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Getting Serious About Humor Writing

28 Sep
The biggest myth about writing humor is you can either do it or you can’t. Like some humor fairy cast a spell on you when you were a baby and those who didn’t get the spell are just not funny, even boring. Not true.

I’ve discovered that you can work that funny bone and pump it up.
The key: practice. Errrr, duh! I’m not kidding (really). That little saying your mom told you when you were seven years old, sitting at the piano, hating every minute of it while your friends were playing outside is true. “Practice makes perfect.” In my case, it’s not perfect but much better than the crap I started writing two years ago. I won’t make you suffer by referring to it.

I read an interview with Dave Barry on writing humor. If you don’t know who he is, then immediately go here and discover what you’re missing. Geez, don’t you people get out? Barry had a few things he shared about humor writing you all might find interesting:

Develop a Strong Sense of Pacing

If you’re telling a funny story about a squirrel in somebody’s pants, you can’t take forever to get to the punch. Don’t describe what the person liked to eat or read. Tell us that he had a squirrel in his pants but a bunch of people thought he was break-dancing so they “ooed” and “ahhed” and threw money at him. Later they found out about the squirrels. One guy tried to catch the squirrel and put it in his pants so he could get on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Get Serious About Being Funny

Barry says, “If  you’re gonna write humor you have to take it just as seriously as if you were gonna write about anything else. You have to really work hard to get it to work. It’s not sitting and talking to your friends…you may be very funny sitting and talking to your friends but there’s a definite craft involved in writing for strangers and getting them through something that you’ve written in a way that they find it to be amusing.” Normally, we think of funny people as just being that way. But they work hard at it.

Have a Real Reader Read Your Writing

Barry says that humor writing is tough. If you write something about the IRS Code and people read it, they don’t expect it to be funny. But if you’re a humor writer you’re basically saying to your readers, “This is going to be funny.” You may think it’s funny, but the world might not. If it’s not, then you suck. You sucked at getting the readers to laugh. Getting a real reader to read your stuff before you put it out there is good because you can get an idea on whether or not a total stranger will think it’s funny. Then find out why they think it’s funny.

Find Humorous Topics

Barry’s answer here was insightful. He says, “Humor is really closely related to fear and despair. I believe the reason people have a sense of humor is if they didn’t, then they would look around, they would realize, with their perfectly rational brains, that we live in an extremely dangerous, scary world, run by all kinds of forces over which we have no control, and we’re all gonna get older and sicker and die.If we can’t react to that in some way that allows us to release the fear and the anxiety that that realization comes along, we’re in deep trouble. So we laugh.” To me, this is brilliant. If you think about most really good humorists or comedians, they do this so well.

Follow this advice, and maybe someone else other than your mom will think you’re funny.


The Music Plays for No One

1 Jun

People like to think that once you find your soul mate, everything else automatically works itself out. Most likely you will find that the love of your life starts doing things that are a little quirky. As time goes on, those little quirks become annoyances and later they become irritating until finally they are completely unbearable. Loving someone and living with him or her sometimes seems like a mutually exclusive endeavor.

I think it was after we had been married for two years when I first noticed certain things the Hubby did that made me stop and think about them. Before that, there was virtually nothing he could do wrong. He would be on his way to the kitchen and ask me if I wanted anything. He would come home from his day and seem like he was actually happy to see me, greeting me with a big hug and kiss. He would put the seat down all the time. But slowly, as if by some gradual primeval evolutionary process, things changed. I’m not quite sure how or why it happened. He would go to make himself a snack from the kitchen, come into the living room and sit down right next to me with his treat. I would give him a look as if to say, “Hey, I’m hungry. I’d like a snack too,” and he wouldn’t even notice. I’d have to sigh or huff and puff for him to pay attention to me but he’d just look at me and say, “What?” Or he’d come home from work and go straight to our closet, change his clothes, then flip the T.V. on without even saying hello to me. Maybe I started taking him for granted too, but we’re not talking about me here.

When we first met, we would often go to his apartment and listen to his music. The Hubby is a music fanatic and collects it like someone would troll dolls. I think he has over ten million songs on his iTunes. He’s got everything from Barry Manilow and John Denver to Metallica and Disturbed and everything in between. It’s always bizarre to listen to “Sunshine” by John Denver and go to “10,000 Fists in the Air” by Disturbed in one click. I used to think he was so eclectic and worldly with his wide variety of musical tastes. It was part of his charm, until I lived with him. Not only does he listen to some of the most annoying music on the planet, but he also has to have it blasting throughout the house, neighborhood, and city. We’ll be getting ready for dinner and he’ll put on “Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest on so loud, I can actually feel Rob Halford breathing in between notes. I try to tell The Hubby to turn it down but he doesn’t hear me. I have to start acting out what I’m trying to communicate to him and he doesn’t understand. He just thinks I’m getting violently ill. Finally, I walk over to the stereo and turn it down and he gives me a, “What’d you do that for?” I try to calmly and politely tell him that I’d like to enjoy my meal rather than get a week’s worth of heartburn. He’ll think I just don’t like the song he selected, which I don’t but then he’ll put on something by Air Supply that makes me even more nauseous and I’ll tell him I’m not hungry anymore.

