Friday, July 10, 2009

How To Write Humor--Using Humor Devices Part III

-John Philipp

In a previous article, we discussed Stealing From The Barry Best (July 3rd) But you don't have to steal the joke itself, you can steal the device, the method used by the writer to achieve a desired effect.

When you read humor you should not only enjoy the joke but observe the devices an author uses to achieve his effect.

Here are some examples of humor devices you may be able to use in some article somewhere. (All examples are by Dave Barry unless otherwise noted)

  • Make up Absurd Holidays: Dave Barry uses this device all the time to exaggerate a point e.g. "Of course, congress will be unavailable as they will be celebrating National Peat Bog Awareness Month."

  • Describe a bad trait of a character, then use a word such as "yet" to indicate you are going to balance this with a good aspect and, instead, describe another bad trait e.g. "(He is) an abrasive mayor who really gets on some people's nerves, yet at the same time strikes other people as a jerk."

  • Describe an experience with an absurd analogy e.g. "As an emotional experience, it ranks right behind having a gallstone operation, without anesthetic, performed in a blizzard on the top of a 100-foot tower erected at the North Pole." Jon Carroll

  • Use a real name to thinly disguise another real name e.g. "…a large organization that, out of respect for its privacy, I will refer to as "The Episcopal Church" (not its real name). Even though The Episcopal Church pretty much runs Utah, it's trying to keep a low profile during the Olympics."

  • Use a descriptor to describe an item and then misuse the same descriptor in a humorous way e.g."…to watch the men's 90-meter ski jump, which gets its name from the fact that a sane person would have to drink a 90-meter-high glass of gin before he would even consider attempting this sport."

  • Play "blame the editor e.g."…who have since become the most famous Canadians in world history, surpassing even (EDITOR: Please insert names of some famous Canadians here)."

Another favorite device of Dave Barry's, for those of you who like word puzzles, is to jumble letters in a proper name of person or place e.g. "The letters in 'Marie-Reine Le Gougne' can be rearranged to spell "An eerie groin legume."

  • Make a purposeful error, then correct it e.g. "How a Bill Becomes a Law-First the bill secretes a substance that it uses to form a cocoon, and then it … No, sorry. That's how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. The way a bill becomes a law is: . . ."

  • Split words into syllables to make up a funny definition e.g. the word aerobics comes from two Greek words: aero, meaning "ability to," and bics, meaning "withstand tremendous boredom."

  • Use the phrase "which, for want of a better term I will call (the obvious)" e.g. "From time to time I receive letters from a certain group of individuals that I will describe, for want of a better term, as 'women'."

Footnotes can also be used as a humor device:
For example, the device I call 'none of your business with a titillating footnote' e.g. "which is truly one of the most fascinating episodes in American history, although it is quite frankly none of your business (1). (Below Barry footnotes: "1) Especially the part about the dwarf goat.")

Then there is always the condescending footnote: "If there's one thing Americans love, it's satire." The footnote reads: "For an example of satire, reread this sentence."

I'll end with one of my Dave Barry favorites. You figure out the device. "There are two major schools of thought on how to pack for traveling. These are known technically as "my school" and "my wife's school."

Now you need some humorous articles on which to try out your new humor observation skills.
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 wisdom (with Phil Frank's cartoons) is posted at Thought~Bytes

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Writer’s Life Is Never Dull, Especially with a Global Romance Market

My guest today, is the wonderful Annie West. I'm so glad to have her again on my blog. I asked Annie West if she would explain a bit about the global market as an author for Harlequin.

I remember reading many more Harlequins when I was younger and Presents, at the time, were my favorite of the Harlequin line. The thing I enjoyed the most was reading books by authors not from the United States. I loved the expressions native to their country, the scenery, the way they used the English language.

I'll admit I was in love with all things Australian—so much so that I visited and actually considered moving there. Then love got in the way. I read many Australian authors, not just Harlequin. It's a wonderful country and like ours, there is so much variety in people, landscape and in its vastness.

