Friday, June 26, 2009

Writing Humor Part I – Random Association

Humor is like anything other type of writing, it takes work to perfect your craft, practice, dedication, and realizing that what one person likes another may not.

John Philipp continues with his series on writing humor and satire.

Someone who was not I said, "You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince." Humor is no different; you need polish a lot of rocks to uncover a gem. Professional comedians often generate 100 jokes to find ten they think have potential, then tweak those in front of several audiences before they end up with one or two to put in their next routine.

But generating bad jokes is fun, as long as you are the only one who sees them. When writing humor, you don't want to listen to your Inner Editor whose territory covers the gamut from typos and grammar to character development, POV, and thematic imagery.

Listen to your Inner Comic, who delights in anything unexpected and constantly marvels at how clever you are at making unexpected connections between two items.

The House of Humor is built on the foundation of surprise. When two items are put together that you would not expect to find together (what Arthur Koestler in "The Act of Creation" calls a bi-associative event), you have one of two reactions.

If the context is science, the reaction is AHA!

If the context is humor, the reaction is HAHA!

One way to generate surprises is by random association. Here are the steps:

  • Pick a topic. I'll pick football as the Super Bowl is almost upon us.

  • Create categories under your topic. In this case, you want categories under "Super Bowl." Put each category on the top of a separate piece of paper.(Example categories might be: player, coach, team, stadium, ads, cheerleaders, fans, band and Body Part Exposure ... OK, I'm getting ahead of myself.)

  • List items under categories: Under each category make a list in the left-margin of items that might fit underneath the category. Three examples:Under "players" you might have: quarterback, running back, tackle, guard, water boy, etc.Under "stadium" you might have: dome, artificial turf, field, bleachers, name, hot dogs, etc.Under "ads" items might be: funny, expensive, beer, animals, etc.

  • Generate adjectives for each item: list as many adjectives as you can think of that describe each item or a part of the item, such as:Tackle - big, no-neck, stubborn, rock, leg grabber, pushy, grunterField - lined, grassy, long, cleat markedName - past player, city official, corporation, big bucks.

  • Play "mix 'n match" with the groups of words you have generated. Take a word and, in your mind, put it next to each other word looking for a humorous or unexpected connection. A+B? No. A+C? No. A+D? Wait a minute, something's there. Maybe something using corporate names not for stadiums, they already have them, but what about for Olympic events?

Now I have a concept that has a potentially humorous slant. What corporations would sponsor what events and ... exaggerating my paradigm even further, wouldn't corporations create events that suited their products?

This is what often happens with humor. We started with the Super Bowl and ended up with the Olympics but who cares if it's funny?

I said in the beginning that humor is built on the foundation of surprise. Here's one: I didn't end up going with the Olympics this round. I also played with "ads" and came up with: Super Bowl XLII AD Mania.

Sure humor takes time. I didn't say it was easy. Fun, yes. Easy, no.


John Philipp is a weekly humor columnist for four Marin County, California newspapers and has won numerous humor and memoir writing awards. His humor columns are posted at
His wisdom (with Phil Prank's cartoons) is posted at Thought~Bytes

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


New York Times Best-selling author Gena Showalter is my guest Over Coffee. Gena writes Urban Fantasy, Paranormal and Contemporary Romance.

I’ve read and enjoyed her
Atlantis series and am looking forward to reading Alien Huntress series next. She has written four series and assorted novels. I think what impress me most about Gena’s writing, aside from her vivid imagination and prolific writing, is the way she builds her worlds. They’re worlds that are so complete that the reader feels as if they could book a flight to them. I also love her strong characters and the research she’s done to make the characters and her worlds believable.

Gena also is a warm and genuinely funny person. I love her sense of humor. She also has a sometimes-mean Muse, who has its work cut out to keep her from being distracted, and thankfully, best friends who work their magic to get her over the 'stupid moment' humps.

Today, she shares with us a typical writing day…

I’m always asked how I write so quickly. So, I thought I’d share a typical writing day for me to better explain my . . . process.
  • 7:00 am – Wake up. Wish I could sleep a little more, but drag myself out of bed anyway, threatening to kill all the characters in my book to make myself feel better.

  • 7:10 – Drink coffee. It’s either that or send a family member to the hospital to patch abrasions caused by a flying . . . anything I can get my hands on. Respond to emails.

  • 8:00 – Close email. Drink more coffee. It’s either that or yell at every member of my family for an imagined infraction. Open current Work In Progress document, realize that killing all the characters does not fit the current plotline, grumble about it, accept it, and start writing. Goal: write an entire chapter.

  • 8:30 – Become distracted by thoughts of new emails. Check emails. Respond. Panic that I won’t reach my writing goal. Start writing again.

  • 9:00 – Hit brick wall in plot. Start cutting spilt ends from hair to “think about the plot problem.”

  • 9:35 – Realize the brick wall can be used in plot. Call best friend and fellow author Jill Monroe to tell her how brilliant I am.

  • 10:00 – Check email. Respond. Take picture of myself making a face and email it to other best friend and fellow author Kresley Cole. Panic that I won’t reach my goal. Start writing again.

  • 11:30 – Aching back convinces me to take a break. Go for a walk and – on the special days -- rescue some type of animal who jumps out from behind a tree and scares the crap out of me.

  • 12:30 – Get home. Eat lunch – always the leftovers from dinner -- and check email.

  • 1:00 – Decide I can’t write while I am a sweaty pig, so take shower. Come up with another brilliant idea and leap out of bathroom.

  • 1:10 -- Start writing while dripping wet from shower because I am in a rush to write down this new, brilliant idea.

  • 2:00 – Hit another brick wall. Call Jill Monroe again, this time to tell her how stupid I am.

