McManus’s Rules for Writing Humor #2

Write about your bad experiences, not your good ones. Write about serious events, not funny ones. Write about your failure, not your success. Write about your fear, not your courage. Write about the negative, not the positive. Write about the bad, not the good. A stingy character is funnier than a generous character. A blowhard is funnier than a modest character. I mean character is funnier than a kind one. A daffy character is funnier than a sane one. Here’s a test: you have been on two camping trips. One turned out to be the most wonderful experience of your life, and the other, the worst experience of your life. Which one will you use as a subject for a humor piece?  The Deer on a Bicycle: Excursions into the Writing of Humor, by Patrick F. McManus 

Telling humorous stories comes naturally to me. It is how I cope with the confusion and frustrations of life. And, since I specialize in confusion and frustration, I have a vast source of inspiration to pull from.

In high school, my classmates called me “Gripe”. I could bitch about anything. Lunchtime would find me holding court giving my listeners a renewed optimism for the rest of their day by complaining about my day. Thing is, in my ignorance, I thought this griping was making me popular. Not! They weren’t laughing with me, they were laughing at me. Fifty years later and the wife of one friend still breaks into uncontrollable laughter when she hears my voice on the phone. Needless to say, I stopped calling.

In the Navy, I raised bitching to new heights. The claim, “A bitching sailor is a happy sailor,” never seemed to reward me with the ecstasy I deserved, so I never experienced the happiness promised.

With time and maturity, I realized that bitching attracts people the way a skunk attracts friends. So, I took more showers a habit well received by everyone who knew me. And I turned the bitching into humorous examinations of crazy experiences and people that caused that bitching.

How do I do that? Well, for me the process goes like this.

  • When I observe or think about one of those WTF moments or people, I take each action or word and exaggerate it. In my eBook, Meadow Muffins I examine a neighbor who I called the Landscape Lunatic. This weekend warrior didn’t just cut the weeds in his yard, he trimmed them down to bedrock with his weed whacker. I know when you read this story you will remember someone from your life who is the same way. If you do, write about them like I did. It is surprising how easy it is to capture the humor of their actions by using creative exaggeration.
  • In my eBook, Hard Hat Dazed I examine Engineers. Using the same creative exaggeration I include this paragraph so that the reader gets a visual image of the attitude most construction workers have towards Engineers;
    Engineers, like other odd life forms, have their own unique methods of communicating with the rest of the world. All sentences use a minimum of thirty words, each having at least fifteen words containing at least eleven syllables. Each sentence is separated by long pauses, often accentuated by unsuccessful attempts to light an authentic replica of a pipe.

So, the humorous descriptions of an Engineer’s speech pattern and how he lights a pipe take everyday, somewhat boring activities and filter them through the sarcastic attitude of a construction worker.

Apply the advice of Patrick McManus and examine those everyday events and people using creative exaggeration. Your writing will be a lot more fun, and funny.


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