5 Ways to Add Humor to Your Writing

1373807555xxxa8


Humor is a life-giving stress reliever and ice breaker. I often sprinkle my talks, articles and books with funny word pictures and phrases, because laughter opens a reader/listener’s heart to the serious points I want to make. Thankfully, my home is full of crazy guys (including my husband, who’s the most hilarious person I’ve ever met) and I’m a ditzy, accident-prone bundle of midlife hormones. Thus, I’m never short on material.

It’s true that humor, like writing, is an innate gift, and some people have it in abundance. Others…well, not so much. However, certain aspects of both crafts can be taught. As a follow-up to this popular post, here are a few ways to humorously pump up your prose:

1. Wordplay.

Mae West said, “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.” Classic!

Cultivate your LOL quotient by reading children’s books, which are full of 1362536802le12smarvelous wordplay. Humor writers and comedians are childlike spirits–playing constantly with sounds, alliteration, and rhyme. Let loose a little, and see what happens.

2. Exaggeration.

Never stop at one when fourteen will do. In humor, less is not more and more is better. Erma Bombeck, one of my all-time favorites, was a master at exaggeration: “I’ve exercised with women so thin that buzzards followed them to their cars.”

Remember George Burns? He often exaggerated about his age: “When I was a boy the Dead Sea was alive.”

3. Surprise.

When my nine-year-old saw that our local drive-in was up for sale, he said, “Mom, I’m sad about that. It’s such an iconic part of our town.” I laughed because I was surprised that he knew the word at all, let alone used it correctly.

Want your reader to laugh? Take a phrase and change the ending to something unexpected, like Jim Carrey did:  “Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes.” Stephen Wright makes a living by crafting surprise endings to one-liners: “A lot of people are afraid of heights. Not me, I’m afraid of widths.”

4. Parody.

“Weird” Al Yankovich has been doing parody songs for years. More recently, Christian comedians Tim Hawkins (“Cletus, Take the Reel,” etc.) and Anita Renfroe (“All the Wrinkled Ladies”) have gotten into the act. There’s even a clever parody of the infamous song “Blurred Lines” called “Church Signs.” The writers make fun of Christians’ tendency to preach mini-sermons with little plastic letters.

A word of caution (especially for Christian writers): let’s be careful when poking fun at other people. Sarcasm can be soul-crushing, as can insult humor. Remember the Golden Rule.

5. Learn from the best.

Read funny writers, watch comedy videos on Netflix, take courses in humor writing, or read books about the craft. You can also hire professional humor writers to spice up your work (I did this with the first book proposal I sold, and learned a ton from the experience.)

While you’re learning, though, remember to be yourself and not a copy of someone else. Readers can tell when you’re trying to force a joke, and it will make them uncomfortable. Find a style of humor you like, and try it on for size. Ask for opinions from people you trust–if it doesn’t fit, simply try another.

Most of all, have fun!

How have you used humor in your writing?

January Kick in the Writerly Pants

martial-arts-225397_640It’s that slumpy time of year. The holidays are over. Resolutions have hit the wall like a crash-test dummy on steroids. It’s Mars-cold outside and really…who’s got time to write when you’re working every conceivable hour to pay off the mongo credit card bill that’ll hit your mailbox at the end of the month?

Now that we’ve got all the whining out of the way, it’s time to buck up, little writing mongrels. Park your rear in a chair, stick your shnoz on the writerly grindstone, and get down to business by using a few of the following tips.

5 AWESOME WAYS TO CRANK OUT MORE WORDS PER DAY

#1. Kick your internal editor to the curb.

Newsflash: in order to up your daily word count, you have to actually write the words. If you muss and fuss over each one, you’ll end up with a total of about twenty-five words by the time the sun sets. At that rate, it will take you a bajillion years to finish your manuscript. So whip out some duct tape, slap it on your internal editor’s mouth, and pound away at the keyboard until your fingers are stubby little nubs. You can—and will—edit those words later.

#2. Pull up your pants.

At heart, I am a seat-of-the-pants writer. I don’t like to know what’s coming because hey, writing should be as much fun as reading, right? Nope. Not if you want to succeed at finishing a novel in a timely manner. If you come to your WIP without a clue of what you’re going to write, you will spend time thinking of what to write. Savvy? Map out your story. Write a general outline. And always make sure to end your writing time with a sentence or two of how you will pick up the plot when you return to it the next day.

