How to maybe sort of add humor to your writing a little bit – Mo Daviau

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By Mo Daviau

People tell me my writing is funny. They say, “you’re so funny!” and honestly, I’m a little confused because, quadruple swearsies, when I first sat down and wrote the first draft of Every Anxious Wave, I thought I was writing Serious Literary Fiction and not humor. But then I showed it to people — people in my MFA program, people adjacent to MFA programs, people who had never heard of MFA programs, and they told me my novel was funny.♥

I swear I didn’t do that on purpose.

Last month I took a humor writing class with a local comedian, mostly because I wanted to see how she would teach humor writing. I had no idea how to break it down as a process. When we went around the room introducing ourselves, I was completely honest: I was there to crib her curriculum. She immediately hated me, though she did accept my money for the class and let me take notes.

Here, I will attempt, totally not stealing her stuff, to break down for you how you, too, can maybe, possibly be pants-pissingly hilarious on the page:

1) TAKE AN IMPROV COMEDY CLASS. If you live in a city, there will be improv. If you live in a city like Chicago or LA, your classes will be full of folks who want to be on Saturday Night Live, but that’s okay. You’ll be there to get a feel for writing dialogue, for what it means to “raise the stakes,” to have the gospel of Yes And beaten into you. You’ll also make new friends and, if you’re single and into computer guys who wear khakis, it’s a wide-open dating pool. EAWCOVER

2) DECONSTRUCT YOUR FAVORITE COMEDIES. Be they film or TV shows, or your favorite comic novel (mine is How Perfect is That by Sarah Bird), you can usually sit down and recognize archetypes, fallacies, and the idea that your characters have to want something REALLY REALLY BADLY and are willing to go to extreme lengths to get it. (See also How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely, in which the protagonist goes to extreme lengths to humiliate his ex-girlfriend. Those are some extreme lengths.)

3) CHOOSE OPTION C. This one is handed down from my teacher, Eileen Pollack, at the University of Michigan. If, at the end, the main character has a choice between one thing or the other, i.e. marry Prince Volkar of Slogambovia and become Princess of an impoverished fictional European nation, or marry Steve from accounting, choose the yet-unknown Option C: forget both men and open a donut shop. Tack on an epiphany: marrying princes is silly and so is marrying guys from accounting. Also: everyone love donuts. The protagonist wins, but not how we thought she would.

If none of this helps and your writing is stone-cold serious all the time, fear not, gentle one. Humor is just trying to laugh to stop yourself from crying.

Mo Daviau is the author of the novel Every Anxious Wave (St. Martin’s Press, February 2016). A longtime performer of improv comedy in the great city of Austin, Texas, she now lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. Her completely unfunny nonfiction has appeared in The Offing, The Toast, and Nailed Magazine.

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