Teachers Write 7.16.15 Thursday Quick-Write with Kim Baker

Our Tuesday Quick-Write guest today is Kim Baker, the author of Pickle, a hilarious middle grade prank novel with a great, diverse cast of characters. Kim’s sharing not just a quick writing prompt today but a look inside her humor toolbox so we can all develop new strategies to get readers laughing.

It’s been said that you can’t teach humor. To those people, I say HA! Humor is essential to a good story, and sometimes we are able to reach kids through humor that are otherwise reluctant to read. I may not be able to teach you (or myself) a quick wit, or a catalog of one-liners, but have you ever thought of  something funny you could’ve said in that conversation you had with that one guy three weeks ago? You stewed on it and you came up with that zinger that would have been HILARIOUS, once you were home alone. It’s like how you mull over your story. You can weave humor in after the fact as you draft and revise.

Nobody knows when you put it there, and it can serve your stories in many ways. There’s no universally accepted reason for what makes something funny, but we have some likely suspects that are hit or miss depending on the situation (and in our cases, the development and age of our readers). Before writing, I was a children’s crisis counselor and took a lot of psychology classes, so bear with me while we look at a few quick theories on why humans find things funny.

Superiority/Humans are Jerks Theory: People feel amused when they feel superior over others (Hobbes). Slimy, but kind of true, especially for kids who are struggling with their abilities and looking for that carrot on the stick that they’re doing something right (e.g. reading comprehension, social relationships, etc.). Superiority is assurance.

Incongruity/Wait…what? Theory: People laugh when what happens doesn’t match their expectations (Aristotle).

Benign-Violation/Absurdity without Danger! Theory: Expectation threatened + benign situation= Funny (McGraw and Warren).

Relief/Laughing at Inappropriate Times Theory: Things are funnier when we need to reduce tension (Freud).

I have been known to laugh in inappropriate situations. It’s a curse, but even in the most dramatic stories, humor is a great way to cut the tension a bit when the reader is ready for a little break.

We need readers to empathize with our characters, and humor can be a result of that. The best novels (IMHO) find a balance between drama and humor because, ideally, it’s similar to real life. Your character wants something, needs something else, and moves through the plot arc toward a satisfying resolution. But you can’t solve problems for them, or too quickly, and the next best thing can be to find some humor. Kid readers can come to terms with what concerns them, like emotionally stressful situations, indirectly through humor. Stories should be unique, but for empathy’s sake, the character’s emotional reaction should be pretty universal. Here are a few areas (with some minor spoilers) where a writer (read: YOU.) can play with humor in your manuscripts.

Humor Toolbox:

PREMISE: A humorous premise is a great springboard.

Examples: In THE TRUTH ABOUT TWINKIE PIE, two sisters move from a South Carolina trailer part to New York and attempt to win a million dollar cooking contest. In Linda Urban’s fantastic A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT, the main character wants a piano, but her dad buys her a wheezebag organ. It’s universal that parents can be absent and/or disappointing.

TENSION AND FORESHADOWING: Along with relieving tension, humor is a great way to build it.

Example: The cheese touch in Jeff Kinney’s DIARY OF A WIMPY KID. This running joke is revealed early in the story, and tension rises as the reader grows to suspect that Greg will eventually intersect with the dreaded cheese.

SITUATIONAL: Opportunities for humorous situations abound, as long as they serve the story. Humorous situations can move the story along and lead us to empathize with the protagonist. And the more characters we can empathize with, the funnier a scene will be.

Examples: The main character in DEAD END IN NORVELT by Jack Gantos gets nosebleeds when feeling stressed. In Judy Blume’s classic TALES OF A FOURTH GRADE NOTHING, the protagonist’s pet turtle is eaten by his little brother, supporting the universal truth that little brothers can be a pain.

SHOWING INSTEAD OF TELLING: You’ve heard the adage “Show, don’t tell” and humor offers ways to do that.

Examples: In Kate DiCamillo’s MERCY WATSON series, she never tells us that the Watsons are unabashedly devoted to their pet pig, Mercy. And she never says that Mercy is…self-absorbed. She shows it through actions throughout the story. Readers can identify with pet devotion and possibly having overly devoted caregivers. It’s an empathy-o-rama.

The protagonist in Adam Rex’s THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY is hiding from an alien while trying to find her mom. The alien shouts, “There is no to fear! The Boov are no longer eating you people!” There’s no lengthy backstory on how the aliens initially ate people when they first arrived or their struggles with language, it’s all implied in one funny line.

DIALOGUE: Dialogue is one of the easiest ways to add humor to a scene. The overall tone of the story needn’t be humorous. If you want to add a bit of levity to an otherwise serious story, it won’t disturb the general ambiance. And if you can think one of your characters as funny (as opposed to you as the writer), it breaks down inhibitions. A sarcastic kid will mostly be sarcastic with a few trusted, safe people but maybe not everyone. Dialogue humor is nuanced. What can you show by how your characters use humor? Does she joke when nervous? Does he show his intelligence through sly references? Personality comes through in humor and response.

Examples:

Jackson glanced at the open padlock by his feet. “03-22-33. Captain Kirk’s birthday, right?”

