Question: 'Comedy' writing?

Suggestion How About a Poetry Club?

Litopia Book Club Selections February – September

Claire G

Full Member
Oct 26, 2022
Birmingham, UK
So. There's a women's magazine running a 2000-word short story competition. The genres you can enter are Romance, Thriller and Comedy (you can enter one, two or all three categories but only once for each). The magazine has been going for a looong time and includes lots of short stories on the gentler side of fiction (the inclusion of the Thriller category is therefore a bit weird!). Think sweet romances featuring dukes, vicars and village bus drivers.

Anyway, there's quite a large monetary prize so I thought I'd give it a go. Initially, I wrote a romance and submitted it. Then I got an idea for a crime thriller, so I wrote and submitted that too. But I absolutely swore to myself that I would not even ATTEMPT a comedy because, in my opinion, it's the most difficult genre to write. But of course, a title and premise decided to set up camp in my mind and I wrote it. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but there are some lines which made me smile while writing them. Because of the type of magazine that it is, and the stories they print, I think that they mean 'gentle humour' when they say 'comedy', but who knows? I'm 50-50 as to whether I'll submit it (but as it's free to enter I may just send it in for the hell of it).

Long story short, this started me thinking about comedy in writing. Obviously, humour is subjective, but what do you think the key ingredients are for making writing humorous?

A while ago, I wrote a sort of rom-com which was very character-driven (she has an imaginary friend and is what I'd call 'quirky'). The character came to me fully-formed. I knew her voice, her personality, I could picture what she looked like. I wasn't deliberately trying to be funny; this was just what the character was like so I wrote her story. But readers have said they laughed out loud at parts of the book, which I take as a real compliment. That story was very organic. I didn't sit down and say, 'Right, I'm going to write a comedy now'. When I wrote the short story for the competition however, I realised that to set out to deliberately write a comedy is a totally different kettle of fish, at least for me.

What are your thoughts? Do you include humour in your writing? And how do you go about it?!

P.S. If anyone wants the details of the competition, send me a PM. UK only. I think the deadline is Feb 5th xx
 
So. There's a women's magazine running a 2000-word short story competition. The genres you can enter are Romance, Thriller and Comedy (you can enter one, two or all three categories but only once for each). The magazine has been going for a looong time and includes lots of short stories on the gentler side of fiction (the inclusion of the Thriller category is therefore a bit weird!). Think sweet romances featuring dukes, vicars and village bus drivers.

Anyway, there's quite a large monetary prize so I thought I'd give it a go. Initially, I wrote a romance and submitted it. Then I got an idea for a crime thriller, so I wrote and submitted that too. But I absolutely swore to myself that I would not even ATTEMPT a comedy because, in my opinion, it's the most difficult genre to write. But of course, a title and premise decided to set up camp in my mind and I wrote it. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but there are some lines which made me smile while writing them. Because of the type of magazine that it is, and the stories they print, I think that they mean 'gentle humour' when they say 'comedy', but who knows? I'm 50-50 as to whether I'll submit it (but as it's free to enter I may just send it in for the hell of it).

Long story short, this started me thinking about comedy in writing. Obviously, humour is subjective, but what do you think the key ingredients are for making writing humorous?

A while ago, I wrote a sort of rom-com which was very character-driven (she has an imaginary friend and is what I'd call 'quirky'). The character came to me fully-formed. I knew her voice, her personality, I could picture what she looked like. I wasn't deliberately trying to be funny; this was just what the character was like so I wrote her story. But readers have said they laughed out loud at parts of the book, which I take as a real compliment. That story was very organic. I didn't sit down and say, 'Right, I'm going to write a comedy now'. When I wrote the short story for the competition however, I realised that to set out to deliberately write a comedy is a totally different kettle of fish, at least for me.

What are your thoughts? Do you include humour in your writing? And how do you go about it?!

