Description of Class
Humor in writing can achieve many things – disarming a reader, revealing an absurdity, freshening our gaze upon the familiar – and like any part of the writer’s craft, it is tool that can always be sharpened. But how, though?
You know funny when you see it, but it can be tough to summon it and hone it – this class will help you gain skill getting from okay premise to solid laugh line, and from a tepid take on a topic to a richer and riskier one.
Whether you are a naturally funny person or not; whether you have experience in writing (or attempting) humor or not; whether you’re just looking to add humor to your fiction or other writing, this workshop will focus on practical, immediately applicable mindsets, strategies, and tactical approaches that will enliven and elevate your work. As with any kind of writing, the best humor arises from a place that is truthful to the author.
Dissecting the Frog
In high school bio, you did not just wonder how that frog worked, you fished it out of the formaldehyde and cut it open. In a systematic way, you isolated and identified the organs inside it, which let you see their connections and interdependence.
Which is what we’ll do, by reading short humor pieces aloud, and zeroing in on specific elements that make them funny, that cue a reader to the author’s intentions, that mis- or re-direct the reader’s attention, that defy expectation, that subvert convention, etc. You’ll receive a printout of the text to follow along and to mark it up – so you’ll begin to identify the components that speak to you, that fit your voice and sensibility, align with your tolerance for transgression, etc.
Sourcing Your Frogs
We’ll briefly discuss answers to the Dread Writer Question: “Where do you get your ideas?”
Testing Your Limits
A key part of writing humor is a negotiation between your individual tastes and the prevailing “standards” (of decency, of language, etc.) and “taboos” (sex, religion, violence, etc.) Since a measure of irreverence is central to becoming able to unearth and express what you find funny, you must have a clear idea of where your convictions stack up against “societal norms” and dig around in this territory for material.
We will read aloud (along with printed versions for you to mark up/highlight/refute, etc.) a series of jokes, on a wide spectrum of subjects and from differing sensibilities that will help you refine your sense of what works, what lands and what doesn’t, and, more importantly, why something is funny or isn’t to you.
Assignments to create two SHORT (brevity being the soul of wit, after all) pieces for the following week.
Students will read their pieces aloud and we will identify the bits that are strongest, and where they need work. Humor, more than any other kind of writing is an intensely VERBAL one – its relationship to spoken language is inextricably close, so writers must develop a discerning ear for the music and cadence of the language they’re using. Humor is also – like any other kind of writing – an intensely iterative form that demands our willingness to revisit, revise, and reshape extensively. Real time feedback = BEST means of accelerating your progress.
The best humor comes from the most nimble, playful, anarchic part of our brains – in other words, the part of us that we devote a lot of energy to censoring when we need to feign being grownups. We’ll cover this simple structured brainstorming method – one that you can use on your own or in a group – that “tricks” your brain into loosening up and letting fly. We will collaborate to devise the prompts for the assignment you’ll be writing.
Assignments – again, you’ll have two BRIEF writing assignments, due the following week.
Mind Your Tone
Humor is at LEAST as much about the sensibility conveyed by the author as it is about the actual content of the material being conveyed. Building on our findings from Weeks One and Two (your personal preferences in material/style, your innate sense of “propriety” or lack of it, your insights from the feedback of instructor/other students, etc.) to get your closer to your singular point of view, your rhythm and style. Citing examples from published and student work, we will discuss the various “ingredients” comprising a humor writer’s “manner” and “diction,” and what in your own work and personality get you closer to your own voice and sense of flow.
Riotous in Revision
Like any writing, humor comes fully alive through a writer’s willingness to obsessively revise. Revisiting the “Brainstorm” techniques from Week Two, we will discuss tactics for sharpening and punching up your own work.
Assignments – you will create one new piece, and will revise a previous piece.
Student readings of REVISED work/feedback.
You’ve got this stack of frogs. A couple of which are all cut up and reassembled. What’re you supposed to do with ‘em?
The answer depends on what your goals are as a writer. There are tons of online humor sites and journals, always hungry for content. There is always room in otherwise serious fiction and essays for a well-timed dose of humor. There is no greater way of winning over the audience for your play or screenplay than infusing it with humor. We will close out the workshop to discuss some possible next steps, guiding principles for incorporating humor into your future work, and Q & A.Top