Ever read content so boring and awful it literally makes you want to barf? It happens to me more than I’d like. I see the college paper format and my eyes glaze over. And it’s not a good glaze, like the sticky stuff on donuts. It’s the glaze of an encroaching nap.
But every once in a while, I come across a little gem. It makes me lol and it sticks with me—until I’m distracted by something else, like a picture of a dog wearing a raincoat. Writing that’s funny is so much more memorable.
Lots of people want to know: How can I write funny?
If there were a simple answer to this question, my Mom would have shared it on Facebook already. So while there’s no magic wand you can wave over your words, there are a few relatively easy ways you can insert humor into your writing.
1. Use Those Gifs. Gifs are funny no matter how you pronounce them. They add life to words and create a visual anchor for those fictional situations you’re trying to stir up in your readers’ minds.
For example: Say you’re writing about young professionals who are expected to work for free as an intern before getting hired. That can be pretty dry subject matter. But if you want to add a dash of humor, toss in a silly gif, like this one:
Not only does it work in a little pop culture reference, but it also illustrates an unfunny topic in a funny way.
2. Create Funny Dialogue
You can make a normal situation funny by adding in unspoken elements to dialogue. Luke Trayser does a great job of this in a scenario he created for a Medium article, in which two people have a conversation about their work:
Human: …so I decided to launch my glitterbomb Kickstarter, and the rest is history! HAHAHAHAHAHA. So, what do you do?
You: I’m a copywriter.
Human: Oh, cool! How does copyright law work, anyway? I’ve always wondered.
You: No, I creatively construct words and phrases in an effort to get someone to take action.
Human: Like legal action! Got it.
You: [dies inside] Advertising. It’s a lot like Mad Men, except not at all.
Notice all of the little conversational quirks he’s added in to that exchange? Internal emotions, obnoxious laughter, confusion—all of these little subtle additions to the back and forth that make it fun to read.
Instead of just reporting dialogue word for word, embellish with unspoken cues and feelings represented in text. Think of it like you have an aside with your audience. You can explain all of the things you were thinking but didn’t say out loud during a situation.
3. Use Varied Typography to Illustrate Emphasis.
You’re working with limited resources as far as cues for emphasis go when writing. But using bold to indicate loud words or italics to show where readers should stress words, you can influence how you writing voice sounds in a reader’s mind.
Take a look at this example: My boss is always late for work. Which is no big deal, except that so am I. So when I bump into her still wearing my coat at 8:30 every morning (when I should’ve been there at 8:00), I end up making some garbled statement about how cold it is, so that my coat wearing seems due to relative office heat instead of lateness.
These typographical cues not only make your story funnier, but also tell the reader where to pause and stretch out words so that your writing sounds more like an actual speaking voice.
Take Note of What You Find Funny
My final note for you is this: Everyone’s sense of humor is different. One of the hardest parts to writing funny is writing in a way that everyone finds humorous—not just making inside jokes that only you will understand and ROTFL over.
Pro tip: Keep a running document of links to posts or snippets of articles you think are funny. Over time, you’ll start to notice a pattern in what makes you laugh, and you can start to use those same tactics in your own writing.
And finally: Don’t be too hard on yourself. All elements of writing take time, so don’t expect an invitation to write for Saturday Night Live after your first week. It takes time—as do all things that are worth doing.
I'd love, love, love to know what pieces you've seen do a nice job of being funny without being overkill...feel free to tweet me @kaleighf.
This article originally appeared in my newsletter, A Cup of Copy.