Annie shares what it’s like to have her books released to various foreign markets.

There are several distinct sides to my writing life. There’s Annie as hermit, head in the clouds and fingers on the computer keys, typing in the new story. We’re all familiar with that one, right? That’s what writers do – they write.

Well, yes, but they do other things too. Like right now. Even as I type I’m itching to revisit my draft manuscript as my crit partner has raised some issues about it and I want to check out the details. Can I really shorten that first chapter? How on earth am I going to work the change I need in the second half? I’m torn…I want to write this (and since Sia was kind enough to provide a date to post my ramblings, I have to deliver) but part of me wants to get on with the book.

I’ve discovered in the 3½ half years I’ve been writing for Harlequin that spreading yourself between multiple tasks is part and parcel of what writers do. On an average week I’ll have the book to write, a blog or two to prepare or an article to research, sites I want to visit, maybe proof copies of my previous book to check, a little work to critique for someone else, prizes to send out, promo to do, a competition to read for, research that may require contacting some experts or researching on the net or in a library, sundry queries to answer (the ones from my editor get priority) and maybe notes to jot down on the next story brewing in my head. In between that, if there’s time, I do like to read as well, and spend a little time with my family. As I still have a day job life can get very busy.

But life gets even more interesting when you write for a global market.

One of the joys of writing for Harlequin is finding out that your books are bought and read all over the globe, from the English language markets of the USA, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada to South Africa, the Philippines and India.

Then there are the translations. I found out the other day quite by chance that I have two books out in Brazil, with very hot covers indeed. I recently received a translation into Polish, another into Czech (complete with name change – in Czech I’m Annie Westova), as well as Russian, Greek, French, Korean, Japanese (including a manga comic book edition) and numerous others.

Wow! I sit in my home in Australia and am stunned by how far my stories travel. Most of the time I have no idea which book has been translated or when. I find out when a foreign edition lobs into my post box.

But writing for readers who don’t necessarily share the same cultural background can be interesting too. I still find it fascinating that so many readers find Aussie heroes hot! Well, yes they are, but to me they’re not exotic at all.

There are Issues of language. I tend to stick to Aussie English which is almost the same as British English, so if you see ‘colour’ instead of ‘color’ or ‘grey’ instead of ‘gray’ in my books and you’re used to US English, they’re not typos, that’s just the way we spell.

There decisions on what phrases to use. In a recent book I described something as ‘big as Uluru’. I could have used another simile (as big as the Empire State Building, or the Eiffel Tower) but as my character is Australian I figured I could be excused from using something typically Aussie. By contrast, in a book later this year, where the heroine is half Greek, half Australian, she describes something as being ‘as rare as snow on Santorini’, since she knows Greece well. I like to use some Australian phrases if I have an Aussie character, but I’m always conscious of the fact that a lot of readers won’t understand a really local phrase. I aim to make the story understandable to as many as possible.

I don’t have much swearing in my books, but are times when a hero has been so upset by something he’s exclaimed with frustration, fury or fear. Times when ‘oh, bother’ just doesn’t ring true. At such times my heroes have been known to curse, rather mildly. But not all readers appreciate the use of certain phrases. What characters can get away with in Australia may not be so acceptable elsewhere. It can exercise the mind, finding ways for them to express their feelings in a way readers will relate to.

When you write for a global market your readers, fellow authors, reviewers, staff from your publishing house etc, are bound to be awake when you’re not. My editor is in London and we have a 9 hour time difference. That means we have to tee up discussions, not just pick up the phone when we feel like it. I recently worked on a project with writers in three different time zones so it was rare to get answers to questions straight away. Often they arrived in my inbox when I was sleeping.

When I’m following a blog that’s based on US time, I have to stay up late to talk to people as they wake in the morning, and then get up very early to chat with others at the end of their day. Public holidays are completely different too which means some questions go unanswered when you least expect it.