It doesn’t just happen at home. He carries his obsession with his music wherever he goes. When we’re in the car, he’s got to have his iPod with the connector thing that plays it in our car. I’ve learned that I’m not allowed to play any music I like in the car because it’s too pedestrian and mainstream. He has to play some musical rock opera about Satan’s children with lots of flute or some drippy love song by a bleeding heart singer/song writer. What’s wrong with pedestrian and mainstream? At least it doesn’t give me a migraine or an upset stomach. The worst is when we’re on a road trip and we’re stuck in the car for hours listening to a musak version of “Baby Got Back” or the whole album of a very bad space rock band’s interpretation of medieval science fiction. We’ll stop at a gas station after four hours and me and the children will run into the convenience store asking if they have a hammer so we can use it to smash daddy’s iPod.

The Hubby even takes his beloved iPod to bed with him to listen to as he falls asleep. On several occasions I’ve had to remind him to turn the volume down because I can hear the singer screaming out lyrics like, “You f*cker, come on and get down with the sickness!” I ask him how he can listen to thrash metal while he’s trying to fall asleep and he’ll tell me that it helps him calm his mind. I wonder, if that helps him calm his mind what the heck is he thinking about? Maybe I don’t want to know. A few times I’ve actually listened to his song selection on his iPod and could only stand it for two maybe three songs. I mean, going from Eminem to Captain and Tennile to Kenny Rogers, and then Rage Against the Machine would make most people really pissed off, jubilant, and depressed all at the same time.

If that’s not bad enough, the Hubby will turn on the stereo in the living room, full blast, of course, and then leave the room for hours. Usually, I’ll come in to the guitar solo or the drum solo and look around for him. He’s not there, and neither is anyone else for that matter. I’ll finally find him outside mowing the law or organizing the garage and ask, “Why is the music on if you’re out here?” He’ll typically tell me that he was going to come back in after he finished whatever he was doing. Sometimes that could be an in-depth session of going through his old comic book collection which could last for hours. Meanwhile, the music is blasting to an empty room. Or he’ll go into the garage to work out or do something with his tools and he’ll turn on the stereo out there, because he has to have music wherever he goes. He has it tuned to his favorite radio station, “The Bone.” Then he’ll come back into the house and watch TV. I’ll go to the laundry room to empty the dryer and hear weird noises coming from the garage and once again the music is playing for no one. Well, sometimes the cats go in the garage so they are being traumatized for hours by the Hubby’s blasting music.

What once made him seem eclectic and worldly now drives me crazy. If I had known the full extent of his obsession with music, I probably would have found some way to accidentally catch his CD collection on fire while we were dating. I would still have married him though. He does have a few songs in his collection that I actually like and when he plays them we’ll sometimes dance. Any man willing to dance with his wife in the living room to Duran Duran is definitely a keeper.

Here I Go Again…

27 May

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’m a writer for a living. You also know that the kind of writing I do to get paid is not really the kind of writing I really want to do.

To get paid, I write marketing stuff for the corporate world. You know, web sites, brochures, email campaigns, business articles…crap like that. I’ve been doing it so long now I can write some of these things in my sleep, which I sometimes do (don’t tell my clients…OOPS!). I can do this because I’ve done it over and over and over and over. Like someone always said to me even if I wanted to hear it or not, “Practice makes perfect.” Yeah, yeah…blah, blah, blah.

But wait.

I’m just now starting to think about those words and understand what they really mean. I’ve always been a little slow…

Anyway, the kind of writing I WANT to do is humorous writing. While I’ve had a lot of people in my life tell me I can tell really funny stories, writing them is a whole new ball of wax. The whole reason I started this blog was to “practice” telling funny stories…but, I’ve learned that I need a lot more practice. Being funny is something I have to actually work at in writing. I have some natural ability, but I am nowhere near where I want to be (and I’m in my mid-forties!!!).

So here I go again…I’m going to start practicing again. I’ve somehow fallen into a group of writers who want to help each other out (because Karma is really a powerful thing). They are some great writers, and great people. You should check out their blogs if you get a chance:

Gina @ A Muse in My Pocket
Hannah @ Musings of a Palindrome
Terry @ A Writer of Wrongs
Meleah @ Momma Mia, Mea Culpa

THANKS GUYS! I can’t wait to work with you and get our stuff out into the world. I’m revved up again!

