Michigan author, Jennifer Rumberger, was kind enough to interview me for her blog. She reviews picture books and participates in the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday series. She's an insightful seeker (and share-er) of knowledge in the kidlit world. Yay, Jennifer! Her adorable first book, Ducklings on the Move, is available by digital publisher, MeeGenius.
Adding humor to writing can be daunting and hard to define as a technique, so I wanted to share this article that was written by Tim Bete and appeared in Writer’s Digest five years ago. I think it can really help us develop a funny bone to use in our manuscripts...
The old TV game show “Match Game” illustrated how important one word can be to a joke. Gene Rayburn hosted the program, in which contestants filled in a blank in a sentence and hoped their answer matched those of the celebrity guests.
For example, “Brenda said to her son, `It’s not true that I wanted a daughter instead of you. Now shut up and put on your ______.’ “
Actor Gary Burghoff’s answer: “training bra.” Much funnier than if he had answered “earrings” or “perfume,” right?
Many of the same humor rules that apply to jokes also apply to the choice of individual words. Individual words can show exaggeration, or provide a surprise or double entendre—all of which are solid techniques to make people laugh.
But often writers spend more time on the order and structure of sentences than the individual words within sentences. When you’re writing a humor piece, don’t settle for an overall funny concept. By going back through the piece with a fine-tooth comb, and using these six tips to find the funniest words, you can turn a funny piece into a hilarious one.
LISTEN TO HOW WORDS SOUND
When a person reads, he hears the words in his mind. Words that sound funny when spoken also sound funny when read silently. In Neil Simon’s play The Sunshine Boys,
one character says this about comedy: “Fifty-seven years in this business, you
learn a few things. You know what words are funny and which words are not funny.
Alka Seltzer is funny. You say `Alka Seltzer,’ you get a laugh…Words with the
`k’ sound in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that’s a funny name. Robert Taylor
is not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomato is not funny. Cookie is funny. Cucumber
is funny. Car keys. Cleveland…Cleveland is funny. Maryland is not funny. Then, there’s chicken. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny.”
Read your writing aloud and listen to the sound of the words, as well as their meaning. Try substituting one word for another and listen to see if it makes a difference.
PICK A WORD THAT BREAKS A PATTERN
Mixing the length of sentences adds variety to a piece. Mixing the length and pattern of the word you use can do the same thing—and add humor. For example, “Bill’s favorite foods were beef tenderloin with béarnaise sauce, coconut creole bread pudding and Twinkies.” The word “Twinkies” breaks the pattern of the more sophisticated foods—and also includes the magic “k” sound. Big Idea Productions created an animated TV program called “3-2-1 Penguins!” The program is about four penguins named Zidgel, Midgel, Fidgel and Kevin. Notice how “Kevin” breaks the rhyming pattern of the first three names and offers a surprise. It would have been even funnier if a single syllable name had been used to break the two-syllable name pattern. For example, Zidgel, Midgel, Fidgel and Bob.
Generic words (e.g., automobile) aren’t as funny as specific words (e.g., Ford F150 pickup truck). Specific words add a level of detail that draws a reader into a story and makes it more believable and personal. I once wrote, “Kids are like martinis—the more you have, the looser you feel.” Using a specific drink (e.g., martini) is much
funnier than using a generic term (“I’ve often said that kids are like alcohol—the more you have, the looser you feel”).
The same is true for expressing quantity. “Forty-three” is funnier than “a lot.”
PUT THE FUNNIEST WORD AT THE END
Humor writers always put the punchline at the end of the joke. A corollary to that rule is to put the funniest word at the end of the punchline sentence. (Thanks to Keith Woods, dean of faculty at the Poynter Institute, for this great tip.) For example, compare these two sentences:
Kids are like martinis—you shouldn’t drive under the influence of either.
You shouldn’t drive under the influence of kids or martinis.
By putting the word “either” at the end of the sentence, the punchline comes as a surprise. Placing the word “martinis” at the end of the sentence telegraphs the punchline and diminishes the humor.
When revising a humor piece, reread each sentence with an eye for the funniest word. Then rewrite sentences using the same words in a different order to see which has the most impact.
