Monday 25 March 2019

Funny Writing for the Unfunny by Cyndi Marko #ChaBooCha

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Funny for the Unfunny!

When Becky first asked me if I’d like to write a guest post (my friend Dani Duck apparently volunteered me as tribute), my first reaction was “Sure! That sounds like fun. I’d love to write a post.” My second reaction was “Oh crap. I have to write a post.” I had no idea what I was qualified to write about having only gotten this far by my considerable Canadian charm and sheer dumb luck. So I polled my writerly friends and they suggested I make a post about writing the funny.

Now, people have been laughing at me my whole life, but is funny something you can teach? Not everyone is lucky enough to be born a wise-cracking smartass completely out of touch with their feelings, but still...since I have made some headway recently learning to write stories with more emotional depth, I’m confident even the most boringest among us can learn to add some fun and humor to their stories!

Humor is a great way to engage young readers, so with that in mind and using my own stories as an example (as no one else deserves that kind of treatment), here are my top ten tips, in little to no order whatsoever:
  1. Have your character behave a *little* badly. Not bad enough to actually hurt anyone, but just bad enough that their behavior is slightly ridiculous and comical and at odds with their main personality trait. When my superhero character Kung Pow Chicken/Gordon Blue acts less than heroic by being petulant or cowardly, I find it hilariously fun to write. Exploiting your MC’s character flaws for comedy gold also shows the reader their relatable human (or chicken, in KPC’s case) side and endears them to the audience when they overcome this trying period of acting like a butt munch. 
  2. A little snark goes a long way. While brave, Kung Pow Chicken is often a bit oblivious to what’s really happening and gets caught up in his own heroism. So his little brother/sidekick Benny/Egg Drop is there to knock him down a peg with his snarky (but not mean) one-liners and off-side sarcastic comments. He keeps our hero from getting a little too big for his leotard.
  3. Give your character a quirk! Uncle Quack, the genius mad-scientist in the Kung Pow Chicken books, wears fuzzy pink slippers with his lab coat around town. A man (chicken) of his genius has no time for shoes! A funny quirk or affectation will be funny with minimal effort on your part. And we writers are nothing if not lazy, amirite?
  4. If they see it, they will laugh. Visual humor is a useful tool. I’m my own illustrator and I love to add funny extras in the art. If you write for young readers illustrations can provide an opportunity to add an extra layer of humor to your story, even if you aren’t an illustrator yourself. If you are lucky enough to be allowed input into the choice of your illustrator, suggest someone whose art makes you laugh.
  5. Don’t be afraid of the absurd! Go for broke and do anything for a laugh! In my first KPC book, I had the villain, an elderly grandmother, sell poisoned cookies to unsuspecting chickens that made them lose all their feathers in a mighty POOF! The only thing funnier than underpants to a kid is full frontal chicken nudity.
  6. But avoid relying on gross bathroom humor. Now I’m no prude, I enjoy a good fart joke as much as the next gal, but you’ll find many librarians, teachers, parents, reviewers, and editors do not. (At least not ones published for children.) And as our young readers have not yet joined the labor force, most of those little freeloaders haven’t got their own money with which to buy your epic ode to diarrhea.
  7. If you can’t be funny, be punny! It is true that there are some pun-hating philistines out there, but there are even more punophiles. (Is that a word? The red squiggle says not, but heck, this is my post.)
  8. Make it spoofy. Spoofing on a well-known story or character gives the reader something familiar to grab onto, while creating something fresh and funny. I’ve spoofed Batman, Spiderman, Superman, and a few others. In fact, it’s possible I’ve not ever had an original idea of my own…
  9. If you can’t laugh at yourself, who will? I often have fits of giggles when I write. I find me pretty funny. Yes, I’m easily amused, it’s true. But it’s also true that if you don’t find your work funny, nobody else will either. So have fun writing!
  10. So okay I promised ten tips, and there are only nine. Sue me. (Please don’t, I’m so poor.)
Thanks so much to Becky for the invite, and thanks to Dani for suggesting me. *side eyes Dani* I really hope this post inspires adding humor to your next WIP, and not the burning of my books. But hey, if you’ve already bought and paid for them, toast a marshmallow for me.