P.S. If anyone wants the details of the competition, send me a PM. UK only. I think the deadline is Feb 5th xx
Hum, yes, sometimes humour does crop up in my works, but like yours, it's not intentional.
I think if you plan humour, it won't happen. On the other hand how does it get there, one may well wonder.
I think it probably depends on your subconscious... let me explain. If you find your thoughts on a certain scene or whatever to be funny, you can bet if you write on that scene, something comical will happen in your writing - it's inevitable - since writing is the incarnation of thought.
 
P.S. If anyone wants the details of the competition, send me a PM. UK only. I think the deadline is Feb 5th xx
I wrote my first novel for a comedy contest. Book Prize | Comedy Women In Print.

I would say that humour is so damn subjective that I understand this contest being UK only. There are universals, but a lot of British humour goes over American heads because it's too dark. Irish is that much darker. Japanese humour is even more wry than British. Like a dry wine to a Blue Nun palate.

Though I did love the movie, 'Bridesmaids', it began a fad of cringe-guffaws I can't get on board with. Saltburn being an example. The drinking the masturbation bathwater scene.... Really? That's 5 year old gross-out humour, Emerald Fennell. Fleabag gave us better laughs.

Germans love "gemutlich" humour. Cuddly kittens, and children that say "naughty" things. This was my MIL's only form of humour. No wonder we never saw eye to eye. But traditionally in Deutschland anyone being too sharp or pointed ended up disappeared, assumed dead. English common law did allow for political satire and a more caustic wit. Americans tend to prefer something that is a meld of the two. All nationalities seem to love the goofy kind of British humour, like Terry Pratchett and Monty Python.

Which brings me to my understanding of humour. It is a needle that bursts blisters. It finds the place where tension and fear has formed and releases the pressure. That's why each culture does it differently and why zeitgeist matters so much.

Back to the CWIP contest I entered. The prize was/is a Harper's publication. I had a look at the winners. I didn't find any of them funny. Last year the comedian who founded the contest apologised in a way that very much sounded like she thought the Harper-Collins judges picked boring rather than edgy for the win. Not too surprising that the prize was a damp squid. They were published to ebook and audio without fanfare.

All to say-GO FOR IT. Part of making us laugh is making yourself vulnerable. I think that is probably one of your strengths and why your readers loved the funny character. It's free. Take the shot.
 
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So. There's a women's magazine running a 2000-word short story competition. The genres you can enter are Romance, Thriller and Comedy (you can enter one, two or all three categories but only once for each). The magazine has been going for a looong time and includes lots of short stories on the gentler side of fiction (the inclusion of the Thriller category is therefore a bit weird!). Think sweet romances featuring dukes, vicars and village bus drivers.

Anyway, there's quite a large monetary prize so I thought I'd give it a go. Initially, I wrote a romance and submitted it. Then I got an idea for a crime thriller, so I wrote and submitted that too. But I absolutely swore to myself that I would not even ATTEMPT a comedy because, in my opinion, it's the most difficult genre to write. But of course, a title and premise decided to set up camp in my mind and I wrote it. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but there are some lines which made me smile while writing them. Because of the type of magazine that it is, and the stories they print, I think that they mean 'gentle humour' when they say 'comedy', but who knows? I'm 50-50 as to whether I'll submit it (but as it's free to enter I may just send it in for the hell of it).

Long story short, this started me thinking about comedy in writing. Obviously, humour is subjective, but what do you think the key ingredients are for making writing humorous?

A while ago, I wrote a sort of rom-com which was very character-driven (she has an imaginary friend and is what I'd call 'quirky'). The character came to me fully-formed. I knew her voice, her personality, I could picture what she looked like. I wasn't deliberately trying to be funny; this was just what the character was like so I wrote her story. But readers have said they laughed out loud at parts of the book, which I take as a real compliment. That story was very organic. I didn't sit down and say, 'Right, I'm going to write a comedy now'. When I wrote the short story for the competition however, I realised that to set out to deliberately write a comedy is a totally different kettle of fish, at least for me.

