Be Funny, Not Mean

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by Sandra Murphy

There’s a fine line between humor and hurt. Alexandra Powe Alred says she’s crossed it a couple of times. Now her rule is to let the people she writes about—friends and family—read what she’s written before her work goes out. If feelings are hurt or someone is uncomfortable, Alexandra Powe Allredshe yanks the offending passage. Her tips for writing with humor include:

  • Never make fun of something that can’t be helped, like a physical trait.
  • Journal every night, but don’t complain about the day—it will only keep you awake as you go over it again.
  • Don’t use what can’t be fixed.
  • Have fun.

Her annual Christmas letter started out the same as those everyone receives—“This year our kids all won Pulitzer Prizes with the occasional Nobel Prize thrown in, were super models, and donated all the proceeds to charity.”

Her husband said, “No one likes to read how happy other people are or how swell things are going.” She revised the letter, told it like it was, and it became a popular tradition to bring doom, gloom, and humor to make other’s lives seem just a bit better.

Alex says, “It’s fun to be completely outside the box. Humor in life carries over to writing because people can identify with what you share. People always try to present themselves in the best possible way. Once a year, we tell it like it is and present our family in the worst possible light.”

Excerpts from a Christmas letter:

  • Robb decided to save money by cutting his own hair and bought a kit, declaring, “This thing’ll pay for itself!!” He is bald.
  • With Tommy now entering toddler phase, nothing is safe. The dogs run when they see him coming. He’s broken more lamps, clocks, picture frames, stereo speakers, and dishes than I can count.
  • We took a road trip with a baby, a five- and seven-year-old. We should not have done that.

As you can see, understatement plays a big role in humor writing. Family vacations are also fodder for funny stories. “When you head for the Exxon station for a cup of coffee and the kids beg to go along, you know you’re on a bad vacation,” Alex says. Humor is not just a funny piece about family life, though—it adds balance to heavy topics as well. Alex’s book, Damaged Goods, is about industrial pollution of a small town. To keep the book balanced and readable, she used outrageous characters who can say and do the unthinkable or politically incorrect.

Embrace the weird. Let’s face it; people can be strange. Eavesdropping—try to be subtle—can provide a fiction writer with loads of content for a book, from character names, looks, accent, and mannerisms to the stories they tell. For example, Alex heard an unusual tale of road rage. The woman said she could never get mad and yell at other drivers because her Grandma told her it would not be ladylike. The twist to the story was that Grandma had died, been cremated, and her ashes were in the glove box—because Grandma liked to get around. Alex says, “Somewhere, sometime, that’ll be in one of my books!”

Fans of America’s Funniest Videos will tell you that people will try anything, no matter how dumb, just to see if they can do it. Alex heard about a man who invented a motorized bar stool. Your first thought might be that the motor made it spin, but no. He attached a lawn mower to the bar stool and rode it down the street like a Segue stand-up people-mover. Unfortunately, he failed to plan ahead and didn’t test the brakes. That story came from the ER, making it another great addition to a book not yet written.

Alex speaks to grade-school classes to promote her children’s books, the love of reading, and telling tales. The kids have excuses—“my hand hurts,” “I can’t think of an idea,” or “it’s boring.” She tells them, “Writing is the most exciting thing because you can write whatever you want. There is no such thing as a boring writer—only boring writing.”

This year, add a little humor to your writing, whether fiction or non. It will lighten heavy topics and let your reader identify with the story you have to tell.


 

Alexandra Powe Allred is a former member of the U.S. Women’s Bobsled team and an accomplished martial artist who continues to teach kickboxing while juggling her career as a full-time writer and mother of three. She currently lives in Midlothian, Texas. She writes books for children and adults, fiction and nonfiction. The books can be found at www.amazon.com

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