A Spoonful of Sugar by @SudiptaBQ and GIVEAWAY

I’ve often described heart as the thing that gives the reader a reason to care about the character and the story. But caring – or, at least, admitting that we care – can sometimes be uncomfortable, especially for children. (Think about the protestations of a teenage girl when someone asks if she has a crush on a particular boy – no matter how obviously smitten she is, there is a great deal of denial!)

When we write the heart of our story, we are giving the reader something to care about. By convincing him or her to care, we are, in some way, trying to teach that reader something about life. That friends always stand by you, no matter what you might (tyrannosaurus-) wreck.

T wrecks int 2

That your family loves you, no matter how much you moose up.

Ddm interior 3

That people who snore make terrible roommates.

SB int 2

As I’ve already mentioned, caring about something – and admitting to it – can be a heavy load for a child to process. In my own life, any time I’ve been faced with a serious, emotional, heavy times, I’ve found it awkward and have responded in one consistent way: by making a joke.

For me, those heartfelt moments are too much to bear without laughter to lighten the load. When I began writing, I had the same impulse – to wrap deeply emotional occasions in the warm burrito of humor. And as it turns out, that impulse was a shrewd one. Because science has shown us a number of benefits to laughing. Laughter reduces the amount of a stress hormone called cortisol in the body, which makes something overwhelming feel more manageable. It stimulates the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which enhances feelings of pleasure. It causes the body to release endorphins, which literally makes pain hurt less.

Laughter makes everything better.

So, how do you accomplish this in your writing? Let’s look at some quick tips:

Be unexpected. The punchline of a joke is more powerful when it is surprising. Here’s an example:

Q: What’s better than Adele?

The expectation here would be to give a straight answer. Like, what’s better than Adele? Kelly Clarkson. Or Weezer. Or a rabid chimpanzee having a seizure.

But here’s the joke we tell in my house:

Q: What’s better than Adele?


A: TWO Dels!

That’s hilarious.

Be logical. In scientific circles, joke comprehension requires the registration of surprise and the reestablishment of coherence. In simpler terms, to “get” a joke, you have to be surprised but be able to see how it makes sense.

To go back to the earlier example, if the question is “what’s better than a SOMETHING” it is logical that the answer is “two SOMETHINGS” – the humor comes from “Adele” sounding like “a del.” That’s a great punchline, but in no way is it the only funny punchline. Consider this:

Q: What’s better than Adele?

A: Any Apple product.

Here, the logic is that “Adele” sounds like the computer brand, Dell. I don’t find this punchline as funny as the first, but it really depends on your audience. When you’re talking to 8-year olds, “two dels” is comedy gold. But if your audience is middle school boys, the tech reference might hit the spot.

Focus on the part of the heart that makes YOU smile. A few months ago, I got married. It was a very emotional day for me, for my husband, and for my children. It brought up a host of feelings, some good, and some difficult. To honor this momentous day, I filled it with meaningful details like these:


When you marry your ex-husband, you have to have the banner custom made. Photo credit http://www.alfonsolongobardi.com/

Because what else would you do with the extra bow tie?

Because what else would you do with the extra bow tie? Photo credit http://www.alfonsolongobardi.com/


What would you let YOUR children do in an 8th century Franciscan monastery? Photo credit http://www.alfonsolongobardi.com/

Now, these are not the photos you would find in most people’s wedding albums. But then again, most people don’t have their own children at their wedding, so clearly I’m ok with being different! What makes the humor of these photos enhance the emotion of the day is the sincerity of my family’s enjoyment – because we loved these moments, other people can appreciate them as well. This is true in your writing. Just like you wouldn’t try to write an emotion you don’t understand, don’t try to tell a joke you don’t find funny.

Be reserved. Remember, it’s just a spoonful of sugar. A little laugh opens hearts and minds. Too much laughter and your reader will miss the point. Here’s an example:

My son loves Star Wars. It makes me smile how much he loves it. So adding this detail to my wedding was the spoonful of sugar that took that emotional moment and both lightened it with laughter and made it more memorable.

"Luke, I am your father...and you are my best man...get it?"

“Luke, I am your father…and you are my best man…get it?” Photo credit http://www.alfonsolongobardi.com/

However, if we’d added too much sugar…well, this outfit as a wedding dress would be less funny HA-HA and more uncomfortable laughter around the clearly crazy people:

No, I did not stage this photo just for this post -- why are you asking?

No, I did not stage this photo just for this post — why are you asking?