Then there are release dates. I thought when I was published I’d see my books on the shelves and that would be when my book was ‘out’. End of story. But no. Different continents get different release dates. Forget the foreign translations, just the English language editions are enough to make my head spin.

April saw ‘The Desert King’s Pregnant Bride’ on sale in North America. In June ‘The Greek’s Convenient Mistress’ was released in the US. But this was my 2nd book out of 10 so far. It was on sale in the UK and Australia ages ago but the schedules across continents don’t always match. Meanwhile I was trying to promote my May UK release ‘Blackmailed Bride, Innocent Wife’, which is also out in June in Aus/NZ (at the same time as my Greek title in North America). Then in August my ‘Savakis Mistress’ is released in the UK (but actually it appears in July because they’ve changed the release schedule) and in August in Aus/NZ. I don’t know when that book will be released in North America and I’m already fielding queries from American readers on that one. Meanwhile August sees a re-release in the UK of my first book for Harlequin, but in an anthology, which naturally has a different title. In December ‘Blackmailed Bride, Innocent Wife’ makes it to North America and the following month a brand new title in the UK, and so it goes on.

Working out what book to promote when is a challenge, especially as they’re available on the web before they’re in bookstores, and even earlier to readers who subscribe to Harlequin. Australian—so

I adore writing for a global market and knowing people all around the world have an opportunity to discover my stories. But staying organised is a massive challenge. Thank goodness for my wall planner reminding me what I have to do next. And my diary. And those post it notes and scrawled messages…

Aussie author Annie West is a bestselling author for Harlequin Presents/Modern/Sexy (depending on which country you’re in). She gets a kick out of going to Australian writer and reader conferences where she gets described as ‘a Sexy author’! She’s won and been shortlisted for several reader awards and is just about to start work on what she hopes will be her 11th book for Harlequin. Annie loves her work, spending days fantasising about gorgeous men and their love lives. It’s a hard job but she has no regrets. Annie lives with her family on the east coast of Australia between the Hunter Valley’s world class wine country and some of the state’s best beaches.

Annie’s current releases are THE GREEK’S CONVENIENT MISTRESS (Harlequin Presents in North America), plus BLACKMAILED BRIDE, INNOCENT WIFE (June in Australia/New Zealand and December in North America). You can read excerpts of her books or enter contests to win new releases on her website.

Monday, July 6, 2009


“There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to In my room…”

My guest today is Rita Award nominee, Nicola Cornick. She not only writes Historical Romances, but has fabulous inspiration working for National Trust Ashdown House, a former Tudor hunting lodge, located in Berkshire. Of course, we Americans picture a hunting lodge as much more rustic than the reality of the Dutch styled mansion with a hundred steps

Nicola shares some pictures and some thoughts on finding our special place to write.

Yes, the Beach Boys had it right. It’s the place where I do my dreaming and my scheming when I’m plotting out my books and developing my characters. Then inevitably I do my crying and my sighing when I’m approaching a deadline and the book stubbornly refuses to write, or my characters go off in a direction very different from the one I had planned. So My Room is a very special place.

I imagine we all have “Our Room” where we write or read, or a place that is special to us, indoors or out. It’s a place that inspires us or a place we visit to do our dreaming. Until last year “my room” actually doubled up as the kitchen as well. This was a minor detail – the fact that the rest of the family used it for cooking, eating, chatting and dropping their stuff everywhere was slightly irritating at times but space issues mean that a lot of us have to write when and where we can and I was no exception.

Then, at the beginning of last year, I got my own room. It’s beautiful and I love it. It’s now been colonised by the cats as well, but hey, we all have to share sometimes. So I thought I would walk you around it and tell you about a few of the things that provide inspiration and feed my writing dreams.

