You don't have to have been born funny to write a humorous essay. A look at the rhetorical strategies used by humor writers shows they rely on certain techniques to get a reaction from the reader. A funny story can evolve into a humorous essay, but think about why it becomes funny. The trick is to be painfully honest about something sad or difficult, surprise people with the unexpected and offer up an explicit candor that most people would suppress.
Feel the Pain
Humorists often say that comedy comes from a place of great pain. Feelings of anxiety or disappointment can translate into a funny story because readers can relate to those emotions and are surprised and appreciative of the writer's candor. People feel a sense of togetherness, knowing that they have been through similar pain or frustration. If readers are surprised by highly personal revelations about a difficult situation, and you as a writer can characterize the story with devastating accuracy, you can get a cathartic reaction from your readers. When choosing a topic, don't just try to think of something funny, think of one that shows you possess great clarity and perspective on life.
Experiment With Form
Humor essays don't need to be written in a strictly conventional way. Though you will need a distinct beginning, middle and end, you can experiment with a different form. Perhaps you will write as yourself, or as a character, such as an exaggeration of a football announcer or a bumbling police dispatcher. You may write an essay made up solely of farcical e-mails, police reports or media reports. There's nothing wrong with writing a straight narrative, but the surprises offered up by humorous writing can be magnified by surprises in the essay's form. Using an unconventional style heightens your readers' sense of the unexpected.
Time It Well
No comedian or humorist would get a laugh without a good delivery. Timing is a fundamental part of humor writing, and your essay needs to deliver at the right moments. Develop a particular rhythm and stick to it until it is time to catch your readers off guard with a funny line. You can write two expected things in a row and then deliver a wildly different third as the punchline. Pace yourself carefully throughout, and get a sense of when to use this classic technique, which humorists call "The Rule of Three." The funniest part needs to be at the end of the sentence, with the funniest word as the final word.
Form an Emotional Attachment
The writer of a humor essay is essentially manipulating the audience. You have a predetermined reaction in mind that you are actively seeking from your readers. Your objective is to be in control of your audience's emotions by creating a certain tension and getting them to the point that you break the tension with humor. The payoff is not just laughter, but satisfaction at the resolution of your story. Laughter implies distance from a painful or sad event. Your job as a humor writer is to reassure the audience that there is now distance from the bad times and that writer and reader together are in a different, happier place.
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