Hashemi scratched his head. “How did—“

“Seriously? You’re carrying a Star Trek battle axe.”

“It’s called a Lirpa.”

“All I’m saying is, your lock combination is way too easy to crack.”

— THE GREAT GREENE HEIST by Varian Johnson

 

“Funny you should ask about my mom, sir,” I shout. “I figured you might do that, figured this might be the first thing you bring up when somebody as little as me— as little looking as me— walks up to your Greyhound ticket counter, a counter you’re doing one heck of a job manning, to request a ticket out of here.”

I’m losing him. I’m losing him. “It’s downright ludicrous, I’ll admit as much, but on the topic of my mom: She’s just in the bathroom. And I’m sure she’ll be out in just a moment, but she’s going through a bit of a stomach ailment and asked that I please take care of my ticket, alone, before she gets out. Because it could take quite a while.”

Libby and I had rehearsed this speech, and perhaps even over-rehearsed it.

—BETTER NATE THAN EVER by Tim Federle

 

CHARACTERIZATION: Think about what makes a character is funny. Intentional and unintentional humor are pretty different. And at the start when you thought about whether or not you’re “funny,” maybe you consider yourself funny, but only in specific situations, or with certain people. Characters are like that, too.

Examples: Doug Swieteck in Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now and Jocelyn in Heidi Schulz’s Hook’s Revenge.

PITFALLS:

Snark and sarcasm may have their place, but (especially with a 1st person narrative), proceed with caution.

Avoid clichés. If you must tell a tired joke, do it in a fresh way.

Watch out for humor “signals.” If you feel like pointing out how your characters laughed at something, make it stronger so that your reader knows they laughed without being told.

Scatological humor should be used sparingly, if at all. Kids get grossed out, too.

Be kind.

You can also convey humor through setting, interaction, expectations, obstacles, threats /challenges/conflicts, confusion, misunderstanding, antagonism, surprise, satire, and the juxtaposition of a character’s wants and needs. There’s SO MUCH rich potential. And the more funny stories we write, the more we can read.

So, on to the exercises!

P.S. You can find a list of additional funny books on my website, and please let me know if you have any recommendations!

Today’s Assignment:

#1: Write down five favorite funny passages, scenes, sections of dialogue, etc. from books, TV, movies, etc. and take note of how the humor worked.

#2: Create a scene of short dialogue between two characters when they each think they’re talking about something else (e.g., Chunk’s confession to the Fratellis in The Goonies, the interogation scene in My Cousin Vinny, etc.).

#3: Write down three funny events from your childhood. Think about why and how they were funny. Now embellish and expand.

Note from Kate: Feel free to share one of your responses (1, 2, or 3) in the comments today – just be sure to let us know to which of Kim’s prompts you’re responding!

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54 Comments

  1. Posted July 16, 2015 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    I feel like I’m terrible at this….so I’m taking a situation that happened in real life and putting into dialog for practice…..because I’m sure I STINK at humor. I so admire when it’s done well. And, I think it’s pretty tough to do. Hats off to you Kim for some exercises that make humor seem more accessible to us novices! I really appreciate you stopping by TW with these activities. I need to do them more often…just to loosen up a bit. Here’s my share for today:

    Damn! I was out of laundry soap again. If it wasn’t enough to live seven thousand miles from home and not own a car to get to the store or a dryer to dry my clothes….the stupid shop owners were on strike in support of some other workers who were on strike for something that I didn’t know about or understand. Truly, it was Greek to me. The shops at Platia Kennety were dark as midnight when I walked home from school. My dirty clothes already outnumbered clean ones and I needed to have jeans line-dried by Saturday’s trip downtown.
    “mother is the necessity of invention”, I mumbled as I loaded the washer and topped off the
    soap dispenser with dish soap.
    I hit the control buttons and wandered into my bedroom to read for awhile. I heard the washing machine whumping around a bit. But, it did that sometimes. It wasn’t until I heard a fierce knocking on my apartment door that I looked up from my book and shuffled to the door. Through the keyhole I could see my landlord’s face. We didn’t speak the same language, so I opened the door for our usual exchange of pantomime and pigeon English.
    Sotiris: Problem?
    Me: No problem
    Sortiris: Neh, problem
    Me: I don’t think….
    Sortiris pushed past me into the kitchen where the washing machine was humping and thumping across the floor. I rushed up behind him as he flipped on the light when both of us gasped at the tidal wave of suds creeping across the marble floor toward our toes.
    Sortiris: Yes! Problem!

    • maria
      Posted July 16, 2015 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      I liked the ending. Your use of dialogue was good.

    • Christi
      Posted July 16, 2015 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Linda,
      That was great! Part of what was enjoyable was that the sense of knowing I had, as a reader, about what was to come. The fact that you and the landlord don’t speak a common language just added to it. The dialogue, with its simplicity, really made it.

      • Posted July 16, 2015 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        I agree wholeheartedly with Christi! Once you mentioned dish soap, I had an expectation of the humor that lie ahead, but the language barrier added to the enjoyment! Met with some TW friends yesterday, and we were sharing how much we love how you write in verse! Keep on keeping on!