I’m going to be posting some of my zany stories…and you blog readers are my guinea pigs. muwah ha ha ha ha!!! *evil laugh*

Are you ready? Fasten yer seat belts ‘cuz we’re going on a wild ride! YIPPIEEE!!!

Where’s the Funneh?

13 Apr

As some of you may know, Random Chick has been down in a hole in the ground battling her nemesis: depression. Some of you may know this evil foe. No matter how you try to bring out the funneh, it just ain’t happening whenever this dude is around. So what’s a Random Chick (or a mere mortal) supposed to do?

Well, Random Chick has learnt a thing or two about this archenemy and she’d like to share some of her brain droppings about it. Is that okay with you? No? Well…too bad. You’ll have to click away if you don’t like it.

1) You Gotta Eat Right
As much as Random Chick LOVES sugary, fried, crap on a stick, it’s not very good nutrition for battling depression. In fact, it kinda brings it on. That means you need to steer clear of it and eat lots of this stuff:

Unfortunately, some things are hard to stay away from (like Starbucks, RC is gonna try, try, try to only do one a week), but Random Chick has gone so far as dissing all meat. Yup, she’s now a certified Vegamaterian.

2) Move Your Body
As much as we’d like to sit around blogging, playing video games, or watching bad TV, we gotta move our asses. This is one thing Random Chick has put on the back burner. There’s a lot of crap that goes on in our lives and sometimes taking care of yourself is the last thing you have time for…but it’s the most important. So get out there and move it!

3) Get Rid of Stuff That Brings You Down
When you have a propensity toward depression, you need to put a restraining order on anything that might bring you down. You need to avoid it like the plague. Just pretend you are highly allergic to anything negative and if you come into contact with it you will have a severe reaction. Seriously.

4) Switch Off KFKD
Okay, this is the hard stuff. What makes your depression stronger, that evil son of a b*tch, is what you tell yourself. You know, what my favorite author calls KFKD. It’s that radio station between your ears that plays those self-loathing thoughts. What’s really hard is trying to spot those thoughts, then stopping them when they happen, and revising the message. For Random Chick, KFKD plays “You are a weak person and can’t handle life” over and over. Then what Random Chick needs to do is switch the station to play “You can handle whatever life dishes out, and if you need help you’ll get it.”

5) Break the Habit
More of the hard stuff. This requires constant vigilance and its why so many of us return to the cycle of depression. “Depression is like a fog that cannot be grabbed in any one place…but fogs can lift.” Find the real you. The one who isn’t depressed and never has been. Random Chick will periodically post about her work in this area because she believes this is going to be a life-long project. But, if she can do it, anyone can. Even you.

More good stuff can be found here: How to Heal From Depression.

By the way…look out for the funneh on Random Chick’s blog. It’s back. And it’s coming your way.

Dude, Where’s My Wallet?

21 Mar

What do you get when you combine one brain-fogged new mommy, one screaming toddler, and a wallet on the roof of a car?

One. Crazy. Story.

Remember when I told ya’ll that I was going to take a shot and enter the 2010 Writer’s Digest Writing Competition? Well, I finished my humorous essay about the time I lost my wallet when my daughter freaked out about going into her car seat.

I’m not going to tell you the whole story but let’s just say it involves a police officer and a freeway. Specifically, me running around like a mad woman on the freeway looking for my wallet.

Now, I’m not under any delusions as I typically am about most things. I don’t expect to win the competition by any stretch of my wacky imagination. However, the judges will be selecting the top 100 essays. My goal is to at least get into that 100 just to say that I did it. It would be AWESOME to win the Grand Prize which is $3,000 in cash and a trip to New York City to meet with four editors and agents. How cool would that be?!

Well, for now I can say I finished the essay and am having trusted sources read and edit it before I turn it in. I’ve done my part. After that, it’s up to the universe to respond.

*crossing fingers*

P.S. Three points and the satisfaction that you are better than everyone else for anyone who can correctly identify the character in the photo with this post.

Books, Books, Wonderful Books

23 Feb

I love books. I love holding a book in my hands, turning the crisp pages, and entering a new world. The idea that words on a page can evoke such amazing imagery, emotions, and gratification is astounding to me. Reading is such a personal experience, and I believe it is an experience that cannot be duplicated. Ever.

For these reasons, I became a writer.

Today, I’d like to share with my 5 blog fans (thanks for hanging with me, ya’ll) some of my all-time favorite books. These books have literally changed the course of my life.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (1961)
I read this book when I was 11 years-old. I could totally relate to the main character, Milo, because he was bored (as I often was at this age). A mysterious tollbooth appears and he’s whisked away to a weird world full of puns, like making a jump to the Island of Conclusions. This was one of the first books to really engage me in reading which made me want to read more.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (1961)I think I was around 13 years-old when I read this book. I remember sobbing uncontrollably when Old Dan dies after protecting Billy from the mountain lion. It was even more sad when Little Ann dies of starvation because she misses Old Dan. It took place in a world I hadn’t known, on a farm back when there was little modern conveniences. This was the first time a book had moved me to tears and I will never forget it.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (1949)
I think I was in high school when I read these. I can’t remember, it was…well, a long time ago. I loved the idea that a strange, exciting world could be as close as the inside of a wardrobe closet. I used to wish I could go into my closet and go somewhere fantastical like Narnia. When I finished one book in the series, I could hardly wait to pick up the next one to see what would happen. I loved the descriptions and the battle for good over evil. I did not see the movie and probably never will because I love these books so much.

The Blues Eye by Toni Morrison (1970)
I read this one in college, and it rocked my world. I had many friends from diverse cultures so I never encountered racism or even thought about it. This story about a young black girl, Pecola, is brutal and painful to read. But to this day, I cannot get the scene out of my mind where Pecola is playing with a little white boy who violently kills a cat while she looks on helplessly. I was deeply disturbed by this book, but felt somehow that it opened my mind to things that happen in this world that I was totally oblivious to before reading it. It is a powerful book written by a master of the English language.

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (1950)
Once again, a book whisked me away to a strange new world: Mars. But this one was filled with turmoil facing both the Martians and the Human race from near-extinction. Humans were the invaders of the wonderfully vivid Mars, and you find yourself rooting for the Martians rather than the humans. The Martians seemed graceful and innocent while the Humans were merely selfish and greedy, always fighting amongst themselves. I read this book in college and loved Bradbury’s use of the language. I was completely mesmerized by these stories.

Gone With the Wind by Margret Mitchell (1936)
Unlike most books I’ve read, I saw the movie first and then got the book. I think I was in my twenties when I saw the movie. My breath was completely taken away and I wanted to read this amazing book to get all the details that I knew would have been cut out by Hollywood. Not only was my curiosity rewarded, but I discovered the richness that Mitchell so elegantly captured of the South during this time period that was really lost in the movie. Sure, there was the ball gowns and the sprawling plantations in the movie but the fierceness to hold onto the Southern way of life was much more passionate in the book. And Scarlet O’Hara was down-right EVIL in the book. They definitely toned her down in the movie because I think most movie-goers would have HATED her despite her will to survive against all odds.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (1994)
In my mid-twenties, I was trying to figure out how to make money by being a writer. I had no clue what kind of writing I wanted to do, I just knew it wanted to write and make enough money to eat and live. I picked up this book on a recommendation by a good friend. I found myself laughing out loud at Lamott’s self-deprecating humor and her frank honestly about the writing life. She candidly talks about “shitty first drafts” and the painful process of capturing the writing muse. This book made me want to write stuff that makes people laugh because this book brought me so much joy, as well as imparted true wisdom on writing for a living.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1998) I read this book in my thirties and was questioning religion as a whole so reading this one was perfectly timed. It is the story of a missionary family who moves from Georgia to the Conga to spread Christianity to the savages. However, the sheer wildness of the land and culture overtakes them, but the stubborn head of the family, Nathan Price, refuses to conform and it takes a terrible toll on his wife and four daughters. He tries to save Africa for Jesus, but ends up going insane. I was enraptured by this story and how a simplistic view of other cultures based on bias can lead to disaster. Kingsolver writes beautifully and anyone who loves to read is hypnotized by her lyrical and poetic views of the world.

Everybody Into the Pool: True Tales by Beth Lisick (2005) I read this one a couple of years ago after The Hubby heard about it on NPR. It is HI-LAR-I-OUS beyond belief. Just the chapter titles alone tell you what is in store: Nuns in Trouble, My Way or the Bi-Way, Brokeley, or Little Bundle of Entropy. Lisick has a wit that is on par with David Sedaris, but much more urban. Like Lamott, she is wonderfully self-deprecating and captures crazy images of her outrageous life in San Francisco like when she worked for the Fruit Guys as a banana. This book inspired me to write about my own life experiences with a humorous slant.

There are so many more books like Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, or Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. But, I would say these books influenced me to pursue a life of writing. If you haven’t picked up a book and read lately. Do it. You won’t be disappointed.


13 Jan

What are yours?

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