7 side-splitting tips for writing funny flash fiction

The best stories engage the reader – making you FEEL something. That emotion might involve being nervous for the fate of a character, angry at a detective missing a vital clue, sad at a loss, or rolling in fits of laughter.

While most of these emotions must be earned through built up investment in a character or storyline, humour is something that can come out of nowhere. In fact, that’s often its strength – sneaking up and surprising a reader (insert clown horn sound effect here). For this reason, humour lends itself well to the shorter word count of flash fiction. It often rates highly with the judges of AWC’s Furious Fiction competition – because it cuts through and engages.

“But I’m not funny,” many writers say. The truth is that anyone can “write funny” – check out our 7 tips on adding humour to your words.

1. Write what you know

Just like any type of writing you do, humour needs to be unforced – it has to be something that makes YOU laugh. After all, if it doesn’t tickle your own funny bone, how can it be expected to make someone else laugh? Writing something you don’t personally find funny will seem out of place and inauthentic.

So, take note of what you like – actual real life incidents or bizarre situations that made you laugh out loud and so on. Keep a notebook (or notes app) of inspiration and jot funny things down the moment you think of them.

2. Lean into the absurd

As much as funny things can be inspired by real life events, often it’s the super absurd that leaves no room for ambiguity. This kind of crazy humour is the stuff that fuels many middle-grade classics like Tom Weekly, Diary of a Wimpy Kid or the Treehouse series. But adult readers can enjoy silly humour just as much – especially in the realm of satire.

Take a story premise and/or character and stretch it to the edges of absurdity. Where you’d normally stop, don’t be afraid to keep going. And going. Push that envelope and zig instead of zagging. Make crazy things happen to normal characters, or normal things happen to crazy characters. It’s fiction, remember – YOU control this world!

3. Become a sponge

No, we don’t mean spending more time in the bathroom. Rather, ‘soak up’ humour from the world around you. Just as writers are encouraged to read widely and frequently, the same can apply to sources of funny material. So seek it out in funny books, newspaper columns, social media, on TV shows, YouTube videos, comedy podcasts, stand up routines, or just by hanging out with funny friends (we all have at least one – if you can’t think of who, then maybe it’s you!).

In everything you absorb, notice the comic timing, the subject matter and the choice of words. Become a student of silly, learner of LOLs, apprentice of amusement, guru of gags and disciple of droll – it will pay off in your own writing!

4. Tap into human truths

Observational stand-up comedians typically get their biggest laughs when the audience is also nodding in agreement at something that they know to be true. The same applies with writing funny scenes. In fact, often the best ideas are the ones that make the reader feel ‘seen’ – you meet them halfway because they already have subconsciously found it funny. (E.g. how everyone always stands up immediately at the end of a plane journey, or maybe how people put those little barriers up between their groceries on the conveyor belt).

A lot of humour can emerge from the everyday human stuff. Your job is to take situations like that and dial up the absurd – you already have them hooked with the relatability of the situation.

5. When in doubt, embrace your inner child

Be playful. Stretch your imagination – and the limits of your characters. Experiment with ludicrous character names. Take a story idea and give it different ‘coats’ to see which fits it best. Have fun with it. Imagine it being read aloud to a group of children – even give it to one of them to read (they’re very honest beta readers!).

Remove that self-conscious lens that adulthood often places over everything and don’t be afraid to have your characters act like children. Not only can it be highly relatable (adults act like kids ALL the time!), but also absurd – win, win!

6. Get figurative

News flash: there’s a ready-made toolkit of playful techniques in the form of figurative language that you can employ to help tickle those funny bones. These methods add colour and flair to any type of writing and include standards like alliteration (see the end of point 3 above), metaphors (“she was a walking encyclopedia”) and similes (“he was built like a brick outhouse”) to allow you to have more fun and freedom with your sentences.

Using hyperbole allows you to take things to extremes (where humour likes to live), giving you permission to have characters who “snore louder than a jet engine” or jump so high with fright that they “hit the ceiling”! Meanwhile, personification can give inanimate things very human traits (e.g. “the sunrise slapped him around with its ugly stare”) – good fodder for ambush laughs. Furthermore, techniques like assonance and onomatopoeia allow you to play with how a reader will sound out words, while getting literal with cliches (e.g., “love is blind”) can have some funny outcomes. So many options to choose from!

7. Use the format

If you’ve ever heard a master storyteller enthral an audience with a joke (or conversely, heard someone butcher a good punchline!), you’ll know that it’s not always about WHAT you say, but HOW it’s told. Just as a copywriter uses words in clever ways to sell items in an advertisement, you also need to “sell the funny” through how you write it. Short sentences. These are good. Often comical. USE OF CAPS or use of italics can be hilarious if ramping up desperation or an inner monologue.

Depending on your chosen point of view, the way in which you interplay between narrator and character can create comic moments. Sometimes putting things in brackets can signal a funny narrative aside (as if that would actually work, right?). At other times, it’s in the use of dialogue or line breaks. Just as good verbal joke delivery is all about timing, you can also affect a reader’s timing, so use every tool you have!

Want more funny inspiration?

Looking for examples of funny stories in action? Check out the Furious Fiction archive – often there will be at least one funny story in the monthly batch of featured stories. It’s a great resource to see humour at work in such a limited word count, plus hear what the judges had to say about them. You’ll find all of the monthly Furious Fiction showcases here.

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