        • Posted July 16, 2015 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

          awwwwwwwwwww, you’re sweet. I love TW….I”m slightly evangelical about it….I’m worse than my Border-Aussie pup when it comes to rounding up teachers for TW. I love the community of writers and support.

    • Posted July 16, 2015 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      Hi, Linda! That’s a great way to use the exercise. Just start with a seed and then you can play with it. I really like confusion situations, where people think they’re each talking about something else, so that’s another fun way to play with dialogue. Keep at it! You have some fun language in there.

    • Jennifer Hernandez
      Posted July 16, 2015 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Love this, Linda! Living abroad provides oh-so-many opportunities for our own personal comedies of errors.

  2. Christi
    Posted July 16, 2015 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Every morning, I took my 3-year-old sister, Becky’s hand and she would walk with me to school. My mom could stand on our porch at the top of the hill and see the whole journey from there. One day, Mom must have decided that all would go as usual and went inside. Being a kid, I had that supernatural ability to sense when a parent or responsible adult wasn’t paying attention. As we walked, I hatched a plan, a fantastically wonderful, scathingly brilliant plan. I just knew it would work. Becky, being only three years old listened to the plan of her all-knowing, confident five-year-old sister and thought it sounded exciting, an adventure.

    Mrs. Woelfer greeted me that morning with an inquiring look. After all, I had a three-year old in tow. Politely, using my best manners, I introduced my sister Becky. I then launched into my tale. My mom had to go to the grocery store this morning and she really needed me to watch my sister. I paused, then I embellished my story with our total lack of food in the house and the eminent threat of starvation, I knew that would clinch the deal. No one would wish for a family to starve to death, especially one with two adorable girls.

    “Why didn’t your Mom take your sister with her?” Mrs. Woelfer inquired. For a moment, my mind blanked, panic surged and then it came…

    “Becky gets a terrible bloody nose everytime she enters the A & P. Last time, they had to call the doctor and he told my mom never ever to take Becky there again. So she asked me to babysit instead.” It was true that Becky was prone to bloody noses, but they had nothing to do with the grocery store. Becky stood there smiling sweetly, saying absolutely nothing.

    A bewildered look crossed my teacher’s face, but at that moment, Peter decided to jump up on the table, “Me Tarzan!” he shouted readying himself to leap through the air.
    “Peter, stop!”
    Needless to say, Becky stayed or at least stayed until she fell off the swing and into the mud puddle beneath it. At that moment, I was sure our adventure was through.

    Kindly, Mrs. Woelfer asked the secretary to call my mom, who was, of course, at home (having figured out where Becky was by looking through the school windows) and asked if she could bring a clean set of clothing so Becky could stay. Mom did.
    Looking back now, having taught kindergarten in the 21st century, this whole scenario blows my mind, but I swear to you, it’s true story.

    • Posted July 16, 2015 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Ha! What a character. Have you read Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos? Nervous bloody noses are worked into the storyline, and it’s a great use of humor. Try writing it in a first person point of view in Becky’s perspective, or through your eyes back then.

  3. Posted July 16, 2015 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    bwa ha ha ha…..that is a whopper. I told quite a few whoppers as a kid…..one comes back to me now as I read your story. Best line for me was “supernatural ability to sense when a parent or responsible adult wasn’t paying attention” I was anticipating the hi-jinx after that.
    Take a bow!

    • Christi
      Posted July 16, 2015 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Linda!!

  4. Andrea Lorenz
    Posted July 16, 2015 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I love this post, especially the quote: “Superiority/Humans are Jerks Theory: People feel amused when they feel superior over others (Hobbes). Slimy, but kind of true, especially for kids who are struggling with their abilities and looking for that carrot on the stick that they’re doing something right (e.g. reading comprehension, social relationships, etc.). Superiority is assurance.”
    I also think of all the humor I enjoy (Seinfeld, Larry David, SNL), the type of humor where people are not afraid to expose their follies and weaknesses. We laugh because we are not them in that moment, but we are them just about every other moment in our lives. People have to learn to laugh at themselves and find the amusing/humorous moments in even the most difficult of times. I find myself having to stop to do that often, otherwise i’ll go crazy. I think that’s why my family unit is so strong: we laugh at ourselves, make fun of one another, push buttons, not afraid to laugh at our crazy family behavior. I’m not sure if my post even makes sense since i’m a little doped up on cold medicine this morning, but I’m enjoying Kim’s post and am ready to write a little. This post will also help me to know where to insert humor into my WIP. I’m working on a children’s story and I would LOVE to emulate that Mo Willems’ type humor (just honest, down to earth funny) in my writing. I have my work cut out for me that’s for sure!
    Three funny moments from my childhood:
    My dad and uncles used to call me “Half Gallon.” Why is it funny? Because it was the 80s and I loved to watch Little House on the Prairie, I wanted to live like Laura Ingalls and her sister Mary. Laura’s father Charles used to call her “half pint” in the show. I was a chubby little kid so my uncles nicknamed me Half Gallon. It never hurt my feelings, in my family you have to be born with a thick skin. They said it in the most endearing of ways, believe me. Come on you have to admit that’s funny!
    There was this time I went on my first and only whale watch out of Boston Harbor. It was a four hour trip out to sea and everything was fine for the first hour….until I walked by a family puking over the side of the ferry. They of course were fine; in fact I remember the dad vomiting then grabbing his camera to run and catch sight of the back of a whale emerging from the water for a half second (we saw no whales on that trip, really). I, however, spent the other three hours rotating between my head over the side of the boat and my head between my knees while my family (all except for my mother), tried to stay as far away from me as possible. To this day, I hate whales, and boats.
    One last funny chubby girl moment: Fourth grade gym class with Mr. Ryder. Such a typical gym teacher too, he assumed everyone had to be good at physical activity and actually enjoy it. I was a play-NIntendo-on-the-couch-easy-cheese-in-a-can type of kid. I tried softball but my dad said I used to just stand in the outfield covering my face with my glove. I was trying to see through the holes. Anyway, it was the rope and obstacle course day in gym class. We were supposed to pretend sharks were after us or the school was on fire or something like that, and run through the obstacles as fast as we could. There was a giant rope type of net that was about two feet off the gym floor and reached to the ceiling. As fourth graders he expected us to climb to the top of the net and touch the flag at the top. I was fat, uncool and terrified of heights. I lifted my shoe up into the first hole on the net, then the next, and panicked. I slid my legs through the holes, not realizing that my pudgy thighs were too wide for the openings, and got them stuck right there in place. I just sat there two feet from the floor swinging around while the stopwatch ticked away and the kids behind me yelled. I’m pretty sure I heard one of the boys in class yell, “Get off the ropes, fat ass” or maybe that was just me saying it in my own head. In any case that sealed the deal for me and sports for the rest of my life. I’m still pretty good at Nintendo though.