FIND WORDS WITH MULTIPLE MEANINGS
The double entendre is a comedy staple, one that’s all about word choice. Country music song titles often use this device. Consider the songs “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me?” and “Crystal, I Can See Through
You.”In the first example, “hold it against me” can refer to either “beautiful body” or the statement “you have a beautiful body.” The second example is more of a pun, in which “Crystal” can either be a woman’s name or something made of glass.
Choosing words with multiple meanings can be very pun-ny. (Sorry.)
USE A THESAURUS
For most writing, I don’t recommend using a thesaurus. Writers often end up adding uncommon or sophisticated words that result in a clunky writing style. But for humor writing, a thesaurus is an indispensable tool. There’s no quicker way to find potential funny words when you have a concept in mind but can’t come up with just what you’re looking for.
Say you’re writing a humorous piece about how your car always breaks down. Looking up “car” in a thesaurus will jumpstart your brainstorming and provide you with words that you probably wouldn’t have thought about, or at least not as quickly—and you can drive that clunker (or bucket, heap, junker) to the bank of funny writing.
I love learning about animals and how they navigate their often harsh existence. Maybe that's why I chose animal adaptation for the topics of my first two books (A Warm Winter Tail and A Cool Summer Tail due out mid-February). This video clip shows a red fox catching mice that are buried under feet of snow!! How cool is that?
The SCBWI Work-In-Progress (WIP) Grants assist children’s book writers and illustrators in the completion of a specific project currently not under contract, and are made possible by a generous grant from Amazon.com.
Award: Seven Grants of $2,000 will be awarded annually, one in each category. Seven Runner-Up Grants of $500 will also be awarded, one in each category. Authors of other projects cited by the judges as noteworthy will receive a Letter of Merit. In any given year, the SCBWI Grant Committee reserves the right to withhold the grant for that year.
Deadline: Applications may be submitted March 1-March 31
Eligibility: The grant is open to authors with a current work-in-progress. Illustrators can apply for one of the Don Freeman Grants
-Picture Book Text (Barbara Karlin Grant)
-Contemporary young adult novel
Additional Text Awards (you may apply for these in addtion to the text categories above):
Karen Cushman Grant (for an unpublished author over 50)
Anna Cross Giblin Award for Nonfiction (you do not send an additional application, this is chosen from all applications submitted to the Nonfiction category)
Unpublished Author Award (you do not send an additional application, this is chosen from all applications by unpublished authors across all the other text categories)
Don Freeman Illustrator Grants
1. You must be an SCBWI member through September of the application year.
2. Only electronic submissions in the form of ONE PDF will be accepted. No snail mail.
3. You may not submit a work that is under contract. If the work becomes under contract before the winner is announced, you will become ineligible.
4. You may submit to only one WIP grant category per year.
All applications must be submitted electronically as a single PDF
Title the PDF with your name (first_last.pdf). Make sure you put the category you are applying to (General, Contemporary, Multi-cultural, Nonfiction) in the subject line of the email.
The email address to send your application will not be available until the grant opens on March 1st.
YOUR APPLICATION MUST INCLUDE:
1. A one page cover letter with a synopsis.
The cover letter must include the following:
If you are Published or Unpublished
A double-spaced synopsis
The letter must be the first page of your application and be formatted as in the template below:
WIP Cover Letter Template
Sample WIP Cover Letter
2. The first 10 pages of your completed manuscript.
Your manuscript must be double spaced and cannot exceed 10 pages.
The email address to send your application will not be available until the grant opens on March 1st.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Other questions? Write to email@example.com
My agent, Jodell Sadler, is posting the American Library Assocation awards rolling in today. Very exciting! Check it out here: https://www.facebook.com/PictureBookLunch/posts/579170455498150
One of my blog readers,Vincent Noot, contacted me about a Kickstarter project he's created. It is a highly illustrated children's search-and-find book that is pretty darn cool. According to Publishers Weekly (January 13, 2014), nearly 1000 children's book projects were crowdsourced by Kickstarter in 2013. I'm interested in how this is working for new authors or author/illustrators, so I agreed to interview Mr. Noot and share some illustrations from the book called Find the Cutes - Playtime.
What is “Find the Cutes - Playtime” all about?