What are your thoughts? Do you include humour in your writing? And how do you go about it?!

P.S. If anyone wants the details of the competition, send me a PM. UK only. I think the deadline is Feb 5th xx
For me it always comes through character. It is wonderful when a character walks into the story and makes me laugh. Steve in The Drama Merchant always makes me laugh out loud even though I know what he's going to say! A bit like watching favourite comedy sketches over and over again. The scene in Coloured By A Different Light where Rosie Thomas tells a young girl how her husband Huw had fallen into a muck-spreader and he was splattered all over his field. "Oh, but Huw loved those fields. It was a good way for him to go," she finishes. I can see her saying that now and how I'd laughed as I typed... :rolling-on-the-floor-laughing:

Comedy is magic when it happens, but, for me, it has to come through the character.

I would love to construct comedy like John Sullivan did, but I simply din't have the talent for it.
 
For me it always comes through character. It is wonderful when a character walks into the story and makes me laugh. Steve in The Drama Merchant always makes me laugh out loud even though I know what he's going to say! A bit like watching favourite comedy sketches over and over again. The scene in coloured By A Different Light where Rosie Thomas tells a young girl how her husband Huw had fallen into a muck-spreader and he was splattered all over his field. "Oh, but Huw loved those fields. It was a good way for him to go," she finishes. I can see her saying that now and how I'd laughed as I typed... :rolling-on-the-floor-laughing:

Comedy is magic when it happens, but, for me, it has to come through the character.

I would love to construct comedy like John Sullivan did, but I simply din't have the talent for it.
Character - absolutely!

Your response made me smile to picture you chuckling away :)
 
Hum, yes, sometimes humour does crop up in my works, but like yours, it's not intentional.
I think if you plan humour, it won't happen. On the other hand how does it get there, one may well wonder.
I think it probably depends on your subconscious... let me explain. If you find your thoughts on a certain scene or whatever to be funny, you can bet if you write on that scene, something comical will happen in your writing - it's inevitable - since writing is the incarnation of thought.
I think if you plan humour, it won't happen.
Yeah, I think you're right. xx
 
The scene in Coloured By A Different Light where Rosie Thomas tells a young girl how her husband Huw had fallen into a muck-spreader and he was splattered all over his field. "Oh, but Huw loved those fields. It was a good way for him to go," she finishes. I can see her saying that now and how I'd laughed as I typed... :rolling-on-the-floor-laughing:
See, now an American probably wouldn't laugh at the line, but the reaction to it. We'd be with the character whose eyebrows go to their hairline and back away slowly.
 
I think if you plan humour, it won't happen
I have to disagree here.
Comedy rarely 'just happens'. It requires a set up and a pay off (like the rest of writing)
If you haven't primed your reader for the joke, it doesn't land. Sometimes, this is chapters in advance. Sometimes, it's the sentence before.
Either way, the best laughs come from premeditated jokes. The great Terry Pratchett often set jokes up in the first act that didn't pay off till the third.
 
I have to disagree here.
Comedy rarely 'just happens'. It requires a set up and a pay off (like the rest of writing)
If you haven't primed your reader for the joke, it doesn't land. Sometimes, this is chapters in advance. Sometimes, it's the sentence before.
Either way, the best laughs come from premeditated jokes. The great Terry Pratchett often set jokes up in the first act that didn't pay off till the third.
But did he do it consciously or was his subconscious mind at play? You never know with geniuses/genii!
 
Great question! There is humour in everything I write but I hesitate to call it 'comedy'. This is partly because, as @TimRees says, comedy comes from character. But also because it sets up expectations that the writing will be a laugh a minute. This is not at all what comedy means to me.

Some years ago I had the good fortune to attend Steve Kaplan's Comedy Intensive workshop. One thing he taught stayed with me: 'Comedy is truth'. Not sure he coined that thought but I stumbled on a Ted talk by a comedian called Chris Bliss that demonstrates why comedy is one of the best ways to make a point, and open people's minds. It's from 2011 but well worth a watch! Comedy is translation
Best of luck with the submissions!
 
