11 Tips For Writing Humour

Find Your Funny – 11 Tips For Writing Humour


It’s difficult to be funny when you write and, in this post, we offer 11 tips for writing humour.

I am going to explore how you can improve your ability to write humour and I’ll start with the books you like to read.

If you’ve attended our Writers Write course, you will understand the importance of listing your favourite books.

I’ve recently revised my list to include the books that I have read this past year and I have noticed something that I haven’t before. The books I like are funny. Not thigh-slapping, loud, guffawing funny, but more like snort, laugh to myself funny, or laugh through the tears funny.

This is interesting to say the least, because, to me, one of the hardest things to crack in writing is humour.

You do get funny people, no doubt, but most of us have to work at being funny. It takes practice. I do believe everyone can be funny or at least funnier than they are now. I don’t think anyone plans to be funny, because humour is opportunistic. It’s up to you to identify those moments or opportunities.

It is also important to find your kind of funny. 

Think of what makes you laugh, and that will steer you in the right direction. Do you like Monty Python or Ellen DeGeneres, Robin Williams or Woody Allen? Each one has a different style or kind of humour.

Humour can be over-the top, slapstick, sarcastic, subtle or inappropriate. John Green makes you laugh through your tears, Janet Evanovich is like Bridget Jones on steroids and Jenny Lawson is ridiculously inappropriate.

But what works for you? You might find that you like a certain kind of humour, but when you write yours, it’s totally different. As much as I love John Green, I suck at sad stories so the chances of me making you laugh and cry are slim, unless my writing is so bad you don’t know if you want to laugh or cry.

Pay attention to you what you say. 

Often we say funny things, but when we write we can’t do it. When you crack a joke, make a note of it. If you and a friend manage to get the people around you to laugh, start recording your conversations.

11 Tips For Writing Humour

  1. Take something familiar and turn it on its head. Use traditional metaphors and clichés and give them odd endings. Example: What does not kill you makes you stranger. Read: What Is A Paraprosdokian?
  2. Study jokes and their structures. Write your own using that formula.
  3. Take a boring piece of writing and try to rewrite it so that it is funny.
  4. Study comedians. Listen to their pace. Learn where to pause and when to speed up.
  5. Be as specific as you can. As with all writing, don’t be generic. Strong verbs and nouns are more important than ever when you’re trying to be funny. A pink poodle is funnier than a dog.
  6. Make sure humour suits your narrative. If you are writing a funny story, start funny and stay funny.
  7. Don’t be funny for the sake of funny, unless you are writing a joke book. If you are writing fiction, you still need a beginning, a middle, and an end; not a series of jokes or funny situations that get you to 50 000 words. You still need a goal and a conflict.
  8. Use the Power of Three: List things in threes. The first one makes you grin, the second should you smile, and the third should make you laugh.
  9. Repetition and word play are great tools. Even if you can’t tell/write a joke wonderful things can emerge when you start playing with your words.
  10. Think of The Big Bang Theory or the last comedy you watched. How did they build it up? How did they structure the joke? Also, be kind to yourself, those shows and movies often rely on teams of writers.
  11. Practise, practise, practise.

Top Tip: Find out more about our Writing Courses. If you want to learn how to write, join us in Johannesburg or sign up for our online courses.

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This article has 5 comments

  1. Robyn Lee

    I was staying in a hotel last year when the fire alarm went off. As all the guests milled around in the designated meeting area, I turned to the lady next to me and commented: “This is a bit alarming!”. She gave me an odd look and the penny dropped. To make it worse, this particular lady was the one who set the alarm off…and copped a $1,000 for a false call out.

  2. Joei Carlton Hossack

    I have many favorites but my favorite funny is: I always resented being an only child until the reading of the will.
    My second favorite is: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to hide the bodies of the people I had to kill because they just pissed me off.

  3. Nicole NA

    Thanks for the tips, Mia. Occasionally, I try to incorporate humor in my writing. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

  4. Jo Manuel

    Love your writing tips. I am a brand new writer with nothing published yet. But there’s hope! Thanks!

  5. Ray McDowell - Freelance Writer

    Thanks for the article. I love to use “double meaning” humor and changes from the expected to the ridiculous. I remember reading such a poem just after my wedding day and the reaction I had. Thankfully, my wife has stuck it out with me for many years. The poem was this: “30 days have September, April, June, and November. All the rest eat peanut butter, except Grandma, She drives a Buick!”
    I had to read this over and it struck me how ridiculous this was and I laughed heartily.

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