Tips for writing funny stories from #LOLLIES-shortlisted authors and illustrators

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Scholastic have announced the shortlisted books for the Laugh Out Loud Awards 2017, and to celebrate, we've asked the shortlisted authors to share their top tips for writing rib-tickling stories! Scholastic have also kindly given us an entire set of the shortlist to give away - you can win the books by entering our simple competition

If you're writing something funny, remember the rule of 'k'. In English words containing a k sound are often inherently funny. Haddock.

Featuring three separate awards determined by age group, the "Lollies" were created especially to celebrate the very funniest and most engaging books in children’s fiction. The shortlist was decided by Michael Rosen, children’s novelist, poet and former Children’s Laureate, and his judging panel, consisting of CBBC presenter Katie Thistleton and The Sunday Times’ Children’s Books Editor, Nicolette Jones. There are three shortlists - Picture Books, books for 6-8 years old, and books for 9-13 years old - and four books on each shortlist. 

You can find fun activity sheets and lesson plans on the Scholastic Lollies home page. Check out the shortlisted authors' top tips for writing funny stories below! 

 

 

Cover of The Prince of Pants

Alan MacDonald – shortlisted for The Prince of Pants with Sarah McIntyre

Start with an idea that is slightly silly or ridiculous. For instance, I've written stories about a spaghetti suit and a pig in a wig. The Prince of Pants is about a hunt for pants that have 'run off'. 

Enjoy playing with words. I always read my stories out loud to myself to see how it sounds.

 

Sarah McIntyre @Jabberworks – shortlisted for The Prince of Pants with Alan MacDonald

Have fun inventing extra little characters who are not mentioned in the text! (The corgis in The Prince of Pants were my favourite to draw.)

Watch Sarah McIntyre’s astronomically good Authors Live on demand.

Cover of Thimble monkey Superstar

Jon Blake – shortlisted for Thimble Monkey Superstar

It is always good to have a child who is the voice of reason in the midst of ridiculous or pompous adults – think Alice in Wonderland or Huckleberry Finn. I woud suggest basing your characters on people you know but exaggerating the things that make them funny. Finally, TAKE YOUR TIME. Slow down the pace when you have an important moment – dialogue can help with this - and make the most of it!

My favourite comedy arises out of character so here is one way of creating one: Think of a well-known person you cannot stand. Now, write a letter to them from someone who adores them. Make your letter-writer the most boring person in the world, who simply does not know when to shut up. Finally, think of the worst situation in which to meet this person, and you have the starting-point for your story!

Cover of The Best Medicine

Christine Hamil – shortlisted for The Best Medicine

Keep your eyes and your ears open – humans are hilarious, so write down everything you see and hear without a filter. Honesty is the key: let it all out – the humiliating, the rude, the daft, the angry, even the sad (sometimes humour comes from unpleasant experiences). Then prune it all back ruthlessly: less is always more.

Surprise! Sometimes a sneaky short throwaway funny line when the reader is least expecting it works well.

Do not neglect plot for the sake of jokes – you need a good story. And characters. Love your characters even if they are plonkers sometimes.

Finally, read your work out loud to someone. If they chuckle, you’ve got it.

Cover of Danny McGee Drinks The Sea

Andy Stanton – shortlisted for Danny McGee Drinks the Sea

Try coming up with a character who’s completely useless at what they’re meant to be doing. Perhaps a really stupid villain whose plans always go wrong. Or a maths teacher who can’t do sums. Or a lifeguard who can’t swim. Or how about a vampire who faints at the sight of blood? That should lead to some funny stuff. Good luck!

Watch Andy Stanton’s hilarious Authors Live on demand.

Cover of Eat your People

Lou Kuenzler, @LouKuenzler – shortlisted for Eat Your People

If you are writing funny books for children make sure you are thinking like a child of that age. If you try and talk down to kids - or too far up - you'll lose the laugh, for sure. Also, when you're writing funny, make sure it's tickling your funny-bone too. If the joke is not making you have a giggle to yourself, then others probably won't be tickled either!

Cover of Future Ratboy and the Invasion of the NomNoms

Jim Smith, @BarryLoser – shortlisted for Future Ratboy and the Invasion of the Nom Noms

Coming up with funny ideas is about waiting for a silly thought to pop into you head, then grabbing it. Everyone has silly thoughts all the time. Only writers have a pencil and a notebook in their back pockets, ready to catch them!

I Don't Like Poetry cover

Joshua Siegal, @joshuasiegal – shortlisted for I Don’t Like Poetry

Think of the ending first. Quite a few of my poems are also jokes, with a punchline. I got the idea for these by thinking of something funny that could happen at the end, and then building up to it.

Don't rely too much on rude words. 'Bum' and 'snot' can be funny when used once or twice, but they get boring if you use them all the time.

Think hard about the names of your characters. They don't have to have normal names like 'Gareth' or 'Tracy'. They can be called things like 'Doghead' or 'Timothy Tomithy Tracklement-Tracklement'.

Cover of my Gym Teacher Is An Alien Overlord

David Solomons, @DavidSolomons2 – shortlisted for My Gym Teacher Is an Alien Overlord

Do not listen to your inner critic during the first draft. We all have a little voice that tells us 'that's the wrong verb', 'that description should be better'. Ignore it. But only when writing the first draft. When you are editing your work, that inner critic is your best friend.

Write fast. Get the words out of your head and onto the page, messy as you like. Don't look back until you get to the end. Then it's time to take a breath and revise.

If you're writing something funny, remember the rule of 'k'. In English, words containing a k sound are often inherently funny. Haddock.

Cover of Eddy Stone and the Epic Holiday Mashup

Simon Cherry, @AuthorSCherry – shortlisted for Eddy Stone and the Epic Holiday Mash-Up

Jokes should fit into the plot of the book, not the other way round. A good funny story should still work even if the comedy is stripped out - plot, pacing and character all have to be tight. If you slow the story down while you crack a few jokes, you are waffling - cut it and move on.

Write what makes you laugh. No-one has ever really understood how comedy works, so just follow your instinct. Sigmund Freud wrote a whole book about the relationship between jokes and the unconscious, and how comedy involves the release of repressed emotions. But, as the great Ken Dodd pointed out, Freud never had to play the old Glasgow Empire on a Saturday night.

Some words are just funny - use them. I once did some work with a famous comedian who grew up in Bury, but always said home was in nearby Ramsbottom. One of those place names makes people smile. (I did grow up near Ramsbottom, so am allowed to say this. And it has nothing to do with sheep or bums - it means the valley where the wild garlic grows).

Be silly. Really daft. Riff on ideas. Take the humour as far as it will go. Write pages of material. Then edit ruthlessly and keep a handful of your best lines.

 

 

Competition

We have an entire set of the shortlist to be won! To be in with a chance of winning, just answer this question:

Who chose the shortlist for the Scholastic Laugh Out Loud Awards 2017?

Send your answer to Chris Leslie at chris.leslie@scottishbooktrust.com. The competition closes on Monday 11 September at 5pm.

All entrants must reside in the UK.