I’ll leave you with a smattering of my favorite funny reads. Some recent, some not so recent, all hilarious.

Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy. (It has a magic-wielding skeleton detective!!! Need I say more?)

Bruno & Boots series, by Gordon Korman. Also Son of Interflux and Don’t Care High by same.
My Life as A Background Slytherin by Emily McGovern. (webcomic, find her on FB, Instagram, etc. You’re welcome.)

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Get Fuzzy by Darby Conley

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

The Bandy Papers series by Donald Jack

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Chester the Cat books and Scaredy Squirrel books by Mélanie Watt


Cyndi Marko is the award-winning author-illustrator of the KUNG POW CHICKEN heavily-illustrated early chapter book series, published by Scholastic Branches. Book one, LET'S GET CRACKING, won the Silver Birch®Express 2015 Award and BC’s 2015-2016 Chocolate Lily Award. It was also nominated for the 2017 Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Award and the Washington State WLMA  OTTER Award 2017, and was a Kirkus Best Books of 2014 selection. KUNG POW CHICKEN has been translated into Portuguese (Brazil), Korean, and Czech. KPC #1 is also available in Spanish as a Scholastic Book Club edition.
Her latest book, THIS LITTLE PIGGY: AN OWNER'S MANUAL, from S&S Aladdin Pix, was chosen as one of the Chicago Public Library’s 2017 Best of the Best. Her next book also with Aladdin Pix, BOO! HISS!, about a ghost and a snake who are roommates in a haunted (by them) house will be available 2019.



Cyndi has generously offered today's prize. This one is limited to the US and Canada. She is offering a signed copy of either My Little Piggy: An Owner's Manual, or one of the Kung Pow Chicken books (except for the first one which she doesn't have in stock right now). All you have to do, if you are already a signed-up member of the challenge and you live in either the USA or Canada, is comment on this blog post to be entered into the drawing for this prize. The winner will be selected by a random number generator on March 31st at noon.


  1. Ok that was hilarious!! Burst our laughing a few times! Thank you for that! Makes me want to go write something funny so I can laugh at myself which I often do so why not put it down on paper! Well done! Thank you!

  2. This was a really fun post, Cyndi. And congrats on putting it all together in your great books -- I loved the review that said "move over Captain Underpants . . ." How good is that?!

  3. Great post. Thank you!! I'm really struggling with adding humour to my work so these tips are just wonderful. Thanks again!!

  4. Great tips for adding humor. And thanks for starting my day with a smile!

  5. While people sometimes tell me I’m witty, humor is definitely a weak area in my writing so these tips will come in handy.

    Great post!

    Donna L Martin
    Story Catcher Publishing

  6. Thank you, Cyndi, for sharing your elements of humor that make your books a laugh fest for young readers.

  7. Thanks for sharing, Cyndi! I'm finding that ERs rely on humor more than any other age group. Humor helps quicken the pace of a story. So your stories fly by. :)

  8. Looking forward to relaxing (& laughing) with some of those funny books you mentioned :) Thx for the comedic tips!

  9. Great post, Cyndi! Thank you for the advice on how to add humor into our picture books. I have not read any of these except the Calvin & Hobbes book, but Chester the Cat looks interesting

  10. Thanks, everyone! I'm glad you found the post useful! Or at least good for a laugh. :)

  11. I think we should unite and sign a petition to make punophile a real live word ✊🏻 Excellent and funny post, Cyndi!

  12. I almost missed this post. So, glad I didn't. I would love to get better at humor in all of my writing. So, this will help. Excellent tips, Cyndi. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Thanks for the tips for adding humor to chapter books!

  14. Another excellent post! Thanks so much :)