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By Dave Hood
Much of creative nonfiction is serious. Writers craft essays about depressing or controversial topics, illness, disease, war, famine, gun control, murder, child abuse, rape, and more. And yet,
many creative nonfiction writers use the techniques of humour to write interesting personal essays and entertaining memoirs. Jeanette Walls, author of the memoir, “The Glass Castle,” shares humorous anecdotes about her life growing up, even though the story is disheartening. David Sedaris, author of many bestselling books, writes self-depreciating humour in the form of anecdote about his personal life and family. Mary Karr’s, “Lit: A Memoir,” includes several humorous parts. For instance, she writes, “I’d spent way more years worrying about how to look like a poet — buying black clothes, smearing on scarlet lipstick, languidly draping myself over thrift-store furniture — than I had learning how to assemble words in some discernible order.” (Page 97/Lit)
Most magazines and newspapers and popular Internet sites of creative nonfiction include humour columns, or articles, or essays. For instance, regularly, The New Yorker magazine publishes essays that have a humorous tone. In The New Yorker’s anthology of “Humour, Disquiet Please, ” writer Ian Frazier uses exaggeration in his essay “Thin Enough.” He writes: “After four or five glasses of wine, I am able to overcome my usual food-finickiness and eat half a crock-pot of whatever my wife has made for dinner, and then a couple of baskets of leftover Easter candy. (Page 234).” People enjoy reading a good story, when the writer combines humour and an appealing writing style.
In this chapter, I’ll discuss how to use humour in creative nonfiction. The following will be covered:
• Power of humour
• Humour versus comedy
• Techniques of humour
• Suggestions for using humor
The Power of Humour
In his bestselling book, “On Writing Well,” author William Zinsser, writes that “humour is the secret weapon of the nonfiction writer.” It is often the best tool and only tool for making an important point. (Page 206) Usually, the writer uses humor in nonfiction to make a serious point and also to generate a laugh or amusement. The writer must find the right humour technique or techniques to disguise his/her serious point. Read the books by David Sedaris, a humorist writer, who uses exaggeration to make a serious point. Writers also use many other types of humour techniques, satire, irony, satire, exaggeration, joke, truth, and more.
And yet, the writer doesn’t always write humour to make a serious point. Sometimes the writer only desires to share a funny story with readers, with the intention of generating a comic effect. Sometimes writers use nonsense to make readers laugh. Frequently, all that is required of the writer is to exaggerate the truth. Sometimes the truth is funny, especially when the writer uses absurd facts or ludicrous quotations by people. The humorist writer must be an active observer, noticing amusing incidents, events, fleeting moments, funny conversations and people, making mental notes of sensory details that are amusing or funny.
Zinsser, in the text “On Writing Well,” provides some useful advice to writers who aspire to write humorous prose. First, the writer should never strain for laughs. Instead, the writer should focus on surprising the reader. Secondly, the writer should write about the truth, real people, places, events, experiences, not make things up. Thirdly, before writing humour, the writer must learn to write well, using familiar rather than unfamiliar words, proper grammar, sentence variety, a humorous tone, different paragraph types. (To help you write better, read and master “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White, and “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser, and “Sin and Syntax” by Constance Hale)
Writers should use the techniques of humour subtly, and not overuse humour, especially when it is directed at real people. Otherwise readers will see the humour as an attack. Writers must also be aware that humour is subjective. Not all readers will laugh at the same things. And so, the writer should focus on first writing the story, including the facts, and then adding humour. Humour should be secondary to a good story that is well written.
Humorists are the rogues and mavericks of creative nonfiction. They often write what some people don’t want to hear. They often write what the collective consciousness is thinking but afraid to discuss publically. Yet people want to read the stories of humorists. Good humour writing makes readers laugh.
Humour Versus Comedy Writing
What are the similarities and differences between humour and comedy writing? The terms “humour and “comedy” are often used interchangeably. Both terms have elements in common. Both are also different.