Children are creative. They have a huge imagination. In society today, despite all the technology and opportunities, the greatest happiness is often found in the home. Children give families that extra enthusiastic energy. “Find the Cutes - Playtime” is based on that concept. It sparks the imagination, stimulates dialogue without words, educates, entertains, and inspires.
Who are the Cutes?
The Cutes are a family. Their last name is “Cute” and all the kids’ names start with a “C”: Carissa, Chaz, Cade, Cammy, and Cindy. The story is based on the “second-mom” phenomenon: As the oldest daughter you sometimes get to babysit your younger siblings a lot. That’s how it can work in bigger families. The Cute kids aren’t just cute. They’re super cute!!!! In every illustration I tried to show their innocence and playfulness.
What inspired you as an illustrator?
As a child, I was much intrigued by search books. I spent hours looking for the right characters and objects on every page. But I discovered there weren’t that many different ones out there. Over the years, I developed a unique cartoon style that I was able to use for several companies and assignments. Together with my ideas and the concept of a search book, my wife (then girlfriend) and I came up with a search book and a fun family as the main characters.
How did you come up with each page, and how long did it take to draw them?
Before each page, I brainstorm about as many creative, funny things that could happen. For example, I divided the Birthday Party page into section of balloons, ball pit, presents, etc. Children can be very silly. So I think of what they'd do with a balloon, like rubbing it over their hair, letting it go into the air, binding it to their ears, popping it, etc. Each page took almost 100 hours to sketch, draw, color on the computer, etc. Each person is hand-drawn and colored in Photoshop. My wife, Celestial, did most of the storytelling. The whole book took 1 year to finish. Some drawings are based on real events. Sometimes something funny that happened in our lives, comes back in the drawings. For instance, when I was dating my wife, we both took a bite of the same huge hotdog at the same time. So in the Swimming Pool page, I drew a boy and a girl eating a hotdog at the same time.
Who is the book for?
Children ages 3 and up. Adults could enjoy it too. With 12 pages of things to search for, kids could be entertained for hours. Not only are we going to make a book, but we are planning on making it a tablet game for the ipad, kindle, and other devices. That will be a stretch goal if we make it.
Are you on social media?
We have a website, www.findthecutes.com, which will be the means of selling our book once it’s updated with a payment system. We are also on Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, Twitter, and Tumblr. Feel free to look us up and follow us.
Are you going to make a sequel?
Yes. We are planning on an entire series of 8 books The next book will be called “Find the Cutes - Festival Fun” and will have fun search pages about Christmas, Easter, and Halloween, but also about the Tomato Festival in Spain, Songkran in Thailand, and Sinterklaas in the Netherlands. It will also have 12 pages and a storyline. We already started working on it.
When will it be available?
The book is completed, so on March 1st, we will launch a project on kickstarter.com. You can back our project for 30 days and get discounts that way. We are getting the website www.findthecutes.com ready for ordering, so we are in the process of getting the book printed and attaching a payment system to the website. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or personally to my account at email@example.com.
There is nothing quite like receiving an advanced reader copy of your own book. I wish these moments upon every creative person out there. Opening that package from Sylvan Dell Publishing was a true highlight.
The amazing Christina Wald brought to life the summer worlds of many of the same animals as in A Warm Winter Tail. But this time, they must adapt to rising temperatures. How does a furry fox stay cool when it gets hot outside? Find out in A Cool Summer Tail due out February 15, 2014.
Although I have many faults, being lazy isn't one of them. HOWEVER, I do fall into lazy writing occasionally. I use cliched phrases when a quick twist would create something much more memorable. I drop in pet words -- like "the" -- without restraint. But I didn't know I was a pleonasmist until I read this list of redundant phrases (pleonasms). Are you? Just ditch the word shown in parentheses: (many thanks to www.fun-with-words.com)
all meet (together)
at (12) midnight
at (12) noon
autobiography (of my life)
(baby) boy was born
cease (and desist)
commute (back and forth)
consensus (of opinion)
each (and every)
estimated (roughly) at
filled (to capacity)
green (in color)
never (at any time)
(null and) void
(pair of) twins
reason is (because)
surrounded (on all sides)
Jill Corcoran is an agent who comes from a marketing background and I find her take on the industry an eye-opener. See what you think...