    • Posted July 16, 2015 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      I think you’re right about the other side of the superiority theory. It’s got to have some empathy attached, or else it can just be cruel. These are great memories and already rich with humor potential. Thanks for sharing!

    • Brian Rozinsky
      Posted July 16, 2015 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      Details like: “I was a play-NIntendo-on-the-couch-easy-cheese-in-a-can type of kid. I tried softball but my dad said I used to just stand in the outfield covering my face with my glove. I was trying to see through the holes.” Wham! Nailed it. Thanks for sharing, Andrea.

  5. Posted July 16, 2015 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the many great ideas on how to incorporate humor in our writing. While I consider myself to be a generally “happy-go-lucky” person, I’ve been accused by students and colleagues of reading and writing predominantly sad or serious stories. So I guess a little levity is warranted in my writing life.

    Here are three funny childhood events, the last of which I’ve expanded and embellished a bit:

    1. When my dear aunt had Christmas presents for my four siblings, but forgot one for me. She ran upstairs and hastily typed out directions for making homemade fire logs out of old newspapers, handing my the instructions on a little index card with a bow on it. My siblings were rolling on the floor at the awkward moment.

    2. My youngest sibling refused to sing during church. He was painfully bored, and let us all know it with his stewing and pouting. After a rather long rendition of the song “Amen”, it got solemnly quiet in the huge church. He then bellowed out, AMEN ALREADY! much to the chagrin of my mother and our large, embarrassed family.

    3. Ms. Berhardt was my beautiful, patient, and loving first grade teacher. Whenever a student had a birthday, she would create a wonderful drawing as a gift for their special day. After a couple months of school, I panicked that she wouldn’t still make her drawings by the time my February birthday came around. So when she called attendance, I lied, claiming it was indeed my big day. Even though her records indicated that I was fibbing, she made a beautiful drawing for me. Flowing watercolors. Beautiful designs. Just for me. She even had the ENTIRE class make birthday cards for me.
    When my mother, a teacher in a neighboring district, came to pick me up after school, she asked why I had all these cards. “I don’t know. For some reason they thought it was birthday.”
    Enraged, Mom hauled me back into the building, where I apologized to my teacher (and the next day to the entire class) for my fib. For the next several years, classmates and siblings had fun routinely teasing me, asking “is today your birthday?”
    And what happened to that personalized drawing with the beautiful designs and flowing watercolors?
    It ended up beneath a pile of undeserved birthday cards in the bottom of the trash can in my parents’ bedroom.

    • Posted July 16, 2015 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      I can\’t stop giggling about the fire log instructions. That\’s hilarious! Plus, if these were scenes in a book, all of them would convey character, beget empathy, and would be fun ways to play with tension. And don\’t forget that even (especially) the most somber of stories need spots of humor to lighten tension. Keep writing!

    • Posted July 16, 2015 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      oh my gosh…..I love your stories! Church humor cracks me up and the first one really had my chortling. Reminded me of my eldest..at the age of two. When tiny cups of wine were passed in a Baptist church we were attending (not our denomination) we didn’t know to NOT allow her to take one. She took a tiny cup of juice, turned to her Dad and said, “cheers!” Funny, not a giggle from a single Baptist around…but I just about exploded with keeping mine in.

      Greg, why is it that we think humor is so hard? Reading your stories has the feel of camp fire stories … and I can’t help but respond with one of mine. We’ve got to assign ourselves one humor piece a week? month? But, I think it’s feeding off the humor of others that helps me the most?