Humour writing and comedy writing are often based on truth. Both frequently use the same humour devices, such as irony, satire, exaggeration. Both use the anecdote and storytelling. Both use the joke, which requires a setup and punch-line. Both use wordplay and the one-liner. Both tend to write about subject matter that is funny. Both writers write about serious topics, with the intention of making them funny. The intention of both is to create a comic effect.
Despite the similarities, comedy writing and humour writing are different in certain respects.
Usually, the humorist writes an essay or article or filler that is amusing or funny. The humorist’s material is intended to be read. Most humour writing is done for print publications, such as newspapers, magazines, or books. On the other hand, most comedy writing is done for TV sitcoms, comedy films, comedy sketches, and stand-up comedy. The comedy writer writes material to get laughs, usually in front of a viewing audience. Comedy writers are best known for writing material for situation comedies, comedy films, stand-up comics, and sketch comedy. Most comedy writing is intended to entertain by provoking laughter, while most humour writing is more subtle and cerebral, intending to amuse, inform, educate, and persuade the audience to change its opinion. The humorist won’t use profanity or shock humour, which is popular in comedy, especially by the stand-up comic.
Unlike the comedy writer, humour writing can take the form of “filler.” This filler can be a joke, quote, or short anecdote that is used to fill space at the end of a column or page. There is no formula for filler.
Techniques of Humour
Writers use humour to make a serious point and to evoke amusement or laughter in the reader. Unfortunately, humour is subjective. One person will laugh at the writer’s humour, while another person won’t find the joke or parody or exaggeration funny. To make their point and generate a comic effect, writers use several techniques of humour, including:
- Satire. The writer mocks another person’s mistakes, foibles, follies, mishaps, flaws.
- Incongruity. The writer juxtaposes two different things not normally associated with each other. The incongruity of speech, character, behavior, or situation can result in a comic effect. For instance, the exterior of a mansion might be awe-inspiring, but the interior is like a home owned by a hoarder. A man might be dressed like a model in GQ magazine, but talk as if he’s uneducated.
- Irony. A figure of speech. There are several types, including verbal irony and situational irony. Verbal irony is writing that means something other than its literal meaning, with the intention of creating a comic effect. Sometimes, irony can be misconstrued as sarcasm by the reader. Irony is not sarcasm. Sarcasm means what is intended, while irony is a trope in which the intended meaning of words is different than the literal meaning. Situational irony occurs when the expected outcome is different than the actual outcome. Many true stories involve situational irony. For instance, the groom goes to the church, expecting to get married, but the bride-to-be runs from the church at the last moment.
- Exaggeration. Writers can use overstatement, embellishing what they hear and see and experience, to generate laughs. When using exaggeration, writers focus on exaggerating the attributes of a person, place, thing, event, experience, and so forth.
- Understatement. The writer makes a situation seem less important as it really is.
- Self-deprecation. Writers mock their own mistakes, foibles, follies, mishaps, flaws.
- Anecdote. A short and amusing story about a person or incident.
- Nonsense. Sometimes writers use the technique of nonsense to write a humorous piece. This technique defies logic. It is an unrealistic representation, intended to amuse or stir a laugh.
- Truth. Sometimes absurd facts and ludicrous quotations by people can be humorous.
- Parody. Occasionally, the writer imitates the artistic work of another writer or artist, mocking artistic style, the author, or topic, intending to generate a comic effect, such as amusement or laughter.
- Joke. Sometimes writers incorporate jokes into their writing. The joke includes a set-up and punch-line. The set-up provides the premise and background. The punch-line is the line that generates a laugh or amusement. When telling a joke within a personal narrative, the writer must use the element of surprise. The writer should not notify the reader that a joke is coming. Example: “Here’s a joke..” This type of humour technique should be incorporated into the essay or memoir.
To study and learn from the humorist writers, read “Disquiet Please,” an anthology of personal essays by some of the best writers of humour, published by The New Yorker magazine.
A Few Suggestions
If you’d like to write humor, follow these suggestions:
- Don’t be mean-spirited or sarcastic. Instead evoke amusement or laughter with subtle humour, such as exaggeration.