Great question! There is humour in everything I write but I hesitate to call it 'comedy'. This is partly because, as @TimRees says, comedy comes from character. But also because it sets up expectations that the writing will be a laugh a minute. This is not at all what comedy means to me.

Some years ago I had the good fortune to attend Steve Kaplan's Comedy Intensive workshop. One thing he taught stayed with me: 'Comedy is truth'. Not sure he coined that thought but I stumbled on a Ted talk by a comedian called Chris Bliss that demonstrates why comedy is one of the best ways to make a point, and open people's minds. It's from 2011 but well worth a watch! Comedy is translation
Best of luck with the submissions!
it sets up expectations that the writing will be a laugh a minute. This is not at all what comedy means to me.
Same. And it would be a lot of pressure as a writer! Thanks, Mel xx
 
I have to disagree here.
Comedy rarely 'just happens'. It requires a set up and a pay off (like the rest of writing)
If you haven't primed your reader for the joke, it doesn't land. Sometimes, this is chapters in advance. Sometimes, it's the sentence before.
Either way, the best laughs come from premeditated jokes. The great Terry Pratchett often set jokes up in the first act that didn't pay off till the third.
Which just goes to show, one way of doing it is not everybody's way. I am very much interested in how others achieve their comedy, and if they are conscious of the way they produce it.
 
But did he do it consciously or was his subconscious mind at play? You never know with geniuses/genii!
I don't agree with this line of thinking. It does two things:
1) it implies that you must be some kind of natural talent or genius to achieve.
2) it trivialises the effort and hard work the 'genius' put into their work. "He/she's a genius, so it was easy for him/her."

Some comedy arises naturally, a quickness of wit for those inspired moments, but most produced comedy will have been planned, practiced, and refined to get the most out of it.
Stand up comics spend hours writing their material, but they are also naturally quick witted people.
 
I don't agree with this line of thinking. It does two things:
1) it implies that you must be some kind of natural talent or genius to achieve.
2) it trivialises the effort and hard work the 'genius' put into their work. "He/she's a genius, so it was easy for him/her."

Some comedy arises naturally, a quickness of wit for those inspired moments, but most produced comedy will have been planned, practiced, and refined to get the most out of it.
Stand up comics spend hours writing their material, but they are also naturally quick witted people.
I think it can be both or either. This is an interesting discussion!
 
I have to disagree here.
Comedy rarely 'just happens'. It requires a set up and a pay off (like the rest of writing)
If you haven't primed your reader for the joke, it doesn't land. Sometimes, this is chapters in advance. Sometimes, it's the sentence before.
Either way, the best laughs come from premeditated jokes. The great Terry Pratchett often set jokes up in the first act that didn't pay off till the third.

I fall on this end of the spectrum. Comedy is magic when it works, and we all know magic must be learned and practised. What makes writing any different? Yes, it comes easier to some writers than others, but IMHO all writing requires deliberate thought and comedy is no exception, no matter if writing comes to you easier or harder.

I have this link permanently open on my computer. When I'm reading, if I come across a laugh, I refer to this and study the gag. Terry Pratchett often hits these notes. I'm determined to learn the art of comedy. Failing so far, but that's ok. I listened to Kevin Hart's biography, I Can't Make This Up - comedy is journey, plus @Mel L hit the nail on the head - 'Comedy is truth.' Look at Terry Pratchett's line (not in a book):

"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."

Every word is truth. Cats were worshipped as gods, and we all know they act like they haven't forgotten :)

Fascinating discussion! Great thoughts :)
 
Great question! There is humour in everything I write but I hesitate to call it 'comedy'. This is partly because, as @TimRees says, comedy comes from character. But also because it sets up expectations that the writing will be a laugh a minute. This is not at all what comedy means to me.