      • Jennifer Hernandez
        Posted July 16, 2015 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

        Especially chuckled at Greg’s AMEN story and Linda’s “Cheers!” story. Both reminded me of stories of my own. That’s why I always like to let my students do a lot of sharing at the beginning of personal narrative units. One good story begets another. We ALL have stories to tell — we all have funny stories to tell — but sometimes it’s hard to remember them when we feel put on the spot. Thanks for helping me remember!

    • Jane
      Posted July 16, 2015 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      These are great, Greg. What I love is that you have three examples that illustrate three different ways humor works. Your first could go either way–either a hilarious story of desperation and embarrassment for your aunt, or a feeling of being forgotten and left out (for you), all depending on the telling. The second is a classic kid in an adult setting/siblings causing problems that we all can relate to. And the third is wonderfully embellished–the agony of a whopper gone wrong, but with the so-relatable motivation of fearing that you’d miss out on the wonderful picture because your birthday was later.

    • Susan MacKay-Logue
      Posted July 16, 2015 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

      Loving the brother in church. My father, a Protestant, married my mother, a Catholic, and he attended church with us every single Sunday of my life. My favorite thing to do during mass was see how long it would take him to fall asleep. One of the priests was particularly long winded and my dad used to mutter under his breath, “Amen, already,” just as your brother did. Terrific memory. Thanks!

  6. Jennifer Hernandez
    Posted July 16, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Thank you to Kim for this great post! I hope this is okay with you and the other awesome TW’ers, but I’ve taken some liberty with today’s prompts. This is my first year with TW, and I’m not quite managing to keep up — so what I’d like to share today is actually a mash-up of Monday’s prompt on rhyming verse with today’s prompt on humor. (In fact, if you imagine these characters as two Latino boys — which they are — we could add yesterday’s prompt on diverse characters into the mix!) So — thanks in advance for humoring me (pun intended). Love all these great TW lessons and the inspiration they provide. This was not a direction I would have gone with my writing without these prompts. Here goes:

    Battle of the Couch

    You’d best assume a proper slouch,
    when you battle on the couch.

    Stretch your legs, tuck in your tush.
    Give your bro a real push.

    His feet are where your feet should be.
    “Watch it! Hey! Don’t touch my knee!”

    A kick. A shove. A shout. A punch.
    “Boys!” yells Mom. “It’s time for lunch.”

    “But, Mom!” you say. “I’ll lose my place.”
    And then he gets right in your face.

    Grabs your shoulders. Yanks your hair.
    Calls to Mom, “We’ll be right there!”

    “Until next time,” he whispers low.
    We both get up. It’s time to go

    and fuel up for the next fight.
    How else could we go on all night?

    • Posted July 16, 2015 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      Ha, I think mixing up prompts is fine. Do what works for you and gets you writing!

    • Posted July 16, 2015 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      AND in verse…..I’m clapping here…funny! I know this because my 11 and 12 y.o. sons are in the next room gaming at the moment…it’s all peaceful until someone enters the other’s “world” without doing the right/expected thing!

    • Jane
      Posted July 16, 2015 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Meter, rhyme, and humor. You make it seem easy. Great stuff!

    • Maureen Riordan
      Posted July 16, 2015 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      Perfect depiction of siblings warring over the couch! Love it!

  7. David Smith
    Posted July 16, 2015 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Just as Craig was getting up to leave, my skinny white cat Ashley suddenly awoke from her slumber on the fluffy paisley floor pillow and darted into the fireplace. She promptly emerged sooty, and proudly displaying a tiny brown mouse clutched between her teeth. Three of us stood there, stunned, until Craig looked at my mother and I, as he started to the door, and said, “Have a mice day.”

    • David Smith
      Posted July 16, 2015 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Oops-It deleted the beginning of my response which was something like: Those were some fun and helpful tips and exercises. I especially liked the last prompt as I recalled some humorous memories I had forgotten, two about the same friend (might have been present at third one as well). This was simply a perfect spontaneously delivered pun.

    • Posted July 16, 2015 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      Ha. I appreciate a well-placed pun, and it’s great at conveying character, especially if you can echo something funny that happened earlier like that.

    • Posted July 16, 2015 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      ha! seriously. HA!

    • Posted July 16, 2015 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      I would love your dead mice. (Not seriously, just thinking of Jo Knowles Monday prompt.)

      Great story!!!!

    • Maureen Riordan
      Posted July 16, 2015 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      Sounds like something my husband would say! 🙂

  8. Maureen Riordan
    Posted July 16, 2015 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Three funny events from childhood (well one isn’t from childhood!)

