Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Guest Author Anna Staniszewski: Write What Makes You Laugh

Today we have YA author Anna Staniszewski talking about what makes her laugh, and why humor is such an elusive beast. I've always enjoyed funny books, but never had the skill to really pull them off well (I'm much better at causing trouble). But now I have some pointers to bring in the funny.

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. She was named the 2006-2007 Writer-in-Residence at the Boston Public Library and a winner of the 2009 PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Discovery Award. Currently, Anna lives outside of Boston with her husband and their adopted black Labrador, Emma. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. Her first novel, My Very UnFairy Tale Life, was released by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky on November 1, 2011. You can visit her at www.annastan.com.

Take it away Anna...

I don’t pretend to be an expert on writing humor, but I am somewhat of an expert on being a goofball. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I have a wacky sense of humor. Or that I’m quirky. Or that you should run the other way if I start telling a joke.

I’ve always loved making people laugh, but it’s taken me years to realize I could use that in my writing. You see, for much of my life I’ve been obsessed with dark, thought-provoking books (Z for Zachariah, The Giver, Incarceron), and I was convinced that if I loved dark books, I should write them. Sadly, I never got as far as I wanted in this genre (i.e. no book contract) and finally, I got so fed up that I sat down and wrote something funny just to cheer myself up. And what do you know? That’s the book that got me the publishing contract. In retrospect, the fact that the funny book sold shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Did I mention I like to make people laugh?

When I was working on writing My Very UnFairy Tale Life and later revising it with my agent and editor, I let myself keep having fun with the story. I continued putting in character details or bits of dialogue that made me giggle all the way through the final revision. The thing about writing humor is that you become immune to your own jokes pretty quickly, so I kept pushing myself to “up the funny” through each step of the process.

As I went through writing and publishing my book, I tried to come to a better understanding of how humor for young readers works. Finally, I realized that for me, writing humor boils down to one fundamental thing: focusing on what makes me laugh. I think often when people write humor, especially for kids, they only consider what they think kids will find funny. But if you’re writing what you think others will laugh at, as opposed to what makes you guffaw, chances are you’re selling yourself short.

I think this actually goes for any type of writing that’s meant to elicit an emotional response in the reader. Whether you’re trying to make your readers laugh or cry or scream, you need to focus on the things that make you laugh or cry or scream. If you’re not genuinely scared, for example, how can you expect your readers to be?

When it comes to writing funny, think about the times you’ve laughed the hardest in your life and about the jokes you love to tell over and over. Jot down the weird conversations you’ve had with friends and the utterly bizarre and unexpected things that have happened to you or to people you know. Those bits of wackiness might just be nuggets of comic gold. And when it comes to making people laugh, don’t be afraid to be a total and complete goofball. We can be experts together.

About My Very UnFairy Tale Life

"You know all those stories that claim fairies cry sparkle tears and elves travel by rainbow? They're lies. All lies." Twelve-year-old Jenny has spent the last two years as an adventurer helping magical kingdoms around the universe. But it's a thankless job, leaving her no time for school or friends. She'd almost rather take a math test than rescue yet another magical creature! When Jenny is sent on yet another mission, she has a tough choice to make: quit and have her normal life back, or fulfill her promise and go into a battle she doesn't think she can win.


  1. I think you're right. We all love unexpected twists, reversals, one liners, just like kids! I also think that's why it's important for writer to experiment. I'll never forget that Jay Asher thought he would write humorous middle grade and then he experimented with Thirteen Reasons Why.

  2. Thanks so much for having me, Janice!

  3. It takes much more courage to write funny than it does to be funny, but when it works (like in Anna's book) it's like nothing else.

  4. Great post! I love writing the humor, too, and now that I'm about to enter editing with my editor, I will definitely be keeping this post in mind. Love it and off to goodreads to add to my to-read pile :-)

  5. Great advice! I really want to practice thinking of it this way. It's easy to get so focussed on craft that the story begins to fall by the wayside. And bringing it back home to what I enjoy is most likely the way forward! And I really loved to learn about your writing history. Thanks, Anna!

  6. I love humour and humorous books. Your advise has already got me thinking how I can add more humour to the story I'm currently working on.

  7. Great advice.

    Although I hadn't been doing this as much lately, I like sprinkling in a bit of light-heartness into my prose. I should use it more, as my NaNoWriMo is a little lacking in terms of humor. Still there, but not enough of it.

  8. Terrific post with sound advice - thanks to both of you ladies!
    :0) Robyn

  9. What a coincidence that I happened to come to this blog with this post today! I just finished reading Anna's book last night. I won it in a contest on Heather Kelly's blog. My Very UnFairytale Life is packed with humor and fun, and I enjoyed it, being a big goofball myself. I think kids are going to love this book. To me, it has an Alice In Wonderland feel to it.