As a general rule of thumb, push the humor of a situation as far as you can take it – and then go two steps back. That will keep it funny without going off the deep end.

Well, those are just ducky general suggestions, you’re thinking to yourself. But how does that help me write heart with humor?

Yeah, that’s the hard part. I wish I could give you a formula guaranteed to succeed in every situation, every genre, every age level, all of the time. Unfortunately, I can’t. But let me take you through a few processes I use to brainstorm these situations.

Strategy #1: When the moment is significant, go for big laughs.

When you’re writing the culmination of a chapter or of an entire picture book, you want to pack a real emotional punch – and then get to the punchline. So think about humor in words and dialogue, but also think of the visual and physical humor of the scene as you’re going through the steps below:

1. Visualize the meaningful moment.

Write a description of or sketch the emotional highlight of your story/scene.

Moose step 12. Add some heartwarming details.

Build on the emotion and add written details or sketched details that make the reader go AWWWWWW.

moose step 23. Now, add something funny.

The “banana peel” moment, so to speak, that will lead to #hilarious!

moose step 3

Strategy #2: The little laugh that tides you over.

Often, your story needs a little laugh to relieve the tension as your character moves through the plot. This is an excellent opportunity to think about wordplay, puns, or, my favorite: new punchlines to old jokes:

1. Read some classic jokes. (If you can’t think of any, do a google search and browse through the results). Choose one and create a new punchline.

For example, What’s black and white and red all over?

Possible answers:

  • An embarrassed skunk
  • A zebra painted red
  • A sunburnt penguin

2.Take a regular, not-funny line from your manuscript. Brainstorm a response to that line that is unexpected and hilarious.

For example, this is from a manuscript I’m working on about characters under the sea:

Coral swam closer to get a better look. She saw a beautiful orange and white fish zipping between the fronds of the sea whip. “It’s a clownfish!” she whispered.

“Where’s the rest of the circus?” Shelly laughed.

Another example (from the internet):

There are two muffins in an oven.

One muffin turns to the other muffin and says, “Boy, it’s hot in here.”

The other muffin says, “OH MY GOODNESS, A TALKING MUFFIN.”

Strategy #3: Don’t be Dane Cook (or for people my husband’s age, he says, Don’t be Carrot Top. Whoever that is.)

Humor helps get to the heart of things. I have no doubt of that. But if humor isn’t your thing, then don’t do it.

Have you ever seen a comedian who is trying way too hard? It’s never funny. Even the funny parts become un-funny because of the effort being made. So if a joke isn’t working, JUST STOP. Emotion can stand on its own, and it’s much better by itself than propped up by a faulty foundation. In conclusion, be real.

And be funny if you can.

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen is an award-winning children’s book author whose books include Duck Duck Moose (a CBC Children’s Choice Award Finalist), Tyrannosaurus Wrecks (a Junior Library Guild Selection), Orangutangled, and Chicks Run Wild. She in the founder of Kidlit Writing School and frequently speaks about the craft of writing at schools and conferences all around the world. You can learn more about her and her books on her website www.sudipta.com or at her blog www.NerdyChicksRule.com where she blogs with Kami.

Also, she’s only worn that Leia costume twice. Really.

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Sudipta’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

If you haven’t registered for #KidlitSummerSchool yet click HERE.

GIVEAWAY! Sudipta is giving away a 20 minute telephone or Skype manuscript critique. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win this prize, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

Don’t miss your chance to get perfect attendance! Leave a comment on this post within the first 24 hours. Moderators have to approve first-time commenters, so your comment may not show up immediately.

Pressing Jokes Between the Pages with Tom Angleberger

My co-conspirator, Cece Bell, summed up the way we worked on our Inspector Flytrap series like this: I wrote it to make her laugh. She drew it to make me laugh.

