mouth full of teeth! Ha! Sounds like a fun book.

    As for me, I do find a lot of the humor that creeps into my work does so through character, but I too lift details or scenes from my memory, funny things my sister and I did. We told ridiculous fibs.

    1. Thanks, Connie! I love mining my childhood for material; I don't have a sister, but bet you and yours could tell some great stories.

  5. This is great. I follow Joanne on Twitter, and now see she really is a hoot. And the title of her novel is ace.

    I think I'm funny. A couple of people agree--and I do garner a lot of groans from my children. I've a wicked way with puns and can cry real tears at top-notch slapstick. Of course, sometimes I'm laughing/crying and others think I'm crazy. "Funny" is definitely in the eye/ear of the beholder/behearer.

    Good luck with SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, Joanne. And thanks for being a guest poster at Project Mayhem. I'm off to Tweet this!

    1. Hey, Michael! Thanks so much. And FWIW, I think you're funny, too (also thanks to Twitter)! Funny can definitely be in the eye/ear of the beholder, but kids LOVE puns and slapstick, so you're golden.

  6. Love the title, love the scene, love knowing you, Joanne. And by the way, Happy Canada Day! xo

    1. Thanks, Caroline - for all of this! I love knowing you, too. :-D

  7. I love to use humor in my writing. It sucks some of the preachiness and opens kids up to your message.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!