#3. Put first things first.

Write in the morning, whether you’re a night owl or not. Psychologically, it’s a mental game of beat the clock. In the morning, you’ve got hours and hours ahead of you. If you wait until late at night, you’re more likely to nod off and give in to the siren call of Pillowland. Starting out your day by writing means you get to pass Go and collect $200.

#4. Write all day.

Before you start the tomato throwing and Hey-Princess-I-Have-A-Real-Job snarkiness, hear me. I understand. Life is all up in my business as well. But that doesn’t mean you can’t snatch and grab snippets of time throughout the day. Pound out a few words during your lunch break. Traffic jams sucking up minutes? Voice note a plot idea on your phone. Waiting for an appointment? Jot down a character trait you’ve been meaning to add in.

#5. Be a track star.

Mapping out a schedule sounds like a whopping nerd of a plan, but dude, it works, kind of like a food journal keeps you on track for a diet. Shoehorn in writing time on every day of your calendar for the next month and you’ll feel like a legit writer. Setting a goal on paper (or cyberly via keyboard) will keep you accountable.

There you have it. Tools for your writerly workbox. Which one will you put into practice today?

Jumping in the Deep End With Your Characters

Fiction writers write stories, and the best stories are the ones that bring the reader into the characters’ lives. As writers, we want our characters to take on lives of their own, to seem real, to bring the reader along on the journey.

The best way to do that is to give our characters identifiable goals that move them from one end of the book to the other, propelling them forward until they reach their dream.

Sounds simple, right? Well, it isn’t quite that simple.

Image

Our hero doesn’t just need a goal – the “what” of what he wants. We need to dig a little deeper. For example, your hero wants to become a doctor. That’s a worthy goal. But what makes it an important goal, one that the readers care about, is that he wants to become a doctor because his younger brother died of a mysterious disease. He wants to identify the disease and find a cure for it. That’s his motivation, the thing that keeps him moving toward his goal.

What keeps the reader turning the page, though, is that there is something or someone in conflict with the hero, trying to keep him from attaining his goal. Perhaps it’s a lack of money that keeps him from going to school. Perhaps it’s another medical student who competes with him at every turn – cheating whenever he can. Perhaps your hero has the same disease that killed his brother, and he knows he has a limited time to find the cure. Or maybe it’s the hero’s daughter who has the disease…that ramps up the tension a bit, doesn’t it?

This concept is covered well in one of my favorite writing books, Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon. I try to read it at least once a year, and I learn a bit more about ImageGMC every time I read it.

But I recently found something else to use to bring my readers deeper into my characters’ lives. As we write, we often ask ourselves, “What would my hero do in this situation?” To go deeper, you need to know not only what your character would do, but what your character would never do.

Let’s look at our hero who wants to be the doctor. He’s smart, good-looking, dedicated, compassionate, honest. We know what he would do in most situations. We also know he would never murder anyone. How could he? He’s dedicated his life to helping people.

But think how the tension would crackle if you put your doctor-to-be in a situation where he has to make a choice between the life of a stranger and the life of his daughter. What would he do? Could he do the unthinkable?

Taking your readers through your hero’s thoughts and emotions as he wrestles with that decision brings them deeper into his character than anything else you can do. They sweat with him as he realizes he’s in a no-win situation. They feel the dread of making a decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life. And they celebrate with him when he comes upon the only solution – the perfect solution that preserves both lives.

So think about the hero or heroine in your work in progress. What is the one thing he or she would never do?

And what situation will guarantee they’ll have to contemplate taking that step?

Jan Drexler lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband of thirty years, their four adult children, two rowdy dogs, and Maggie, the cat who thinks she’s a dog. If she isn’t sitting at her computer living the lives of her characters, she’s probably hiking in the Hills or the Badlands, enjoying the spectacular scenery.

Jan’s debut novel, The Prodigal Son Returns, was published by Love Inspired in May 2013.

Writing Life Lessons

photoNo matter what stage I’m at in the writing journey, whether it’s researching, plotting, writing, or editing, I continue to learn. Currently, I’m in my last round of edits for my debut novel, Shaken. Man, has it been humbling. I don’t claim to have all the answers to this writing journey, but here are a few tips I’ve learned from trial and error. Like my novels, I’m always a work in progress.