    Being a tiny and sickly girl in fourth grade, I was not very athletic. I didn’t mind gym class despite the hideous gym uniforms and always being picked last for dodgeball. But then the teacher announced we were going to start working on the dreaded Presidential Fitness Awards. She pushed a chair up to the doorway of her small, windowless office where a metal bar was hung. She explained that we were going to do the flexed arm hang. “It is easy” she said. “Just put your chin over the bar and hold yourself there as long as you can after I pull out the chair.” “Easy for you” I thought. One girl after another performed this task with varying results. The other girls looked on counting off the seconds and cheering. Eventually she called my name. I nervously climbed up on the chair and put my chin over the bar. She pulled out the chair and immediately I dropped. My chin no longer over the bar….my ears by my outstretched arms. Hanging there in defeat. “That’s okay….maybe you weren’t ready. Try again!” the gym teacher responded. I tried over and over with the same results. Finally, the teacher gave up and announced “Well, you accomplished something no one else in the school has. You are the only girl in the school who can’t support her own weight for even one second!” The other girls snickered as I sat down sheepishly. But this is not the end of the story. Years later ,I had the same teacher for high school gym and apparently SHE had forgotten the incident. She wanted to demonstrate the uneven parallel bars and as I was still tiny she called on me to help her. I was trying to chalk my hands but there wasn’t much chalk left. I told her and she answered that it was “Good enough” and boosted me up. She had me hanging from the top bar while she stood underneath me, instructing the class. “I’m slipping.” I warned her. “You’re fine!” she responded without looking. “No there’s not enough chalk. I’m really slipping!” I repeated. Exasperated she started “I told you that you’re…..” But she never got to finish her sentence because I indeed fell….right on top of her, knocking her to the ground as the class laughed at her! Gotta love karma!

    2. It was the first Christmas in our new house…well not actually new. It was the 200 year old Colonial house my mom grew up in that we bought after grandma died. But that wasn’t the only new thing that Christmas. We had our first artificial Christmas tree because I had been diagnosed with allergies that year too. My sisters were not pleased! They missed the smell of a real tree and I did too but mom and dad said breathing trumped pine scented holidays. So the fake tree was my fault. After opening the presents we were going to dinner at Uncle Paul’s house for the first time. Another change since Grandma’s gone. I was wearing my new brown furry winter coat I had gotten from my godfather for Christmas…the one that felt like I was wearing a giant teddy bear. Everyone was headed for the car when I realized I forgot to get something. Mom told us we could take one present each with us to Uncle Paul’s so I ran back in to grab my favorite gift. I turned and heard a huge noise!I was afraid to turn around. Yup! A branch of the tree had gotten caught on the belt of my coat and brought the entire tree crashing down. I froze….terrified at what my parents would say or do! I trembled looking at my parents’ shocked faces. Then my dad smiled and said “Guess you really don’t like that tree!” Mom just shook her head, laughed, and unplugged the tree saying “We’ll clean up the mess when we get back! Let’s get going!”

    3. When my husband and I were getting ready to celebrate our first Christmas together, he asked me to make a list of what I wanted. I wrote “ A computer, a house, and a baby.” Christmas morning he gave me three packages. In the first one, there was a computer Christmas ornament. The second one had a Hallmark house ornament with our engagement photo. I could see where this was going. I opened the third one and there was a baby doll. We were going to his sister’s house for dinner so I brought my gifts to show his family what he had done. After I showed his family my presents, I put them inside the new black purse my sister-in-law had just given me. Our nephew said “Uh-oh Uncle Mark. I don’t think Auntie is ready for a baby yet. She just zipped up the one she has in her pocketbook!”

    • Jane
      Posted July 16, 2015 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Oh, Maureen, I’m rolling with laughter. Your first one, especially–the dreaded “hang” and then the uneven bars slip. Hilarious–the dialogue worked beautifully, too.

    • Posted July 16, 2015 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Yes! That first one especially would make a great subplot arc thread if the first part happened toward the beginning of the story (setting up some empathy), with some sweet justice toward the end. 🙂

    • Jennifer Hernandez
      Posted July 16, 2015 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      These are great, Maureen! And I can so, so relate to the first one. I can join you in the “zero second club” for the dreaded flexed arm hang. Man, I hated Presidential Physical Fitness testing!

  9. Julianne Batelli
    Posted July 16, 2015 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    I love humor, but I always struggled writing it. I looking back at my childhood, a lot of humor happened around my lovely, quirky Grandmama. Below are three stories about her! She’d make such a wonderful character in a novel.

    1. My grandmother was a wonderful woman… with quirks. Although she did not have a lot of money, she was always sure to be dressed impeccably. One day, Grandmama needed to go to the convenience store on the corner of her quaint block in Brooklyn. Well, someone could see her! One hour later, Grandmama was ready to pick up the milk. She had her hair curled and her best (and only) fur coat on. And she owned it!

    2. Grandmama had suffered a stroke when I was younger. She had lost 80% of her speech and her short-term memory. If she did speak, it was the occasional work in French-her first language. Although she struggled to communicate, she was still our Grandmama, and she had not changed. Before the stroke, Grandmama never had a problem meeting men. She was a good-looking woman who could make any man grovel. In the nursing home, it was the same. She may not have been able to talk to any of the men, but she always had a boyfriend. She was in the nursing home for 6 years, and she had a steady boyfriend constantly. The men loved her, but the women were always envious of her stealing all the good men.

    3. My grandmother had died in October. It was decided that she would be cremated and then buried near at a nearby cemetery. Although the cemetery was planned out, we needed to wait a while before a plot was made for her, so after she was cremated, Dad brought Grandmama’s ashes home in a plain brown box and stuck her in the closet.
    It’s now December. Mom had been on a Christmas shopping frenzy and had gotten Chris, my older brother, a gorgeous professional camera for Christmas. It had three extra lenses, a bag, two battery packs, and more that I couldn’t tell you. All of the pieces were in separate nondescript boxes. Mom stuck them in the closet for a few days, wrapped them on a day non of us were home, and thought nothing of it.
    When Christmas came, we were all unwrapping gifts one by one. Chris had already unwrapped a few gifts and he came to a square heavy box. He took off the Santa Sleigh wrapping-a plain brown box. When he opened it, it wasn’t any piece of a camera, but grandma’s ashes! That was a surprise!

