Friday, December 2, 2011

Writing Humor

It takes skill to write, no matter what genre, style, and tone you take. But I sometimes think that writing humor is the most challenging of all. I manage to be funny sometimes, but it's like either the mood has to strike me, or I have to have a flash of insight that leads to a punch line, or I need time to let the idea stew until it yields a laugh.

Courtesy of
Writing humor isn't always easy.

Which is why it's all the more amazing to read some of the best of the worst descriptions ever written. (Or at least, ever written for a Washington Post contest.) It's not easy to write a purposely bad and funny simile. I admire those who did it well enough to get chosen for the list of the top 56 worst analogies. You can read them all here: The 56 best/worst similes.

My favorite of the bunch tells you a lot about the "character" who gives the description. It's actually a great example of how word choices can help reveal a character's personality. Imagine the person who might say this:

I felt a nameless dread. Well, there probably is a long German name for it, like Geschpooklichkeit or something, but I don’t speak German. Anyway, it’s a dread that nobody knows the name for, like those little square plastic gizmos that close your bread bags. I don’t know the name for those either.

Personally, I found this hilarious! It would be great to include a similar passage in a book. But it also helps me imagine who the speaker is. I picture a person who can't let a cliche like "nameless dread" lie untouched. A person who is precise, even anal, about details, even though at the same time, he/she doesn't have the details he/she needs. And this person is a talker. I'd expect him (or her) to rattle on with useless information, even in the face of a sudden attack by the enemy. In other words, a great comic foil for a humorous epic fantasy tale.

It's fun to see the power of our words. And for writers, we have the power to choose what to put down on the page. What our characters will say. How our narration will sound. Sure, the story dictates our choices to a certain extent. But our skill and our personality gets into the mix, and helps us create that unique voice that is ours alone.

Let's have our own blog contest with words. See if you can come up with a funny description, especially a simile or metaphor like the aforementioned Washington Post contest entries. I'll choose the best one and maybe even figure out a modest prize to award. At the very least, if you win you'll have bragging rights, and I'll post your winning entry and your name on my blog and give you a little extra Twitter love and free advertising for your own blog, Twitter account, book, etc.

Note: If you don't have a blog or book right now, you can still enter. If you win, I'll figure out another little prize for you instead of the advertising. So no worries!

Post your entry in the comments below. And send me a Twitter message if for some reason you can't enter a comment, and I'll enter it for you. I'm @chippermuse.

I'll announce a winner next Friday, December 9.

Until then, may you live long and prosper, like a really rich person who lives an unexpectedly long time.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.


  1. "She left him standing in the street, dangling like the last scrap of toilet paper on the cardboard tube, fluttering in pale mockery of its erstwhile usefulness."

  2. I think it's really really super duper hard to write humor on purpose! Like, I don't think I could ever set *out* to write a humor piece and have good things happen. But sometimes when I'm writing my serious, gloomy stories, something will just tickle my funny bone and I just have to include it.

    Thanks for sharing the article - that simile was truly hilarious!

  3. Really fun post! I think it is harder to write humor, because sometimes humor can be so subjective. What I think is funny may not be what someone else thinks is funny. Anyway, here is my try for your contest:

    "She lifted her chin, adjusted the straps of the fuchsia and lime dress and walked through the tittering crowd, clutching the last shred of her dignity like a coupon queen in the checkout lane searching for the buy-one-get-one-free coupon amongst the crumpled fistfuls of expired deals."

    I don't know if that's funny, but I'd say it qualifies for terrible. :)

  4. Thanks for entering, JP and Kristin. Funny stuff!

    Annalise, since there is still plenty of time, let this idea mull around in your thoughts. You might come up with something to enter after all. I'd love to have you throw your simile in the ring.

  5. A twenty-five year old blonde, looking like the teenage version of my seventy-five year old Aunt Lulu when she won the Miss Hot Rod America Contest in '54, strolled through my office door.

  6. "she looked down at the cloud of fog beneath them, it looked a lot like something her btother could cause... maybe he ate to much chili last night..."
    by the way, that list is awesome!

  7. Ooh, good entries so far! Keep 'em coming!

  8. He stood in the room, noticing that he was under dressed and feeling like Herman Cain at a Women's Rights convention.

  9. Okay, I'm not sure this is exactly right but this is a small excerpt from my WIP.
    It was good too. Really good, like you want to thank God for having brought you to this sweet, sweet, not entirely sweet moment, and you wish it wouldn’t end but then you do, right before you think, then again maybe not. And when it’s over you lay there thanking your lucky stars and as soon as you can actually breathe you find yourself starting to hum before bursting into a full blown rendition of Amazing Grace. That’s how good it was!

  10. Ok, I will be honest, I saw this contest on Twitter and thought it was the worst "smile" contest. I'm slow...

    Anyway, I will try to be back with an entry. This looks fun though! Thanks for sharing it, Michele!

  11. LOL, Brandon! I bet others read it that way too... I'll have to RT with clarified language. :)

  12. Thanks for linking this up with Story Dam :) I'm definitely bookmarking the site so I can check it out later!

    Good Luck everyone!


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