- Observe the world in which you live, searching for humour events, incidents, people. Read the newspaper and watch television to unearth humour. Look at your own life for a humorous story. If an experience seems funny to you, write about it. Write about what makes you laugh, and so become an observer. This means you must be aware of the world around you, paying attention to the sensory details of each day. Make not of what you find humorous. Jot down a few notes in your journal.
- Use the techniques of humour to write a humorous personal essay, including exaggeration, satire, juxtaposition, irony, anecdote, and so forth. However, humour should be secondary to narrating a good personal essay.
- Write about humorous people who have passed in and out your life. Ask yourself: What makes them funny? Write the story or anecdote.
- Read the columns or books of humor writers, including David Sedaris. He often uses anecdotes to tell amusing stories about himself and family. By reading and analyzing humour writing, you will learn how to write it.
- Always focus on collecting the facts, and then writing the humorous essay.
- Use humorous figures of speech to amuse, such as similes and metaphors.
- Mine your memory for humorous stories. What are some of most amusing moments in your life? Why are they remembered? What is the significance? What is funny or amusing?
- Never make racial or religious slurs.
- Sometimes truth can be funny. Consider incorporating ludicrous facts and absurd quotations by people you didn’t expect would say such things.
To write humour, you must learn the techniques of humor, such as exaggeration, satire, incongruity. Start by reading humorous writing by Mark Twain, Stephan Leacock, David Sedaris, and The New Yorker. Read their essays once for enjoyment, and then reread them to learn how these writers crafted their humorous essay. Focus on structure, writing style, techniques, and tone. Practise using the techniques of humor by writing in your journal, and by using the techniques of humor to write your own personal essays. Instead of forcing humour into the story, become an active observer, and notice humour unfolding each day, then write a story, based factual truth.
For more information on using humour in creative nonfiction, read the following:
• Writing Creative Nonfiction, Edited by Carolyn Forche and Philip Gerald
• Naked by David Sedaris
• When Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
• Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
• Disquiet Please: More Humour Writing from The New Yorker, edited by David Remnick and Henry Finder
• Comedy Writing by Mel Helitzer and Mark Shatz
• On Writing Well by William Zinsser
By Dave Hood
What are the ethics of creative nonfiction? The intent of the writer must be to write honestly and truthfully. The writer must not change facts, distort facts, fabricate facts, tell lies, or mislead the reader. Changing a story by adding significant, false details or events that never happened is writing fiction, not creative nonfiction. And if readers discovers that they have been deceived, the writer will lose credibility and a reading audience. And so, when writing creative nonfiction, such as a personal essay, memoir, or literary journalistic essay, the writer must strive to tell the truth the best he/she can. As well, the writer must not fabricate events or experiences.
In this article, I’ll discuss the ethics of writing creative nonfiction. The following will be covered:
- Facts and Emotional Truth
- Memory and Imagination
- What gets included and omitted
- Dealing with Exaggeration
- Compressing Time
- Composite Characters
- Cues and Disclaimers
Facts and Emotional Truth
When writing a personal narrative essay or memoir, you are required to mine your memory for details of a past event or experience. Yet, much of the detail is lost, forgotten with the passage of time. Other details are filed in your unconscious mind. Insignificant details cannot be recalled. Conversations between people cannot be remembered verbatim. How can you fill in the details of things that have been forgotten?
Most writers believe that when writing creative nonfiction, the writer has an ethical responsibility to “tell the truth” the best he/she can. This implies that significant events must have happened. The writer cannot fabricate events. For instance, the write cannot write that he/she visited some place and experienced some setback, obstacle, or adversity—-when it never happened. This is fabricating a story. It is writing fiction–not creative nonfiction, which is based on fact and truth.
Telling the truth also means fact checking. For instance, if someone is alive who can enlighten you about some experience, you are required to listen to their point of view. That is why conducting interviews is a often a required form of research for some creative nonfiction, such as literary journalism and writing a memoir.
