I am by no means an expert on the subject of prose constructivisation – not having any formal qualifications directly related to writing, nor any best-selling novels – but I have been putting pen (and pencil) to paper for quite some time now; so surely I have some useful insights on the creation of effective visual and written humour, right? Either that, or I can simply present unto you a sprawling, incoherent semi-narrative that will astound, baffle and perplex you for all the wrong reasons…. and make you late for that big 9:30 meeting you were supposed to be preparing for, which you haven’t done because this blog rivetted your attention like some slow-motion car crash.
Well, whichever’s good.
In no particular order, here are fifteen(ish) hints and tricks that will allow
you too to stun the unwary:
1) If you can’t make fun of yourself, you have no right to make fun of other people. Mad Magazine does it. The Simpsons do it. Hey, I just did it in my opening paragraph! Being able to acknowledge (and make light of) your own quirks and foibles every now and again is A) fun, B) therapeutic, and C) a good sign to everyone else that you don’t take yourself too seriously.
2) When writing a gag or pithy piece of dialogue, be succinct: if you can say it in five words, you don’t need to say it in twenty.
3) Related to the above, unless you WANT to kill your joke stone dead, don’t nail a long-winded, clunky explanation onto it in an effort to make people ‘understand it’. They either get the joke, or they don’t; simple as that. If you’ve done it properly, the joke should be able to stand on its own without the academic equivalent of
‘Huh? Huh? Get it? Get It?!’
4) Also related to the above, don’t treat your audience as if they’re stupid, and
therefore need to be spoon-fed every little detail (‘cause you’ll very rapidly
end up with no audience), and
5) Don’t dumb down a perfectly good joke simply because one person DOESN’T get it – or, worse yet, peppers you with impractical, misinformed suggestions on how to ‘make it easier for people like me to understand it’. All that will do is ensure that NOBODY will find it funny, no even the ‘people like me’s’. Valid, constructive criticisms? Great, take notice of them. But if all you can see is your joke bloating into a giant, unreadable mess, steer well clear of that path paved with good intentions….
6) Remember the ‘Rule of Three’ in both pictures and prose – for whatever ambiguous reason, running gags are funniest if you serve them up in groups of three. Any more than that, and they lose all their momentum, stop being funny, and start being annoying.
7) Let your artwork do the talking: if the pictures in your comic strip provide your audience with as much information as the text (or even more, if you’re lucky), then that’s half the job done for you. Save that epic five-paragraph description of the guy falling into the swimming pool for your novel, or something.
8) Take a beat – having a dialogue-free panel where the characters pause to consider what they have seen, heard or are thinking (or they have simply been stunned into silence BY any of the above) can greatly aid the pacing of a story / gag, to say nothing of underlining how significant the comment or event is!
9) Don’t be absurd simply for the sake of being absurd – have some method to your madness, and be able to justify all the crazy stuff going on within the context of the story. Yeh, okay, so a giant eggplant has just crashed through the ceiling: does it add anything to the story, or does it simply yank all the attention AWAY from the story?
10) Use humour to make weighty subject matter (like, say, something scientific) more understandable, more accessible and more interesting – make them laugh and make them think at the same time.
11) Do your homework – read stuff by funny people. Terry Pratchett, James Roberts, Douglas Adams, Bill Watterson, that snarky blog about contemporary politics; whoever. Figure out not only what about their work makes you laugh (Puns? Biting social commentary? Clever word-play and descriptions? In-jokes?), but also WHY. Write notes. Figure out your own comedic voice. Run free!
12) If you think of a great joke or a killer piece of dialogue, WRITE IT DOWN RIGHT AWAY. Don’t think ‘Yehh, I’ll just remember it and write it down later’…. Because no. No, you won’t. Especially the dialogue one – frantically trying to remember the exact wording that you heard or thought of eight hours after the fact, is the surest sign that your brilliant joke is about to fall to pieces in your hands….
13) You can’t force a dud joke to be funny – either put it to one side and come back to it later, or just junk it and move on to the next one. If it ain’t workin’, it ain’t workin’.
14) Follow the ‘Two of Six’ rule proposed by Dilbert creator Scott Adams in his book The Joy of Work: combine two or more of the key elements of humour (cuteness, meanness, bizarreness, recognizability, naughtiness, cleverness) in various combinations to generate a near-infinite number of jokes on virtually any subject.
15) Facial expressions and body language. That’s all I’m going to say.
Facial expressions. And body language.