Dan Hill, co-author of BLAH BLAH BLAH: A Snarky Guide to Office Lingo shares tips and tricks for writing humor that works.
The Challenges, Joys & Pitfalls of Writing with Humor
I think the key to successful humor is two-fold: first, it actually has to be funny and, second, there has to be an element of surprise for it to qualify as a “wow” experience for the reader. For me in writing Blah, Blah, Blah, the start was easy. My first entry was DIVERSITY: In senior management, a short white guy. That quip was something I had already been saying for years. Along those lines, a female contributor soon added EQUALITY: 1) A goal evident in any Star Trek episode or movie. 2) A goal considered a form of science fiction in the hallways of corporate America. Right away, I knew that fairness, justice, inclusion would all become themes implicitly central to this book.
I think the key to successful humor is two-fold: first, it actually has to be funny and, second, there has to be an element of surprise…
When did the challenges and pitfalls kick in? Well, there’s straining to be funny. If I wasn’t feeling it, I could take a walk or bike ride. Or a nap. Sometimes for “inspiration” I resorted to a rum-and-coke or glass of wine but knowing how many writers have a problem with alcoholism, I wasn’t about to head down that path very far! Definitely another risk is being mean-spirited or too preachy.
So I came to realize that having a twist to add some “air” was vital. Sometimes a parallel structure could do the trick, such as (being encouraged to) LEAN IN: The precursor to throwing up. Sometimes repetition was all that was needed, as in ACTUALLY: What’s actually said when there’s actually very little to actually say. I did have the advantage of some pretty ripe, obvious targets. For instance, GIVING 110%: What people who normally give 50% say when they ramp up to 60%. Having friends provide feedback was essential. Just putting what you wrote away for a few days, or a week, helps lend perspective, too. In the end, between contributors and what I wrote I had 1,800 entries, of which I went with the best 600. In other words, in the end the way you get to the joy of a great book is daring to delete, plus edit what you keep. Every time my wife told me the book wasn’t quite done yet I wanted to despair but knowing she was right, I kept at it. Waiting for inspiration invites writer’s block; I dug in and found inspiration from the act of making progress on a daily basis!
For more information about BLAH BLAH BLAH: A Snarky Guide to Office Lingo and Dan Hill, visit my earlier blog post and enter to WIN a signed copy of the book!