Some writers believe that if minor details of things or events cannot remembered, such as the colour of the shirt, the name of a street, the food eaten, cannot be remembered, then they cannot be included. In other words, ” probable details”, such as what you probably ate, or wore, or thought the street name was, must be omitted. These writers believe that “no” detail can be added unless you are absolutely sure. In other words, there is no room for fabrication, even by adding insignificant details.
Other writers believe that it is acceptable to write about “emotional truth” in a personal essay, memoir, or literary journalism. What is emotional truth? It refers to the writer’s “felt experience” in dealing with a person, place, thing, adversity, setback, and so forth. Emotional truth answers the question: How did you feel? For instance, suppose you lost your job, and it felt like the world was coming to an end. Then emotional truth dictates that you can write about how the experience felt to you. You would include the facts of the experience and also the emotional truth of the experience. For instance, the writer of creative nonfiction might respond to a job loss by writing: “Losing my job was like a death. I mourned the loss for years…”
Memory and Imagination
Our memories are faulty. We cannot recall every single detail of an event or experience that happened, far back in our past.
As well, the truth is often a matter of perspective. What I believe is true, and you believe is true might not be the same. Often our imagination plays a role in filling in the forgotten details of memory.
And so, the writer relies on his imagination to invent details of an experience or event that actually happened. Otherwise, the writer would be unable to write the narrative. Many writers believe that it is acceptable to drill into the imagination, withdrawing insignificant details of an event, providing that important aspects of the event are not changed, or that lies are not told. Many writers of creative nonfiction also believe that they be allowed to interpret the facts of the experience as they see them, so long as the intention is to tell the truth—-not lie, not deceive, not distort, and not fabricate significant details or events.
What Can be Included and Omitted
A writer of creative nonfiction will often include certain facts and omit others. If you are writing an opinion essay, there is nothing wrong with including only facts that support your argument, ignoring the opposing argument. Often the lack of time and space prevent you from exploring both sides of the argument.
But readers expect you to paint an accurate portrait of a person or an event with words. They expect that the writer will accurately describe events that have happened, and not add details that never happened. They expect the writer’s “best evidence.”
What can be omitted? Essentially, if the fact or detail is not relevant to a story, it can be left out or omitted. But to omit important facts or details is to distort and mislead the reader. And so, all important facts should be included, and then interpreted by the writer in the memoir or essay.
The writer can respond by writing about the “emotional truth” of an event. Often two people have different feelings about the same person, event, experience. And so, the writer is not making up details or fabricating a story when writing about the emotional truth.
Some writers believe that if something cannot be verified by fact-checking, then it must be omitted from the creative writing. Other writers rely on emotional truth to help them make the decision about what to include and omit. For instance, Joan Didion, a well-known writer, believes that the writer can construct reality based on their own “sense of truth.”
As well, the degree of truthfulness depends on the type of creative writing. If you are writing a literary journal essay that will appear in The New Yorker , or writing a memoir that will include people who are still alive, or writing a profile about a famous person, you’d better get your facts correct. Otherwise, you’ll face retribution. On the other hand, if you are writing a personal narrative essay about a memory that happened 50 years ago, the need for absolute truth and fact-checking is not as important. What matters is the writer’s “sense of truth.” This means: What did the writer recall? What did the writer remember about the experience? What did the writer remember about the person?
Dealing with Exaggeration
Some writers exaggerate the truth to get laughs. For instance, in 2008, when humour writer David Sedaris, released a book of stories called, “When you are Engulfed in Flames”, some well known people accused him of exaggerating the truth. And yet many believe that “exaggeration” and embellishment are acceptable when attempting to share a larger truth. In the response to criticism of Sedaris, Columnist Jon Carroll wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle:”A humorist has lots of latitude because funny things don’t usually write funny.”
Other writers believe that exaggeration is an acceptable technique providing the reader knows that the writer is exaggerating the facts of the story. If the writer is going to use one of the devices of humour, such as satire or exaggeration, he/she must indicate this to the reader by ” cueing the reader” or by writing a ” disclaimer.”