    • Jennifer Hernandez
      Posted July 16, 2015 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Story #3, Julianne — too funny!! As soon as I read “plain brown box… in the closet”, the anticipation started to build. And even though, as I kept reading, I was pretty sure of what was going to happen, my anticipation kept building until I was proved right. Great story.

    • Posted July 27, 2015 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      Agreed, #3 has great potential for some confusion humor. Try working it into a longer piece for a fantastic opportunity for an empathetic character. 🙂

  10. Dave Cirone
    Posted July 16, 2015 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    I went with Prompt Number Two about two characters talking about different subjects without realizing it. Here goes:

    “How did it go?” Greg asked before I could even open my locker. I knew he’d find out sooner or later about my romantic night with Lisa.

    “It was… well, it went pretty smoothly, I guess.”

    “Really, I totally failed my first one. It took me like three times to get it right.”

    Three times? Wow. I was impressed. “I was hoping for a few do-overs myself, but I had to get home.”

    “I think I failed the first time cuz I forgot where to put my hands.”

    Huh?

    “Nine and Three, baby. Nine and three!” Greg chanted. I flapped my hands around in solidarity and confusion.

    “I think I just got nervous,” he continued, “with some old guy watching me the whole time. Like what was he writing on his clip board?”

    “Um, yeah right,” I mumbled trying to play along. “Totally.” Greg’s first time was sounding weirder and weirder.

    Greg pulled out a notebook and grabbed a math book for class. “I still think that I backed up perfectly fine.”

    “Yes, backing up. That was tricky. I think I mostly stayed in a forward motion the whole time.”

    Greg gave me a puzzled look. “Really? You didn’t have to back up? How about using signals? Did you have to do that?”

    “Oh, she gave me all the signals, right?” I put up an invitation to fist bump but stopped halfway.

    There was an awkward silence to end all awkward silences. He was talking about my driver’s test, and I was talking about losing my virginity.

    • Brian Rozinsky
      Posted July 16, 2015 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      “Nine and Three, baby. Nine and three!” Hilarious. Thanks for sharing, Dave. I wonder what would be the effect if you found a different way to end the passage without explicitly revealing the cross purposes.

    • Posted July 27, 2015 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      Too funny. It could be framed as a pep talk too, before the test/date (maybe from a parent?), when the protagonist is more nervous to ratchet up the tension.

  11. Brian Rozinsky
    Posted July 16, 2015 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    #2 (sort of) – Match & Candle

    I love you.
    You scare me.
    I need you.
    But you’ll be the end of me.
    I just want to touch you.
    Don’t come any closer.
    I can’t help it. I feel like I’m on fire.
    Now that you mention it, I’m starting to feel a little wicked myself.
    One kiss then?
    You’ve got flair, I admit. One kiss.
    Just one. But I have to warn you…
    About what?
    My feelings. They’re sometimes all-consuming.
    Then there’s something you should know, too.
    And what’s that?
    My last relationship ended badly.
    Let me guess: old flame?
    Nope. Burn out.

    Postscript thoughts… I’m not sure this is funny, but it’s got puns. (I blame — no, make that credit — Sarah Albee and the residue of last week’s mini lesson.) Plus, I just finished reading _The Game of Love and Death_ by Martha Brockenbrough, which apparently made an impression on me.

    • Posted July 27, 2015 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

      Well placed puns can be very effective, even in the most serious prose. Fun to play with, isn’t it?

  12. Posted July 16, 2015 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this oh-so-challenging prompt. I laughed out loud at the examples. And I really saw how humor does make characters more relatable.

    OK – THIS is ridiculous, but I told myself I would do every single assignment. So here it is. True story.

    I cannot remember one funny moment from my all-too-serious-childhood.

    I asked both my husband and my son, “Have I ever told you a funny story from my childhood?”

    They both looked at me blankly. My son actually burst out laughing. My husband responded questioningly, “Uh I thiiink so?” When queried to share it, he then admitted he was just trying to humor me.

    He, on the other hand, has a million funny stories, and never fails to tell them.

    • Posted July 17, 2015 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      Dawn, I can definitely relate! I also drew a blank. Every funny childhood story I thought of was me laughing at something crazy my baby sister did. I had to ask my mom about a story about myself and she was able to give me one. I am truly going to have to call on people I knew through childhood to refresh my memory of some of my funny stories. I know I have more than one! smh

    • Posted July 27, 2015 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Aw, I’m sure there were funny situations, but if you never labeled them as such and put them in that anecdote file, it’s can be hard to pull them back out under pressure. Try using one of your husband’s stories as a prompt.

  13. Posted July 16, 2015 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    I\’m taking on prompt #3.

    When I was a teenager, I received my first purebred dog. A single obedience class was all it took to suck me into the wormhole that is the sport of purebred dogs. Within ten weeks, I was training my dog on advanced levels and even teaching a beginner’s class of my own. Finally, I had found something I was good at!

