Thursday, November 6, 2014

More CCMWG Notes: What's So Funny? with Mary-Lane Kamberg -- and a Well Versed Winner

Mary Lane Kamberg at CCMWG
During an afternoon CCMWG breakout session, I sat in on award-winning Kansas writer Mary-Lane Kamberg's humor writing seminar. 

I can attest to Mary-Lane's writing skills -- and her sense of humor. About ten years ago we both served on the board of the Missouri Writers' Guild. Even when board discussions got heated, Mary-Lane could be relied on for solid advice and an upbeat personality. 

During the CCMWG breakout session, she interspersed some of her essays along with her lecture on humor writing. 

Her basic two-step process for writing humor is:

1. Think of something funny.
2. Write it down.

Beyond that, she gave examples of how humor can be expressed through: action, dialogue, and description.

She broke down humor writing into three basic parts:
* Topic – Can found in family life, politics, news stories, horrible experiences, phobias, etc.
* Format – Can use diary, how-to, advice Q&A, quiz, pretend interview, list, narrative form personal essay, etc.
* Individual jokes – Her opener was: “A horse walks into a bar and the bartender asks, ‘Why the long face?’”

The format she uses for the narrative form of personal essays is:
Character has a problem (wants to get or keep something)
Three escalating conflicts
Dark moment
Final tug
Punch line 

She emphasized that personal essays are basically true stories.

Some of her tools/observations in humor writing are:
Repetition - three times is usually enough
Build the joke then pause
Specifics are funnier than generalities
Include an element of a universal truth
Piling on 
Use hostility
It’s okay to be mean. (Note: I don’t necessarily agree with this.)
Words with the letter “K” are funny (Hmm?)
Play with works, such as puns or mixed metaphors
Targets: public figures, politicians, family members, movement, yourself
Butt of jokes gives readers a sense of superiority
Use yourself as a target - she does this a lot in her essays
Comparison, but make it BIG
It’s okay to make fun of famous people, but she warned against libel

Humor pieces tend to be short, between 500-800 words, and they’re getting shorter.

Her wrap-up quotes were:  “No laughter in the writer, no laughter in the reader,” and “Get them laughing then get them with the knife.”


And, now for the announcement of the winner of the copy of Well Versed 2009.

Drum roll, please . . . .

The winner is: Marcia

I will get the copy to you soon.


  1. Great advice as always, Donna, and thank you so much for sharing it!

  2. Very interesting stuff...will have to reread it again. I don't do funny often sounds sarcastic instead!

  3. Thanks for the recap. Interesting that humor pieces are getting shorter. I always learn something from your blog.

    1. Donna--This was a great recap. I enjoyed Mary Lane's session, and you summarized it perfectly.

  4. Great advice. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I have some of those same tools in my Red Sears Craftsman Humor-Writing Tool Box. Okay. So I don't really have a tool box. But I do a lot of those things she advises.

    The glaringly obvious missing tool from my box is the 500-800 word trimmer.

  5. Yay! I'm so sad missed the whole conference day, so thank you for posting the highlights!

  6. Hi Tammy,
    You're welcome. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Hi Claudia,
    Sarcastic is good. ;-)

    Hi Linda,
    You're welcome. It was surprising that humor pieces are getting shorter.

    Hi Sioux,
    Thanks! it was fun sharing a row with you and Lynn and Mary!

    Hi Val,
    You have a deft hand with humor on your blog!

    Hi Marcia,
    You are welcome. I'll get the anthology to you soon.

  7. I so enjoy reading anything that adds touches of humor. If I want to be bummed out, I can turn on the news. Thanks for the helpful hints, Donna!

    Critter Alley

  8. I'm always interested in seeing how other writers write funny--and what's really funny is how often I see that bit about the letter "K". Wonder who started that? I mean, kerfuffle's funny, but kickball? Kite? Ketchup?

    I don't get it. :-) (Thanks for the tips, Donna!)

  9. Congrats to Marcia! Thanks for sharing the tips, too. I love humor stuff, but sometimes I don't pull it off very well. Maybe one of these tips will help. :)


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