There comes a time when every writer looks to add a little extra zing to their articles or stories in the form of humor. Nothing spices up a piece of writing like a good joke.
E. B. White said: “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it”.
Be that as it may, there are a number of techniques available to help spruce up your articles, and add that extra zing.
1. Do the twist
Think of a proverb, a quote, a phrase, or an idiom and turn it on its head.
For example, you know that: To err is human, to forgive divine.
But did you know that “To purr is catty, to moo bovine” (© Gargi Mehra)
Dictionaries of idioms and proverbs can prove useful for reference. Rhyming dictionaries can help you quickly come up with ludicrous pairs.
Note how JK Rowling twists small words which results in unique names for her characters, for example, Professor Umbridge. The name is clearly a riff on the word umbrage, and the character lives up to it – she doesn’t take kindly to Harry’s offenses.
2. The elements of surprise
Employed effectively in one-liners, the element of surprise shocks the reader into laughter. Consider the popular t-shirt slogan
I was born intelligent—education ruined me.
The first part of the sentence sounds perfectly staid—it’s the punch line that totally catches us by surprise and makes us laugh.
JK Rowling uses this device to remarkable effect frequently in the Harry Potter series.
In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, after the trio have got into trouble, Hermione says, “We could have been killed, or worse, expelled!”
3. Visual humor
A picture is worth a thousand words, but a funny picture conjured up in reader’s head is priceless. The humorous novels of stalwarts like PG Wodehouse, Douglas Adams, JK Rowling and even romance writer Georgette Heyer are filled with descriptions of people in awkward hilarious situations.
Check out the opening paragraph of Leave it to Psmith by the inimitable PG Wodehouse:
At the open window of the great library of Blandings Castle, drooping like a wet sock, as was his habit when he had nothing to prop his spine against, the Earl of Emsworth, that amiable and boneheaded peer, stood gazing out over his domain.
4. Use officious language in an informal situations
The trick here is to use the kind of language normally reserved for legal and other official purposes, but in an informal piece of writing. Here’s the first paragraph of a letter from a Human Resources executive to his beloved, written in the form of an offer letter for a job:
I am very happy to inform you that I have fallen in love with you since Monday, the 15th of June.
With reference to the meeting held between us on the 15th of June at 9.30 hours, I would like to present myself as a prospective lover. Our love affair would be on probation for a period of three months and depending on compatibility would be made permanent.
Of course, upon completion of probation, there will be continuous on-the-relationship training and relationship appraisal schemes leading up to promotion from lover to spouse.
The expenses incurred for coffee and entertainment would initially be shared equally between us.
I request you to kindly respond within 7 days of receiving this letter, failing which, this offer would be treated as cancelled and I shall be considering some other girl.
I would be happy, if you could forward this letter to your sister/friend, if you do not wish to take up this offer.
Thanking you in anticipation.
A similar concept can be applied in varied combinations, but the central idea states that the content is at odds with the tone in which it is written.
5. Observe and note funny things
At work, in a train or even at the grocery store—the world is chock full of unusual people. Humor writers can draw inspiration for comic characters heavily from real life. If my ears weren’t sharp enough, I would never have overheard gems like “He was arguing like a nonsense!”
This supplies me with perfect dialogue if I were to write a character whose main aim in life is to butcher the Queen’s English.
With the passing away of a genius comedian like Robin Williams, humor and comedy should start getting the seriousness it deserves such that comic novels win the Booker and comedies win the Oscar. Until then, however, have fun bringing smiles and tears of laughter to readers using the above tips.
About the author:
Gargi Mehra writes fiction and humor in a determined effort to unite the two sides of the brain in cerebral harmony. Her fiction has appeared in Page & Spine, Tincture Journal, GlassFire, Bartleby Snopes and Liquid Imagination among other online avenues. She blogs at http://gargimehra.wordpress.com/. She tweets on writing as @gargimehra
Also by Gargi Mehra:
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