The intent of the writer must not be to use exaggeration to mislead or deceive. Sometimes the writer applies the label “humorist” to his work. This identification tells readers that the writer might embellish the truth to get laughs.
Compressing time is a fictional technique that writer’s deploy to craft short fiction and novels. They use this technique to dramatize the story. They also use this technique to change the pace of the story–to speed by writing vivid details and particular descriptions and to slow down by compressing time by summarizing, “tell the reader what happened.” Vivid details and description are omitted. The writer does not show what happened; the writer “tells” what happened. Time is compressed by combining events that happened over a few days, weeks, months, and so forth, into a shorter span of time.
This technique of compressing time is also used by creative nonfiction writers to craft short personal narrative essays and to write a memoir. For instance, several days might be compressed into a single day or a few hours, even less. Pearl and Schwartz, in the text, “Writing True”, suggest that compressing time is acceptable, providing that the writer’s intent “was true–to capture the truth.”
Real time unfolds one day to the next. Often insignificant events occur during this span of time. To include these details would result in a dull, but true story. And so, many writers use fictional time to tell their true stories. Fictional time or dramatic time omits the unessential details, in order to dramatize the event or experience, and to write an entertaining, story that happens to be true. For instance, memoirist, Azar Nafisi, in Reading Lolita in Tehran, compresses time to tell the true story of a group of seven university students who are invited to meet at per apartment each week to discuss literature. The group meets for two years to discuss books. Instead of writing the details about ever meeting, from start to finish, she compresses time, and writes about the significant conflicts, interactions, experiences that took place. Compressing time allows her to explore the larger themes of oppression and identity and defiance against the established religious culture in Tehran.
And so, compressing time is acceptable for most writers. It allows the writer to speed up the pace, remove insignificant details that can bore and distract, and helps to dramatize the story.
Creating a Composite Character
A composite character is created by combining the personality traits, behaviours, habits, and experiences of two or more people into a single person, who becomes the composite character. Sometimes names are changed in creative nonfiction to protect the privacy of someone who is alive. Other times, traits and behaviours and experience of two or more people are combined to protect the identity of a person. Essentially, a composite allows the writer to share personal information that could be embarrassing or damaging to the integrity or reputation of a person still alive. Most writers believe that using a composite character is acceptable, providing the writer tells the reader, by including a disclaimer in the preface, or as an acknowledgement, or as a footnote in the memoir. Including a disclaimer tells the reader that the writer is not attempting to deceive or lie to the reader, and so the credibility of the writer is maintained.
Cues and Disclaimers
Often the writer can use a ” tagline” or “cue” readers when unsure of the facts or details. Here are a few ways:
“As I recall…”
“Perhaps this if the way it happened…”
“I don’t recall exactly….”
“This is what it was like…”
As well, the writer can add a disclaimer to the preface, introduction, or prologue of a memoir. The disclaimer notifies that reader that the writer is not 100% certain of the details, or that a composite character was created, or that the memoir is part nonfiction and part fiction.
For instance, In his memoir, “The Heart Breaking Work of a staggering Genius”, Dave Eggers, tells readers that part of his memoir is fiction by using humour in the “Preface to this Edition”: “For all the author’s bluster elsewhere, this is not, actually, a work of pure nonfiction. Many parts have been fictionalized in varying degrees, for various purposes.” He then proceeds to tell readers, in ten pages, what in the memoir is fictional.
To summarize, the intent of the writer of creative nonfiction must be to tell the truth the best he/she can, and to also write in a way that is entertaining. As well, the writer can compress time to speed up pace and dramatize parts of the story, create a composite character to protect the identity of someone, use imagination to fill in trivial details, omit information that is not critical, use exaggeration to get laughs, and write about “emotional truth.” The ethics of creative nonfiction require that the writer tell stories about events that are true, and not fabricated, whether the writer is writing about “self” or the outside world. And when there is any doubt that readers might be mislead or unsure of what is true, the writer must “cue the reader or write a “disclaimer.”