    My dog and I had such an incredible relationship that people stopped what they were doing at class just to watch us work. Paisley the Wonderdog never took her eyes from me, keeping perfect heel position no matter my speed. Her recalls brought tears to my own eyes.The practice was to sit the dog, walk up to 20 feet away, and call. At the sound of her name, she launched herself into the air, barreling toward me, long ears flying, a huge doggy grin on her face. I never bothered with a leash. I never needed one. Her sole goal in life was to occupy my space. I’ve never been loved like that before or since.

    Our kennel club had a “fun match” each year to raise funds for the club and to provide a little more formal practice for those aiming for their obedience titles. I did not hesitate to enter Paisley. I knew she would do me proud.

    The day of the match came. I packed Paisley in the car, and my mom drove us to the site. I was surprised to discover that I did not already know the judge. I had assumed it would be one of the regular trainers from class. She was an older lady, and dressed surprisingly well to be judging at the canine equivalent of a school talent show. I wasn’t worried. Despite her fancy-pants, I knew Paisley and I would have no trouble impressing her.

    I sat glued to ringside, watching all of my friends and a fair number of strangers perform the exercises with varying levels of success. Finally, our number was called. Heart in my throat, I gathered my courage and entered the ring, handing my leash to the ring steward.

    I barked my first command, and we were off and running. The judge called the heeling pattern, indicating my direction and walking speed. When she said left, I pivoted smartly to the left. When she called “Fast!\” I trotted briskly along looking straight ahead. I felt like a professional handler. I knew we were impressive.

    When the judge finally called “Exercise finished,” indicating our work was done, I felt great! And then I heard the judge add “Would you like to get your dog?” I looked down at my side. No dog. I looked behind me. No dog. I turned to the judge, confused. I was pretty sure I’d brought a dog with me, after all. I found Paisley in short order, happily sitting on the judge’s feet, stub tail wagging to beat the band.

    The nice folks at ringside later told me that the moment we began the heeling pattern, Paisley ditched me in favor of dusting the judge’s Italian leather shoes with her bum.

    It was my first serving of humble pie, and it wouldn’t be my last. Did you know a dog is automatically disqualified when they poop in the ring? I don’t show so much anymore.

    • Posted July 16, 2015 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

      What a wonderfully told story! I felt the suspense of wondering what would happen, and the ending absolutely made me smile. I’m impressed with your writing. Thank you for a light but very worthy read.

      • Posted July 17, 2015 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for your kind words!

    • Posted July 27, 2015 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

      What a rascal. I’m a sucker for dog stories, and the unexpected outcome is funny!

  14. Gayle
    Posted July 18, 2015 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    1:
    Fried Green Tomatoes

    Evelyn Couch: Hey! I was waiting for that spot!
    Girl #1: Face it, lady, we’re younger and faster!
    [Evelyn rear-ends the other car six times]
    Girl #1: What are you *doing*?
    Girl #2: Are you *crazy*?
    Evelyn Couch: Face it, girls, I’m older and I have more insurance.

    This is hilarious because it turns the table and allows the underdog in all of us to cheer in sweet victory at payback doled out to the entitled!

    “Grown men, he told himself, in flat contradiction of centuries of accumulated evidence about the way grown men behave, do not behave like this.”
    ― Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

    People who lack self-awareness are funny, and this is a great deadpan way to say it.

    • Posted July 27, 2015 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      Great examples! I love Fannie Flagg and Douglas Adams. Have you read Flagg’s Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man? It’s pretty funny. And I like Douglas Adam’s line, “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” 😀

  15. Leslie
    Posted July 19, 2015 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

    Just a snippet of what I came up with for part of the exercise, using something from my son’s childhood…
    As we do every Christmas, we’ve finished our abundant morning feast. The younger children scurry to the kitchen to put away their plates and gather around the tree for present time. Some of the adults linger at the table, finishing up our slices of Jesus’ Birthday cake. Mom heads to the guest room to collect the gifts she and Dad have for us, Lulu Lovins, their new beagle puppy, trailing behind her, wearing a doggy-ugly-Christmas-sweater. As if the name wasn’t ridiculous enough, my parents just had to top it off by putting her in a Christmas sweater.

    “Okay, kiddos! Let’s start with these for the first round of unwrapping,” Mom declares to the grandchildren as she returns with the armful of presents.

    “Puppy doggies!” My two-year-old points his little hand at the gifts, which are wrapped in paper covered with pictures of puppies wearing Santa hats and elf hats.

    “Yes, puppies! Lulu did a little Christmas shopping for you all this year and wrapped them real nice,” she declares proudly.

    Usually our parents’ gifts are supposed to come from “Santa”, but this year the big guy’s been demoted and Lulu’s the head honcho.

    “Oh, Lulu, you shouldn’t have!” Mark, my brother, remarks loudly and slightly sarcastically,then mumbles to the relatives nearer to him, “Yeah, okay, Mom’s officially off her rocker…”

    • Posted July 27, 2015 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

      Your parents sound like characters, and what a fun holiday setting! Lulu Lovins is a character in her own right. 🙂

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