Some years ago I had the good fortune to attend Steve Kaplan's Comedy Intensive workshop. One thing he taught stayed with me: 'Comedy is truth'. Not sure he coined that thought but I stumbled on a Ted talk by a comedian called Chris Bliss that demonstrates why comedy is one of the best ways to make a point, and open people's minds. It's from 2011 but well worth a watch! Comedy is translation
Best of luck with the submissions!

That video was great, Mel. Thanks for posting!
 
Love this question as well. I have no idea :)

With that said, there are plenty of writers that obviously write specifically for comedy on a daily basis ... so maybe you can? Some of my favorite authors and books include comedy, or at least absurdity, as a primary aspect of their characters and story. I saw Terry Pratchett was mentioned above—been reading a lot of Discword lately, and his novels are often just outright hilarious, while often just skimming the edge of ridiculous.

In my own writing, I have yet to go in with the purpose of being funny, yet some things have come in naturally. With that said, there isn't really anyone I am gauging the comedic value of anything I have written against it being funny or not.

I imagine it's like anything else. If you want to write comedy, read a shit load of comedy, and write as many comedic pieces as you can. Eventually it will likely come in more naturally, or you'll discover you're not funny. Though I imagine that will be discovered through feedback?

Also @Pamela Jo , as an American, I found that line quite funny :rolling-on-the-floor-laughing: . With that said, the comedy writers I read are typically from the UK.
 
Great discussion! "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." - right?!

I was struggling with a mystery/caper screenplay many years ago, and I took a comedy writing course while avoiding writing. I ended up with a comedy caper and another flat out comedy. The second won something, and from that I was signed by a lit manager. No one was more shocked than me.

Sure, some people are just funny. But as others have said, comedy writing is a skill that can be learned. That class taught me how to write comedy. (I think it's still running if anyone's interested.) I constantly go back to my notes from that class, reminding myself of all the different techniques of comedy, when to use what, how. I use the notes to brainstorm, develop ideas, and polish the funny. I think once you study the tools, and practice the ever-living hell out of it, comedy can be fun. Or it can be a frustrating black hole of misery and regret.

I think some kind of funny often leaks into my writing because a) I love to laugh so I look for opportunities to do so and b) people can't help but be freakin' hysterical and c) I have a great cheat sheet.
 
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Great discussion! "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." - right?!

I was struggling with a mystery/caper screenplay many years ago, and I took a comedy writing course while avoiding it. I ended up with a comedy caper and another flat out comedy. The second won something, and from that I was signed by a lit manager. No one was more shocked than me.

Sure, some people are just funny. But as others have said, comedy writing is a skill that can be learned. That class taught me how to write comedy. (I think it's still running if anyone's interested.) I constantly go back to my notes from that class, reminding myself of all the different techniques of comedy, when to use what, how. I use the notes to brainstorm, develop ideas, and polish the funny. I think once you study the tools, and practice the ever-living hell out of it, comedy can be fun. Or it can be a frustrating black hole of misery and regret.

I think some kind of funny often leaks into my writing because a) I love to laugh so I look for opportunities to do so and b) people can't help but be freakin' hysterical and c) I have a great cheat sheet.
Ooh! Can you list some examples of the tools?
 
So. What I have learnt so far from this enlightening discussion is that if you want to write comedy you have to, like all other genres, learn the craft pertaining to it - which cuts me out since I have no such desire tugging at my heart strings. However, if you do come across the occasional humoristic line in my work, ignore it, it wasn't supposed to be there, I did it without thinking. ;)
 
When I began studying story-telling I began with stand up comedians who tell funny stories. They know beats. They know how to lead an audience through a story arc. Funny or not that is a skill that I need to hold attention thru a novel. Short stories can be scenes with 75 percent left unsaid, but novels have to have a beginning, middle and a payoff at the end. I think Lyse's idea of a comedy writing course is a great idea.
 

Suggestion How About a Poetry Club?

Litopia Book Club Selections February – September

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