Your most important guidelines for writing creative nonfiction are to write honestly, even if it means “sharing emotional truth.” In other wordsl, telling your readers how it felt to you. As well, your intent must always be to “tell the factual truth” the best you can. Fabrication of significant events is fiction, not creative nonfiction. If you desire to fabricate the details of a story, you should write short fiction or a novel.
To learn more about the ethics of creative nonfiction, you can read:
- Tell it Slant: Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction by Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
- Writing True: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction by Sondra Perl and Mimi Schwartz
- The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction by Dinty M. Moore
Using Parody to Get Laughs
What is parody? It is a literary or artistic work that imitates the characteristics or style of another author or an artistic work for comic effect or ridicule. It is used to comment on or poke fun at an original work, the artist, or artistic style. It is a humour device used in all types of comedy—-from stand-up comedy to comedy films. Parody is also called a “send-up” or “spoof.”
In literature, the writer uses parody as a form of comic mockery or satirical criticism. The writer imitates the style and conventions of a particular writer to expose the weaknesses of the writer’s style or content. A writer can also use parody to mock or ridicule a particular school of writers.
The screenwriter can use parody to satirize other film genres or films. This is called a parody film. Conventions used include stereotyping, jokes, mockery, and sarcasm. The film “Scary Movie” parodied the horror genre. The film “Blazing Saddles” parodied the western genre. The British comedy group Monty Python parodied King Arthur in “The Holy Grail.”
The screenwriter for a sitcom can also use parody, often as a form of social and political criticism. Parody has been used in “The Simpson’s” episodes. The popular show, “The Daily Show”, is a parody of the news broadcast. The Colbert Show is a parody of a talk show. Throughout its history, “Saturday Night Live” has parodied popular culture, current events, and politics.
Parody has been used in music videos to mock the musical style of a performer. Weird Al Yankovic parodied the performance of Michael Jackson in the 80s.
In summary, a writer uses parody to imitate an artist or artistic work, in order to produce a comic effect or mock or ridicule the artist or artistic work. Parody is a popular humour device that writers use in sitcoms, comedy films, sketch comedy, and stand-up comedy.
A Definition of Satire
“The satirist who writes nothing but satire should write but little — or it will seem that his satire springs rather from his own caustic nature than from the sins of the world in which he lives.”—-Anthony Trollope
What is satire? Satire is a literary device that is used to mock or ridicule vice, folly, or stupidity. This ridicule or scorn is directed at an individual, social group, institution, or society. Satire is often witty, ironic, or exaggerated. Most satire is intended to be humorous, designed to evoke amusement or laughter from the reader or audience. Sometimes, though, the writer uses satire as invective.
Satire has a purpose. The writer’s intention is often to 1) bring the vice or folly or failing into public view and 2) motivate or inspire change or reform. This is especially true for political and social satire, where the satire is intended to be a social or political criticism. In its extreme, the writer employs satire to make vice or folly reprehensible.
Satire is popular in many aspects of our pop culture. Writers use it to craft poems, novels, plays, sitcoms, and scripts for films. Satire is also a genre. For instance, the popular sitcom “The Simpson’s” is a satire of contemporary society and family. Many sketch comedies on Saturday Night Live use satire to get laughs from the audience. The film “The Great Dictator” starring Charlie Chaplin is a satire on Adolph Hitler. Stanley Kubrick’s film “Dr. Strangelove” is a satire on the absurdity of nuclear war.
If you have any questions or comments, please post them to this blog.
Next, I will write about the different types of satire.
Irony: A Definition
What is irony? Irony is a literary device or comic device that a writer can use to craft a humorous piece of writing. Its intention is to generate a comic effect. The problem with using irony is that it is often a misunderstood form of humour. Many readers or members of the audience fail to “get it.” As well, humour is cultural specific. What is ironic in one culture might not be ironic in another. Irony is also a difficult device to master, as there is a fine line between irony and sarcasm. Many of the great writers have used irony in their writing, including Shakespeare, George Orwell, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain. Today, many satirists who write columns or articles use the literary device of irony.
