Friday, August 28, 2015

Writing to Tickle the Funny Bone by Lois W. Stern


by Lois W. Stern

On the fourth year of my Tales2Inspire "Authors Helping Authors" contest, I got a headache. From stories of animals to ex-cons, each collection up until then had hit the mark, with stories that everyone seemed to think were fabulous - including me. Then one day I woke up with a brainstorm. “Humor uplifts our spirits so why not create a collection of funny stories?”  I almost rue the day I awakened with that thought! Whereas in past years the author/judges were pretty much in agreement when it came to scoring the story submissions, this time was different. What tickled one judge’s funny bone left another one flat. What struck one judge as hysterical, struck the next as a shaggy dog story. And yet author/judges did agree on some, which left me to ponder, What was the magic ingredient to those stories with more universal appeal?

In looking more closely, I began to see some patterns to successful humor stories, and began to record my hunches. High on the list were stories with self-deprecating humor, where the author was willing to show their vulnerability, even laugh at their own insecurities. Next came relatability. If the storyteller’s situation or predicament was not simply funny, but one often experienced by others, the writer/judges were likely to give it higher scores. And third came stories that showed the innocence of childhood, or from protagonists of any age who took words too literally or altogether misinterpreted them. Finally, judges seemed to enjoy stories with unexpected twists or outcomes.

I decided to test my theories by asking members of various LinkedIn Writers groups this question:
 What makes one story tickle the funny bone of pretty much everyone who reads it, while others tend to fall flat? Think Seinfeld, your favorite sit-com, or laugh-aloud stories closer to home. Put it into a one sentence definition of ‘your take’ on universal humor. NOTE: I will be including some of your responses in an article for the blog, Writing in the Modern Age, so only respond if you are giving me permission to include your quote, name and photo.

This posting opened the floodgates. I received more savvy comments than space allows, but here is a sampling.

"A story is genuinely funny when one or more characters experience things that readers relate to, what the characters are experiencing, both inside and out. Physical humor and pratfalls are corny."

- Jenny Lykins, LinkedIn group: Indie authors

". . . What is funny to me is often just the right side of tragic. The two - comedy and tragedy are closely connected. For example, as I write this the TV is reporting the FIFA affair. I know the FIFA case is very serious. On the other hand, what could be funnier than the FIFA team of self-important self-justifying crooks, mouthing lies and platitudes, claiming to be acting in the general interest while being shown up for all to see as world class organized criminals.
What makes a story funny is a sudden unexpected turn in events or an unexpected contrast in someone's actions. One of the funniest stories of the last month was the viral story of the local mayor who went to the bathroom in the middle of a council meeting, forgetting that her microphone was still on and connected to the loud speaker. I don't know anyone who didn't find that funny - the unexpected contrast between municipal dignity and basic human functions.

- Chris Payne, LinkedIn group: Writers World

"Any funny story that actually manages to transport the readers/listeners away, away from their here and now, even if for only a few minutes, and get them to actually envisage the story being told: that is the story that will make them laugh."

- Venkatesh Lyer, LinkedIn group: Writers World


"Japanese and Chinese humor because 1) is intellectual content, 2) its slips of the tongue, 3) it plays on English grammar and 4) its freshness and innocence compared to western humor."
- Delicious Vodka DeBlair, LinkedIn group: Check it out

"I feel it begins with being self-deprecating and being able to make fun of ourselves. Then looking at the increasing absurdity that is passed off as truth like global warming is a God hoax and making satire at how truth is subjugated to dog poop and lies that divide people are integrity."

- Jeffrey Winters, LinkedIn group: Check it out

"Writing humor is all in the rhythm and timing, and so is the delivery when it's oral. But I agree with Rhonda and Adofo that vulnerability plays a huge role in both."
- Rita Robinson, LinkedIn group: Writers World

"For me, universal humor is anything that "surprises your body". As humans, we're constantly predicting what comes next. When you're expecting one thing and you get something entirely different, it tends to make you laugh. Try this theory on anything that you found particularly funny in the past, and you'll see what I mean."
- Michael Lunsford, LinkedIn group: Two Bits

"Writing comedy can be quite challenging, I think. You have to see the absurdity in the commonplace."

- Jeanne Gassman, LinkedIn group: Literature Lovers - - Readers and Writers

 By the time this article appears, the humor category might be closed, so if you think you might want to enter the Tales2Inspire contest,
you should first do two things:

Check out my video What’s In It For You?  

Scamper over to to check out the
Tales2Inspire theme for the next book collection.

 Free to enter. No submission fees. 



Thanks for stopping by, Lois, with this positive food for thought!

Guest Blogger Bio

After twenty years as an active educator, Lois W. Stern continued to pursue her love of writing, soon becoming co-editor of a popular Long Island web-zine. As she created and authored her column Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives, she solidified her special niche of investigative journalism and put those same talents to work while writing two books on aesthetics, Sex, Lies and Cosmetic Surgery and Tick, Tock, Stop the Clock – Getting Pretty on Your Lunch Hour  to address many of the less invasive paths to beauty. 
After these forays into writing, Lois began creating what she calls ‘Inner Beauty’ stories - inspiring stories to touch the heart and soul. She initiated her Tales2Inspire™ “Authors Helping Authors” project/contest as a means of sharing inspirational messages written by authors from across the globe. One of her goals has been to help talented authors build solid platforms on their individual paths to discovery. "Tales2Inspire™ began a whole new chapter in my life,” says Lois.
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