Well, first of all there are my bookshelves. When I put them in I thought there would be masses of space on them. But somehow my books have expanded to fit the shelves available. These are my research books, mainly for the Regency period, but some other historical non-fiction as well. I’ve had an absolute ball collecting my reference books and I add to them all the time. One of these days those shelves will go straight through the floor because they are groaning under the weight of so many books! Research is one of the things that I love about being a historical author. I grab a book from the shelves, intending to look up something specific, and I read some other fascinating snippet and off I go at a tangent… I get some of my best story ideas that way. I remember once I was researching shopping in the Regency period and I saw a reference to lottery tickets and that gave me an idea for an entire book! There is everything on these shelves from the history of beards to the history of belly dancing.

On the wall to the left of my desk is a framed poster of the cover of my first single title historical, Deceived. I did my first book signing at the RWA Conference in Atlanta a few years ago and they let me keep the poster as a souvenir. My husband had it framed for me to celebrate the publication of my first book for HQN. It’s enormous and one night it fell off the wall with a huge crash and almost squashed the cat who used up one of her nine lives. The poster is a wonderful reminder of how lucky and privileged I feel to be writing Regency historicals for HQN but it’s also a bit daunting. On those days when I sit at my laptop and absolutely no ideas come and every word feels as though it’s been weighted with lead I see the big book cover and think: “I’m an impostor!” A lot of people tell me that they feel like that about their jobs sometimes; those moments when we all question whether we really know what we are doing. The moments that you hope doctors and pilots don’t have. With writing the whole process seems so reliant on nothing more tangible than intuition and imagination sometimes. Jo Beverley recently called the writing process “alchemy” and there is something magical and mysterious about it. Sure, there is craft and skill and structure, lots of hard work and many other components, but in my experience writing is also taking risks and going with what feel right – oh, and a large dose of luck, of being in the right place at the right time with the right book.

On the other wall is a black and white photograph of the gardens at Ashdown House. Like a lot of people I wear two hats – I write and I also work for the National Trust for England and Wales, showing visitors around an historic house. Ashdown is another of my passions, a stunningly beautiful seventeenth century hunting lodge that provides me with a great deal of inspiration. Simply walking up the magnificent oak staircase makes me feel as though I have been transported back in time. On a more practical note, working at Ashdown also gets me out of the house and meeting real people. Being a writer is a wonderful job but I also find it quite a lonely one sometimes. Talking to people, listening to them, answering questions about Ashdown and simply getting out and about is another great way for me to find story ideas.

On my desk is a peacock feather quill pen to remind me that I am a writer of racy Regency historicals. The peacock quill pen recently featured in a very hot and sexy short story I wrote for Harlequin! Well hey, sometimes you need to remind yourself that you write hot books when you also have to taken the rubbish out, hang up the washing, go to buy groceries…

Finally there is the view from my window. Strictly speaking it’s not in my room but it is very inspiring as well as distracting (all those comings and goings in the street outside!) Concentration and self-discipline can be a big issue for me as a writer! But it’s also lovely to have the countryside on my doorstep. When I’m wrestling with my plot and can’t make any headway I’ll go out and walk the dog, hoping that exercise and fresh air will help. Usually I can walk off the writer’s block.

I hope you have enjoyed this peek into my room. Do you have a special place you go to read or write? Where do you gain ideas and inspiration? What are the mementoes that you keep about you to remind you of the things that are important in your life?


Nicola Cornick studied history at London University and Ruskin College, Oxford, where she wrote her dissertation on heroes and hero myths. It was a tough subject but clearly someone had to tackle it and Nicola took it so seriously that she passed with distinction. She has a “dual life” as a writer of Regency historicals for Harlequin HQN Books and a historian working for the National Trust. A double nominee for both the Romance Writers of America RITA award and the UK Romantic Novelists’ Association Romance Prize, Nicola has been described by Publisher’s Weekly as “a rising star of the Regency genre.” Her Regency trilogy “The Brides of Fortune” is available now and there is an excerpt on her website at: