Gloria Reichert

At a recent conference, a presenter reminded us that one way to make our picture books stand out in a crowded market is to use humor. But how do I do that? If you, like me, are not naturally funny, writing humor is HARD! Wanting to improve my humor writing skills led to some research. So whether you wish to write a totally hilarious book or just insert a small amount of humor into your story, here are some helpful hints.

1. Immerse yourself in all things “funny.” Read the most current funny picture books. Watch comedy and funny movies on TV. Read kids’ joke books.

2. Research humor theory by reading books and watching webinars on the topic of what makes people laugh.

3. Most picture books are concept driven, so develop a funny concept that appeals to kids. Remember that current funny picture books tend to be edgier and sometimes irreverent, so thinking outside the box can lead to much humor.

4. The characters do NOT need to be kids. Some of the latest funny books have dragons, crayons, and even a mutant potato as main characters. So let your imagination go crazy!

5. Be willing to take some risks with your story structure. Many humorous books do not follow the traditional “Rule of Three.” The Day the Crayons Quit is told via letters. The Book with No Pictures makes the reader the main character. Some books are even interactive.

6. Use situational humor by putting your characters in funny, unusual settings and create some funny scenes as they interact with their environment and other characters.

7. You must include the element of surprise. This is vital. The reader must be surprised. Humor happens when one’s expectations are violated, so set up a normal expectation for the reader and then misdirect things so the expectation is not met.

8. Page turns can lead to surprises, so use then thoughtfully.

9.  Ramp up the humor with puns and jokes that relate to your topic. Include recurring jokes and word play. Dialogue can sometimes enhance the humor, as in Tammi Sauer’s Me Want Pet!  Cave Boy tries to convince his parents he needs a pet and uses short, snappy “cave language” throughout.

10. Incorporate figurative language – alliteration, onomatopoeia, hyperbole, exaggeration, and rhyme. Keep a thesaurus close by and check out Rhyme Zone online.

11. Use inherently funny words. Bungalow, pantaloons, bamboozle, kerfuffle, and catawampus are sure to elicit some chuckles. Just hearing the word “underwear” makes kids laugh. A great resource is the book Absurd Words by Tara Lazar.

12. Lastly, craft a funny ending – hopefully with a twist – and tie it back to the beginning of the story somehow.

All of this seems easier said than done, but if we start small, try a few tips, and see how our sense of humor can fit in, we will be progressing and growing in our ability to write humorous picture books which will help kids in many ways.