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Comedic writing advice from Mark Heywood

It’s June 24th and that means it is National Writing Day. To celebrate we spoke to one of the Louise Rennison National Funny Award judges, Mark Heywood, for his top tips for those of you planning to submit a piece of comedic writing, or a comedic performance for the award ...

When I was a kid Puffin Books published a joke book that everyone in school wanted. I was one of the last to get it and by the time I did I already knew all the jokes in it. It was called “The Ha Ha Bonk Book” by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.

I hadn’t thought about it in decades and then it suddenly came back to me recently during a conversation about childhood memories. I used to know every joke off by heart, but when I first started writing I always found it hard to be “funny”. So whether you are planning to submit a piece of writing, or a video, here are some tips that might help you refine your funny story –

- Your first draft won’t be right, so don’t waste time getting it wrong. On the basis you cannot edit a blank page the trick is to write without fear, safe in the knowledge that you can go back and refine the story once you have finished. It’s like any skill - the more you practice, the better you get.

- If something makes you laugh, then try to analyse why you find it funny. Is it because the dialogue is funny, or is it because the situation is funny? Comedy often doesn’t translate very well when it comes to dialogue, but visual comedy is universal and one of the reasons that things like Mr Bean are popular all over the world. Your story doesn’t have to use dialogue in order to make people laugh. If you type “funny videos” into YouTube you’ll see that most of the search items are visually funny, without the need for any words or context. You’ll also see that these types of videos have really exploded during lockdown. People have been extremely creative so see if there is inspiration you can take from recent videos.

- Conflict is critical, and it can also be very funny. Two people agreeing with each other isn’t very interesting. Two people arguing with each other – now suddenly that’s fascinating. Think about how you could make the argument funny – what if they are arguing about something trivial, or something so bizarre that it makes no sense at all. For example, would you rather have a dog with three tails, or a cat with 12 lives?

- Don’t worry about making mistakes. Everybody makes them, and it’s really the only way you will learn and get better at writing. If something doesn’t work try and find out why. How could you change it to make it work? No joke comes out perfectly formed so don’t be afraid to experiment.

- Try something totally random - try and explain TikTok to your Gran. I guarantee you there is a joke or something funny in that.

TikTok didn’t exist when I was a kid. You couldn’t Google anything for inspiration. That’s why “The Ha Ha Bonk Book” was so popular. Chocked full of jokes to tell your Mum, Dad, postman, teacher, or dog.

Question - What goes “ha ha bonk”?

Answer - A man laughing his head off.

Well, it made me laugh. Still does, actually.

Happy National Writing Day!

Get creative and enter your submissions for the Louise Rennison National Funny Award 2020 here today. Entries close August 31st 2020.


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