Paint a scene

This seems like a no-brainer, right? I thought it was, too. Except sometimes I don’t write all that is in my head. Thank goodness for an editor who reads the story and asks me to fill in the holes. Use the senses. Again, you would think this is obvious, but too often we forget. In my second book, I open with a beach scene. Can my reader smell the smoke from the bonfire, taste the salt in the air, feel the whip of the sea breeze, hear the lap of the waves, see the fireworks exploding? If not, I need to keep crafting.

Make connections

Link scenes, events, and characters. As my granddad told my brother when he came home from college late one night, “Account for yourself!” Make sure all your elements are accounted for, and again, not just in your head. If a character just spoke yet the scene ends and they are nowhere to be found, make sure there is a clue to the reader of where they went and when they exited the conversation. Again, these should be obvious, but sometimes when I focus on the story line at large, I forget these important little details that further immerse the reader in the story.

Books are not movies

I tend to see my book playing out like one of Nicholas Spark’s movies – sweeping, southern, and characters that tug at your heart. Except, books are not movies. What a viewer can take in in a few seconds of a new scene takes a lot longer to paint in a book. The best movies come from books that paint vivid scenes. Think the party scenes in Gatsby where Fitzgerald describes the house and guests in great detail. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, stop reading this right now and at least read those scenes.

Kill your “darlings”

This is a lesson one my college professors shared with me, and regardless of the time passage, it doesn’t get easier. First, let’s define “darlings.” It is any piece of your story that you are attached to that does not ultimately propel the story forward. You may think a scene is epic, but will your readers care? Does it demonstrate an irreplaceable character quality or scene that is essential to your reader’s knowledge of the story line? Is your attachment greater than the reader’s? If yes, then don’t be afraid to kill that “darling.” Your story will be better for it. Trust me, I know it’s painful, but strike with your red pen and make the page bleed.

You’ll never be completely satisfied

photo copyStop looking at the blinking cursor. Save and send. Your story will never be perfect. If you are waiting for that, choose a different career. I emailed my mentor a couple months ago and told her I thought my story sucked and I wanted to start from scratch. She laughed (I could sense it over email), and told me that it was great for where I’m at now. The next novel will be better than the first, and the third better than the second. If you know you have done all you can do right now, then allow yourself to be satisfied with the results and send that sucker. I still find mistakes in my short stories from college, and I couldn’t count how many times I have edited those pages. But I’ve also increased in my ability and my knowledge since college. I’ll focus on doing my best now and realize that I’m always growing.

What writing tips have you picked up along the way?

Sense Is Worth More Than You Think

Taken from http://www.clker.com

Imagine a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies just pulled from the oven. Is it the sight that makes you drool, the buttery sweet smell, or the anticipation of the warm chocolate gooiness spreading over your tongue with the first bite? The correct answer is all of the above.

God gave us five senses (doesn’t that spa look like an awesome get away after a day of writing?) that work in harmony. If you really want to connect with your reader, you’ll do the same. In each scene, your goal should be to incorporate as many senses as possible.

Let’s say you’ve got your character sitting out in a field. What might you describe?

Smell

Basswood blooms wafting on the breeze are a sweet fragrance. In fact, there are a lot of great aromas floating about in a field. But if you really want to poke your reader and leave a mark, don’t forget unexpected odors. Descriptions that twang a reader’s senses are what they’ll remember. In the case of smell, what about a surprising gust of vinegary sauerkraut? Who’d expect that? It could even play into your plot, throwing in a sideways twist.

Hearing

Birdsong. Bugs buzzing. A breeze shushing through the leaves. Those are all common sounds, but there are other, more obnoxious noises that are every bit as common. What about airplanes drowning out a conversation or construction workers banging away in the background? Even idyllic places have jarring sounds, and these make your story more realistic.

Sight

This is the number one sense that most writers nail without effort. The trick here is to weave in a little genuine humanity. In the case of the field, you can certainly wax verbose about wildflowers and rolling hills, but to really make it memorable what about the discarded water bottle out in the middle of nowhere? We’ve all seen it. Or maybe a WalMart bag peeking out from the bottom of a shrub. Not pretty, but definitely real.

Feeling

The sun heats your skin, and a gentle breeze tempers that warmth, but don’t forget about the prickly thistles that stick to your pant legs, then latch onto your fingers like unrelenting Velcro when you try to pick them off. Touch isn’t just about pleasant feelings. Remember to connect with the uncomfortable aspects of life.

Taste

This is most often seen as, “She ate a strawberry” or “He slugged back his coffee.” Nice action, but that doesn’t tell the reader a thing about how those items taste. Describe the flavor. Is it so sweet her teeth hurt? Sour enough that he wants to rip out his tongue and wipe it on his sweater? Taste can also be compared to a happy or sad memory. Puckerlicious lemonade always makes me think of my grandma’s front porch. Or have your character absolutely hate a food that most people love, making them more notable. After all, doesn’t every writer want their characters to remain in a reader’s mind long after they’ve closed the book?

This week challenge yourself to incorporate all five senses into your writing. It’s an easy investment that will pay off by connecting with your readers at an intimate level.

 

How to Captivate Readers

Small Child Reading

Wonderment

Children’s eyes

See marvels,

Creation

Born anew,

Wonderment

In each small

Everything.

Give me, Lord,

A child’s view.

©Janalyn Voigt

The cup of tea at your elbow grows cold.The dryer buzzes, but you hardly notice. The clock ticks past the time to make dinner, but you turn the page and read on, captured by the author’s creative world.

When they can make readers forget they’re reading, books rank high on purchase lists. Figuring out how this happens is well worth the effort. Can such a thing be identified? Bringing the reader so fully into a story would seem to take an elusive blend of mastery and pixie dust. Besides, don’t readers’ preferences dictate which books will draw them in?

I would have agreed to this idea a week ago, but not any longer. You see, the book I’m currently reading for a literary contest is a young adult story. With my teen years forever behind me, I am not a target reader for this book. In fact, when I first picked it up, I groaned inwardly. While being required as a literary judge to read a slew of books might seem an envious pursuit, the bare truth is that sometimes I wind up stuck with a book I’d otherwise never open. It would be arrogant of me to judge another author’s writing without actually reading it, and so in a fit of fortitude I slog doggedly onward until the merciful end.

If that had been the case with this particular book, I wouldn’t be writing this post. It wasn’t. I did have to push past a slow start, but then the story enveloped me like a warm shawl on a chilly evening. I read late into the night, turning pages in a way that would have gratified the author. As I mentioned, I am not this author’s target audience, so I may never crack one of her books, but the next day I found her Goodreads page and became a fan. Why? Because her writing transported me in a way few books have. And I read a lot of books. If my experience is anything to go by, preference has little to do with captivating a reader.

What does, then? I asked myself this question with an interest not in the least academic. I want to apply this writer’s secret sauce to my own writing. I read the rest of the book with that goal in mind. What I discovered rocked me to the core.

Apart from the necessities of craft and mastery, two distinct factors elevated the story: a unique writing voice empowered by a vivid imagination. The author’s strong sense of self expressed without reserve resonated within her fully imagined story.

In these days of rapid writing, let’s not forget to add art to craft. The demands on you to produce and promote can steal the soul from your writing, if you let it. Feeding your inner artist is the only way to tap the wellspring of creative life within and produce enduring works. That will look different for each of us, but one thing remains true for all. The way forward is backward. At least mentally, let yourself step backward into childhood and discover the world with fresh eyes.

What books have you read lately that have surprised you? Transported you back to your childhood?

The Joy of Research

What’s black and white and red all over?

Or is it “read” all over?

No matter.

The answer is: The desk of a writer.

Covered in words and, yes, sometimes blood, my writing nooks are piled high with books, inch-thick binder clips full of internet printouts, magazines, journals, sticky notes and more. Commonly known as research, this is what the necessary, most rewarding (and fun!) part of the novel-writing process looks like.

Many novels are character-driven, so some folks might not think research plays much of a role in writing a solid story, especially if you’re following the old adage, “write what you know.” However, for characters to have depth, you have to know them. Really know them. You have to know their hobbies, their likes, and their dislikes. You need to know what it felt like to grow up in their hometown and region. You need to know what it feels like to live in the current story setting as well.

So, if you’re new to the writing process, I thought I’d share three research tips with you today.

Research tip #1: Libraries are not dead.

When I’m in all-out research mode, you can find me at my local library at least twice a week, if not more. I live in a relatively small town, so sometimes the strange call numbers I need are not represented on the shelves. But thanks to an amazing, free system called Evergreen Indiana, I can (and do) check out books from all over my state. In fact, Evergreen offers over 2.6 million bibliographic records and provides access to over 6.2 million items. (I think I’ve checked out 1.2 million so far!)

The internet cannot replace the richness of photography and history found in books. Also, books make me feel hot on a story trail like a blood hound after a fox, especially when references at the back of one book open up a wealth of resources and other books I never considered.

The other great (and possibly the best) thing about libraries: there’s no dust or laundry vying for my attention.

Research tip #2: The internet rocks.

If you’re as old as me, you might remember when the go-to resources for current event research were microfilm reels, aperture cards and microfiche. Only after thumbing through phone book-thick books of references could one find relatively current articles on a research topic. Then, there was no guarantee the library carried that journal or magazine. And if it did, squinting through the microscope-like lenses to try to find the information led to headaches and frustration.

Thank goodness for the internet. A few key strokes and you’ve got a gold mine of information to cull through. Here are a few of internet research sites I find especially helpful:

Research tip #3: Master the art of conversation (or listening, rather).

I’m lucky to be a nurse as well as a writer. Not just because it allows me to have enough money to eat, but also because it offers me so many chances to talk to and learn from folks I’d otherwise never meet. My favorite patients are octo- and nonagenarians, because I can pick their wise and nimble brains for topics like what it really felt like to live through the depression and what really makes a marriage work for 60+ years.

But you don’t have to be a nurse (or a patient, for that matter) to enhance a story. For one of my novels, I spent an afternoon talking to a local bar owner five states away, just to hear what he had to say about local lore and life.

Take time to listen to people,  and you’ll gather interesting story ideas otherwise never imagined.

What about you? What are your favorite research tools? Websites? Resources?

Tension or Frustration?

There was this book I read recently that made me all kinds of frustrated. My inner growl came out. I found myself skimming through the last third of the story, rolling my eyes, muttering things like, “Come on, already!”

Which got me thinking.

As writers, we talk a lot about the importance of tension. Heck, Donald Maass says we better have it on every single page. So the question begs to be asked.

What’s the difference between tension and frustration?

Is there one?

When I think of frustrating books, two titles come to mind. Both are best-sellers.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

New Moon (the second book in the Twilight series)

These books frustrated me for the same reason. Which involved the disappearance of a beloved character for a much-too-big chunk of the story.

Yet they are incredibly popular novels and much-loved by readers. Including me. So is frustration a mute point? Should we go for it?

I don’t know….

Frustration has to be one of the most annoying emotions. And I’m not sure annoyance is something we should ever aspire to do to our readers.

Tension. Good.

Frustration. Not so good.

The first brings readers to the edge of their seats. The second makes them want to light the book on fire.

So how do we embrace the first and avoid the second?
s
Avoid drawing things out for an eternity.
Yes, we want to prolong tension. But not to the point of frustration. Sometimes, best practice involves giving the reader what they want, then hooking them with something else.
s
Keep popular characters in the story.
Don’t make a beloved character disappear for too long. Unless absolutely necessary. But even then, you risk the wrath of your reader.
s
Sprinkle in moments of gratification.
Sure, maybe you can’t have your hero and heroine get together until the end, but that doesn’t mean you can’t throw in some chemistry-laden tender moments between the two. There needs to be a positive correlation between frustrating moments and gratifying ones. The more frustrating a novel may be, the more gratifying moments we better include.
s
Make the ending uber satisfying.
And I do mean uber. Like ultra uber. Especially, especially, especially if our stories lend themselves to frustration. The more frustrating a novel, the more satisfying the ending better be. Because even if we frustrate our readers, they will forgive us anything in the world if we satisfy the heck out of them at the end. Just like I forgave Stephanie Meyer the minute Bella hurled through the crowded square of Volterra and catapulted herself into Edward’s stone-cold arms.
s
The book I brought up in the beginning? The ending wasn’t as satisfying as it needed to be to soothe my frustrated nerves. So it left a bad taste in my mouth. Despite the good writing and character development.
s
When I think of a team of writers who have figured out this whole tension/frustration dichotomy, my mind automatically jumps to Vampire Diaries. They are experts in magnifying the tension without causing frustration. Which is why I love the show so very much. I even wrote a post about it: Tips from Television.
s
Let’s Talk: What do you say about frustration? Is it okay to frustrate readers? Is there a book that frustrated the heck out of you, but you still love it to pieces?

*Photo by Ellie Goff