There are three types of irony:
- Verbal irony. The speaker or writer means the opposite of what he/she says. Essentially, it is the humorous use of words to imply something different, and usually opposite, to the literary meaning. Example: Something unfortunate occurs, and the person says, “This is so lovely.” What the person really means is that he/she is upset.
- Situational irony. It is the incongruity between what is expected and what actually occurs. For instance, an employee is called into the office expecting to get fired. Instead, the boss gives the employee a pay increase.
- Dramatic irony. The reader or audience knows more about the character or plot in the story or play than the characters themselves. Essentially, the dialogue and actions of the characters in the story have a different meaning for the reader or audience than they do for the characters themselves. Dramatic irony can also mean that the readers or audience knows more about the immediate circumstances or future events of the story than the characters. George Orwell, in his novel “Animal Farm”, uses dramatic irony to show the difference between what animals are aware of and what the reader recognizes.
Next, I will write about satire.
In his bestselling book, “On Writing Well”, William Zinsser writes that “humour is the secret weapon of the nonfiction writer.” It is often the best tool and only tool for making an important point. Its purpose also needs to be to entertain the reader.
This article summarizes what Zinsser suggests about using humour in nonfiction writing and provides some words of advice on how to write humorous nonfiction.
Humour writing is serious writing. The writer’s intention in using humour is to say something important in a special way. To do this, the writer needs to use the appropriate comic device, such as parody or satire or irony, to emphasize the truth.
Often, the events making news are a good source for writing humour. Yet, writing something funny doesn’t need to be topical. It does, however, need to be based on “fundamental truth.”Instead of writing about a topic in the news, the humorist can write about everyday life, such as the home, family, and work.
Much of the time the humor in nonfiction is intended to make a serious point. The writer must find the right comic device to disguise his/her serious point. The writer can use satire, irony, parody, and lampoon—even nonsense.
Good humour writing makes readers laugh. Frequently, all the writer needs to do is exaggerate the truth. For instance, the book Catch-22 and the script for Dr. Strangelove both use exaggeration to ridicule the absurdities of war. In using exaggeration, the writer makes his/her serious point. The point is disguised as humour.
The humour writer must often go against public opinion to write a humorous piece.
Humour doesn’t need to make a serious point. The writer can use nonsense to make his/her readers laugh.
The humorist must convey enjoyment. In other words, the humorist must communicate to the reader that he is having a good time in writing the piece.
The humorist ought also to represent himself or herself as the “victim” or “dunce.” This gives the reader a sense of superiority.
Zinsser states several principles for a writer of humour. First, the writer should never strain for laughs. Instead, the writer needs to focus on surprising the reader. Secondly, the writer should write about the truth, instead of focusing on the ordinary or outlandish. Thirdly, before writing humour, the writer must learn to write well.
Words of Advice
The writer can create humorous nonfiction by finding humour in the news or by creating a comic reality. What goes on in everyday life can also be funny.
To create a comic effect, the writer needs to use one of the popular comic devices, such as exaggeration, ironic truth, humours anecdotes, wordplay, one-liner, satire, and truth as a form of humour.
Satire is often used. People laugh when they are surprised. People also laugh at the misfortunes of others. So, the writer can often mock or ridicule the follies or vices of other people.
The writer must be careful not to violate social taboos, make sexist comments, or write racial slurs.
The nonfiction writer rarely uses profanity, vulgarisms, or obscenity in his/her writing.
In crafting the opening, the writer needs to capture the attention of the reader very quickly. So, the opening should be funny. To bring the writing to a close, the writer needs to surprise the reader with a punchline or point that is funny.
If you have any questions or comments, please post them to this blog or contact me.
Next, I will write about the comic devices of wordplay, exaggeration, humorous anecdote, irony, satire, parody, and lampoon.