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Writing Humor for Children
by Kathryn Lay
One of the main things Ive found when doing
school visits is that kids love to laugh. I know that I do.
When I began writing my middle-grade novel,
CROWN ME! I knew right away that I wanted it to be a funny book.
Although it deals with leadership and friendship, my intent was to make it
But writing humor for children involves more
than sitting down at the computer and telling jokes. Humor in books and short
stories comes in many forms.
What happens when a kid who has been crowned
king for two weeks in a medieval history class project is challenged by the
class bully for right to rule? A bicycle joust, of course. As I began plotting
CROWN ME! I made a list of medieval-type scenes and events to include
in the book that I could twist and turn in a modern way.
The bicycle joust scene had to be physical
comedy. Two boys on a bicycle, dressed in armor made of pillows and foil and
football helmets, wielding bathroom plungers instead of lances as their
classmates surrounded them and cheered them on in battle. They missed one
another. They fell. The main characters plunger got stuck on his adversarys
bottom. The Three Stooges doesnt appeal to everyone, but slapstick is a
popular form of humor for kid readers.
HUMOR IN CHARACTERIZATION AND VOICE:
Kids love quirky characters and a voice that
looks at life slightly askew.
Even when the story idea isnt one you
normally think of as funny, a strong and quirky voice can change the impact of
In CROWN ME! Whiny Willy just popped
up as a very minor character, but quickly became my main characters weird
sidekick. Willy became the perfect follower, annoying at times but always
ready to get Justin more attention
and into more trouble.
In STORKY: HOW I LOST MY NICKNAME AND WON
THE GIRL by Debra Garfinkle, voice plays a major role in the humor of her
YA novel. "My sweet, naVve character has a
take on a world that is somewhat skewed by his unique voice, yet in a
Humor in fantasy and science fiction combines
the popularity of both genres. Bruce Coville has made a solid career from his
humorous fantasy and science fiction novels. Alien teachers, a strange magical
shop that sells talking toads and truthful skulls, and a hunchbacked hero who
lives in a castle and carries a teddy bear.
When you can laugh at your own writing, youve
found success as a humor writer. Bruce says, "A particular funny scene where I
staged a food fight in MONSTER OF THE YEAR made me laugh every time I
read it, even through all the stages of editing and proofing."
Consider the burly and sometimes funny
character of Hagrid in the HARRY POTTER books, such as his dialogue
of "I shouldnt have said that" when mentioning the Fluffy, three-headed guard
I had fun coming up with medieval type words
for my fifth grade boy characters to insult one another. My whiny knight was
referred to as Knight of the Living Dead, and when clanking along in his
armor of a metal trashcan, Sir Trash-a-Lot.
Bruce Coville tells writers that if we use the
word underwear in a story, itll be a hit. Young kids love humor that uses
forbidden or tacky-sounding words or ideas.
Bookstore shelves include WALTER THE
FARTING DOG, CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, SNOT STEW, and THE
UNDERWEAR THAT CROSSED THE ROAD.
One of my favorite short stories I ever sold
was Underwear on Parade. What does a kid do when everyone in class
will be bringing their collections to share at school? What if you collect
jockey shorts? How will you display it? With more than 20 pair worn over his
shorts and hidden by a raincoat, the title and idea lent itself to little boy
humor as the main character dropped his shorts one by
HUMOR IN REVISION:
When I began plotting CROWN ME! I
intended it to be funny from the beginning, yet I found that making specific
scenes laugh-out-loud funny were done mostly during revision time.
In my first revision letter, my editor
suggested that I look at some of the humorous situations my characters "talked
about doing" and showed them doing it. My character mentioned that the class
dungeon had grown in size, with more kids and desks inside than outside the
dungeon. But I had not shown how those kids got there. I went back during
revision and showed in scene some of the absurd situations where my king and
queen sent their classmates to the dungeon.
Writing humor, even when it comes naturally,
often needs to be rethought as you work to find the true laughter of the piece.
Dotti Enderle says that, "When writing THE COTTON CANDY DISASTER AT THE
TEXAS STATE FAIR, I looked at the big picture. What possible havoc could
an out-of-control cotton candy machine cause at a highly populated state fair
Some say that humor writing for children isnt
taken seriously. I hope not. I want my readers to laugh.
© Copyright 2005, Kathryn Lay
Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through firstname.lastname@example.org
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