Thursday, November 22, 2012

Guest Author Sally Harris: How to Write Laughworthy Stories

By Sally Harris, @franklybooks

I'd like to welcome middle grade author Sally Harris to the blog today to help us be funny. Or at least, help us make our stories funny.

Sally grew up in Mildura and wrote her first book when she was in Grade 4–it was a joke book, full of some seriously corny jokes. Since then she has barely stopped writing stories and while her taste in jokes may not have improved, she likes to think that her storytelling skills have. She lives in Melbourne and when she’s not writing, you can find her teaching, dancing, drinking chai lattes, reading children's books and scouring the paper for unlikely news articles to turn into exciting fiction.

Sally's book for middle grade readers, Diary of a Penguin-napper, currently is available from Amazon as a paperback and for Kindle. It is also flying off the shelves (or should that be waddling?) in a range of e-book formats from Smashwords.

As part of her blog tour, Sally appeared yesterday over at Lost in Lit and tomorrow, you'll be able to check her out being interviewed by Stephanie over at Read in a Single Sitting.

Take it away Sally...

When people pick up my book, they often ask me where I get my ideas from for writing funny stories. I'm quite lucky that a lot of funny things do seem to happen to me fairly regularly (and my sister too–must be genetics!) and I try to write as many of these these down as possible. I also like to take perfectly regular situations, events or characters and give them a humorous twist.

Today, I thought I'd share with you some of the techniques I use to try to create stories that will make my readers laugh:

1. Create an over-the-top or single-minded character.

When writing stories to make children laugh, I almost always start with the characters. I'll often come up with an entire character, complete with a name and physical characteristics, before I have a story to put them in. I find that the characters that are easiest to make funny in a story are those who are easy to recognise because they have an extremely exaggerated characteristic or those that have a single-minded focus on achieving a certain ambition.

For example, in Diary of a Penguin-napper my 'over-the-top' characters are two police officers called Fat and Skinny. They add humor to the story because they are quite extreme caricatures of police officers. On the other hand, Marty, the protagonist, has a single-minded focus on impressing the most beautiful girl in Year 7 (and probably the world) and everything he does is towards achieving this goal.

2. Have your character go beyond the point where most 'normal' characters would stop.

When outlining a story, I try to constantly ask myself "What if?" and the more ridiculous the answers, the funnier the story becomes. Humorous characters tend not to think of rules or boundaries, as they are too focused on attaining their goal, and this means that they will often persist with something much longer than a regular character would. Generally, the longer they persist and the more outlandish the situation becomes, the funnier for the reader.

The characters of Marty and his best friend, Turds, certainly exemplify this principle. They keep finding different ways to try and make Marty the money he needs to go on the overnight trip and they persist with this long after any normal 11 year old boys would have given up!

3. Use the 'Rule of Three'.

Just like in fairytales, things in funny stories tend to happen in groups of three. It is believed that this makes things funnier and more satisfying for the reader. Each events tend to make the situation worse or more dramatic and hence, funnier. This can either shape the entire plot of your story or it can be used to inject humor here and there.

Diary of a Penguin-napper uses both. In the overarching plot, the two boys try three different money making schemes, each more unlikely to succeed than the last. Injected into this plot are lots of snippets that have been taken from Marty's diary (I mean, his 'record book'–sounds much more manly!) and they too rely on the rule of three. For example:

4. Always come out on top.

Finally, in humorous writing, the comic character always comes out on top at the end of the story. They might attempt the outlandish, the ridiculous or the dramatic, but they always need to come out of it alright. Sure, they might not achieve the goal they were working towards. Sure, they might break a bone or two (or four). Sure, they might end up in big, huge, Titantic-sized trouble. (Hey–did you see the rule of three there?)

But they will always put a positive spin on it and the reader should be assured that it won't be long before they are ready for their next hilarious near miss!

About Diary of a Penguin-Napper

3 weeks ...

2 boys ...

1 little penguin ...

What could possibly go wrong?

When 11 (and a half) year old Marty is partnered up with Jessica on the overnight science trip, he thinks all of this dreams are about to come true. It's his big chance to impress the most beautiful girl in Year 7 (and probably the world) and he wouldn't miss it for anything.

Only problem is: Marty can't afford to go on the overnight trip. Yet.

Inspired by the urban myth that it is possible to steal a penguin from the zoo on a school visit, Diary of a Penguin-napper is a hilarious tale of growing up, bending the rules and how one big fuss can be caused by stealing just one little penguin.


  1. Awesome post! Thanks for your insight. I especially like advice number 2. :)


  2. Love it. I write humour and can agree with 1, 2 and 3

  3. Thanks for the feedback! I'm glad you enjoyed the post :)

  4. These are great tips. :) Humor is harder than it looks.

  5. Great post--I love number 2 as well, and think it's a great tip for aspiring humour writers. Humour is definitely a tough sell as it can be so subjective, but these are excellent tips for helping to ensure that your work appeals to a wider audience. :)

    Stephanie @ RIASS