  • 2:15 – Laugh. Monroe has worked her magic. Check email. Respond. Panic that I won’t reach goal. Start writing again.

  • 3:30 – Finish writing chapter, thereby reaching goal. Luxuriate in feelings of happiness, knowing I can relax for the rest of day.

  • 3:35 -- Answer door. See that a manuscript has arrived for edits. Cry a little.

  • 3:40 – Pick myself up and start editing.

  • 4:30 -- Really feel like I am in a zone. Nothing can distract me.

  • 4:35 – Check email. Respond. Feel guilty for slacking while a stack of papers that literally has my name on every page beckons. Panic that I won’t reach tomorrow’s Work in Progress goal because I didn’t edit enough on this second manuscript. Get back to editing.

  • 5:30 – Wrists and back start to ache, along with brain. Decide to take break and eat a snack. Vacillate between Cheetos Puffs and Wheat Thins. Puffs win.

  • 6:00 – Panic kicks in, demanding (loudly) that I return to work. Get back to work.

  • 7:00 – Decide enough has been done for one workday because, well, the brain has been tapped dry. Collapse on couch. Wish the Puffs had not been devoured earlier.

  • 7:10 – Panic kicks in again, demanding (even more loudly) that I return to work to get a jump-start on tomorrow’s goal. Resist. Or not.

And there you have it. A typical workday for me. I do get distracted easily, and I do panic often. But as strange as this sounds, I really do love the process. I love creating. I love watching a story take shape and the characters grow and change. I love twisting the plot so that even I’m surprised. But most of all, I love holding the finish product in my hands, as it’s a culmination of the blood, sweat and tears I poured into it. I hope you enjoy the results!

Gena Showalter is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of breathtaking paranormal and contemporary romances, cutting edge young adult novels, and stunning urban fantasy. Her novels have appeared in Cosmopolitan and Seventeen Magazine, and on MTV. The critics have called her books "sizzling page-turners" and "utterly spellbinding stories", while Showalter herself has been called “a star on the rise."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Fairy Tales for Adults

"Giving new meaning to the term alpha male."

Award winning author, Terry Spear, is my guest today Over Coffee. Terry writes Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romances and Scottish Medieval Romances. She is a lady of many talents, including creating award-winning teddy bears, Wilde & Woolly Bearsmaking. Some of my favorites are the Scot Clan Bears-with the tartan and tams.

One of the things that impresses me about Terry is her knowledge of wolves—their behavior and how they live, interactions within the pack, hunt—which makes her stories even more realistic.

Today, Terry discusses how fairy tales have influenced her writing, particularly in her Werewolf series.

I’ve always loved mythology and enjoyed reading folk tales from other countries, fairy tales, too, that often began as oral stories and eventually differing versions were captured in print so that I could enjoy them also.

Because of the fondness I have for tried and true fairy tales, I slip in fairy tale references in my wolf stories, too…Little Red Riding Hood in To Tempt the Wolf, and a different reference to Little Red Riding Hood in Legend of the White Wolf. When I was looking for pictures to illustrate this, I discovered that some story analysts think that the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood referred to a werewolf. So see, it’s in my stories for a reason. :-)

I had a reference to The Three Little Pigs in well, one of the wolf tales. Can’t remember which now. Maybe in Heart of the Wolf? Or Destiny of the Wolf?
And in the current work in progress–a reference to Alice in Wonderland in Seduction of the Wolf. I’ve also referenced Hansel and Gretel, can’t remember which story now either. But I love to refer to them because they were such a mainstay of what I read as a kid and certain aspects of them really stuck with me!

The morals of the story are still important messages taught today. How about the wolf in sheep’s clothing? Hey, I have werewolves in sheep’s clothing, too. :) Come to think of it, wolves sure have a bad reputation. Ever see a story where the wolf is a good guy in fairy tales?

In some Native Amercian tales, yes. Many tribes, both in Canada and America, revered the wolf, the way they hunted together, worked together, played together, took care of their families…so to them, the wolf was not to be feared but respected.

In my stories, the werewolf characters come in all sizes and all kinds, both good and bad. So my fairy tales for adults, are less…biased, to my way of thinking. :-)

Ever see references to fairy tales in books you’ve read? Some of course are Cinderella knock offs, or other such tales, using the same premise for the whole story, and those are fun to read, too!

I wonder some day if the old classics weren’t read, would fans in the future not even know what the references were to???

If you’re looking for a free read, I’ve started a newsletter subscription where I’ll be sending a weekly installment of a story that’s been published and I’ve received my rights back. For now, it’s: Goddess in Training. I’ve sent the first installment, but can forward the first one to any who sign up later. It’s a way of thanking my fans and giving them something to read until the next book, To Tempt the Wolf, hits their mailboxes or book stores!

Also, you can reach me at the following places. I can always use more friends!
  • Win a copy of Destiny Of The Wolf. Terry will be giving away a copy of Destiny Of The Wolf to one lucky commentor today. USA only.
Award-winning author of paranormal romantic suspense, urban fantasy, and medieval romantic susense. PW's BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR. Retired LTC with the USAR and award-winning teddy bear artist whose works have been featured in Teddy Bear Review Magazine, Teddy Bear & Friends, The MacNeill Galley, Texas Monthly & Texas Co-op Monthly, Terry Spear writes both for adults and young adults, novels, short stories, fiction and nonfiction.

Originally from California, she’s lived in eight states and now resides in the heart of Texas. She is the author of Heart of the Wolf, Destiny of the Wolf, To Tempt the Wolf, Legend of the White Wolf, Winning the Highlander’s Heart, Deadly Liaisons, The Vampire…In My Dreams (young adult), Deidre's Secret (young adult), The Accidental Highland Hero (2010), two more wolf tales from Sourcebooks, and numerous articles and short stories for magazines.