This post, by Brent Diggs, originally appeared on Humor Blogging.
DO YOU KNOW THE SECRET?
High in the mountains of upper Bolivia, guarded for centuries by ancient Norwegian fish herders lies the secret.
Not the mystical law of attraction that promises to manifest wealth and satisfaction into your life for a small fee, but rather the secret to unleashing smiles and even audible laughter with your written humor.
This secret, which I am about to reveal in the next five words, is none other than editing.
I will pause for the inevitable groaning.
Once you retrieve the mouse you threw against the wall in bitter disappointment, we will continue.* Yes, there are some definite challenges when it comes to writing humor. The first of which is that it is painfully difficult to do. At least if you want to do it well.
Of course this really shouldn’t come as a surprise if you think about it, considering that nearly every tool of comedy is denied to the writer.
In stand up, live comedy, comedy films, and even in conversation much of the humorous effect of any exchange is delivered by facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, and sounds; all of which team up for an interlocking assault on the audience’s collective funny bone.
But as a humble writer of prose, your humor rests almost exclusively on the power of your words. Which is why you must pick them with care and arrange them for maximum impact.
PICKING YOUR WORDS
William Zinsser, in his well respected reference manual, On Writing Well, which has been in existence longer than many of the people reading this article, states that humor is the one type of writing where using a thesaurus is actually beneficial.
Although none of my work is available in a thirtieth anniversary edition, I too have found that there is a huge advantage to exploring the range of connotations and shades of meaning accessible through careful word selection.
It allows you to assume many different voices or tones in your writing and use them to sneak up on your readers while carefully concealing your punchline until the last possible minute.