 That’s really where a LOT of our books come from.
crankee doodleCrankee Doodle, for example, was all plotted out on a car ride and the whole thing started with one of us saying something like, “Wait, what if his name was CRANKEE Doodle?”
 And then we kept piling it on. Trying to add on a little twist to what the other person came up with. Eventually we had a whole book and it would be pretty hard to say who did what.
 Of course, not everything gets a laugh.
 Just this week, I told Cece an I idea I had for an absolutely hilarious book…. and she didn’t bust up laughing. In fact I’m not sure she laughed at all. So maybe that one needs some work or just a quick trip to the trash can.
 That’s the other important thing about the way we work.
 Sometimes when one of makes a joke or a nice turn of phrase, the other says “That would make a great kids book!” (Or sometimes we just say that about our own idea.) And then we think it over for a bit and… often we realize that, NO it wouldn’t.
 It’s a good thing we do this, because when we’re rolling it can happen several times a day. And obviously no one can publish 365 times several kids books a year. You have to be willing to let some sail off into the sunset. (I’ve always wished we kept a list of the ideas that didn’t make it, because a list of things that didn’t turn out to be all that funny …  would be funny.)
princess leia But then other ideas, like “a talking origami Yoda puppet,” are worth pursuing. When I started that, I had no idea I’d pursue it for (at least) 7 books. Or that I’d spend my time agonizing over questions like: what pun can I make out of Princess Leia?
 Inspector flytrapI don’t really remember when I decided that the idea of a crime-solving plant was worth the pursuit. He sort of forced himself past the early stages and jumped out of my head ready to ride his skateboard, fight crime and banter with his assistant, Nina the Goat. Cece claims she has had a lot of fun illustrating it — although it looks like hard work to me.
But that’s really the crazy thing about this job of trying to make kids laugh via books: it takes a lot of writing, drawing, revising, editing, emailing and promoting to take whatever that first joke was and try to press it between the pages of a book so that it falls out on some kid maybe 10 years from now and it’s still — hopefully — funny.
tom AnglebergerTom Angleberger has been a newspaper reporter and columnist, juggler, weed boy, lawn mower part assembler, and biology research assistant. He is the bestselling author of many funny books including the Origami Yoda Series, Fake Mustache, The Qwikpick Papers: Poop Fountain!, and more. He is married to author illustrator Cece Bell. Visit his WEBSITE to find out more about Tom and his books.   and follow him on Twitter @OrigamiYoda

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Tom’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

If you haven’t registered for #KidlitSummerSchool yet click HERE.

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1-2-3…Hehehe: Using the Rule of Three by @kamikinard plus a #Giveaway!

Humor sells. We’ve all heard that before. But how do we write something funny? As authors, making people laugh can be challenging. We can’t use physical humor and pratfall our way into chuckles like Chevy Chase. Neither can we rely on Amy Poehler-like wacky facial expressions to get the giggles. And, unfortunately, we can’t use inflections in our voices to hammer humor home the way Chris Rock does.

The only tools we have in our comic tool chests are words.  And that’s where the Rule of Three comes in.

Rule of three

The Rule of Three is a tool anyone – picture book authors and novelists alike – can use to

WISH_boyproject_comp (1)

Yes, the Rule of Three is used in this book!

evoke humor! There are multiple reasons to use this technique, and volumes written about why to use it. I’m going to focus on just one of them: using the rule of three to set up your funny moments. One of the most common mistakes I see when critiquing manuscripts is a tendency for writers to rush through the funny parts. They create funny moments, but don’t spend enough time preparing the reader for them. So the moment is gone in a blink, which doesn’t allow the humor to reach its full potential. The rule of three offers one way to fix that problem.

Employing the Rule of Three is like putting a pedestal under your trophy, a frame around your picture, or showing off your summer legs by accidentally tucking your skirt in your underwear.

Did you see what I just did there? That’s the Rule of Three in action. The concept is very simple, and it works. You are laying out a sequence of events so that when the big moment comes – that laugh-worthy moment — your reader is ready to fully appreciate it. This does not mean that they should be able to anticipate that moment!

The trick is to establish a pattern, and two beats are usually enough to do that, so that when you add your third beat – your twist – you break the pattern by offering something unexpected. Then you’ll be rewarded with a laugh, chuckle, or smile.



So how do you use the Rule of Three?

There are so many ways! Let’s look at a tale you’re all familiar with. An age-proven fairy tale that has been re-told as a picture book many times: Goldilocks and the Three Bears. This story uses the Rule of Three perfectly, and is therefore the perfect vehicle for humor. Don’t believe me? Ask Mo Willems, who won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award for his retelling of this classic a few years ago with Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs.

In the fairy tale version, Goldilocks gets to experience three bowls of porridge, three chairs, and three beds, and each of these actions provides three beats, so there is opportunity for humor on the third beat. Then the bears come home from their walk and we see the Rule of Three used in dialogue. Papa bear speaks, then mama bear speaks, then baby bear delivers the unexpected punchline!

The original author made sure we were prepared to enjoy Goldilocks’ actions and Baby Bear’s punchlines by offering us enough beats to pull us in before the twists are delivered. So the story has been enjoyed for hundreds of years!

Try giving this classic tale a rewrite. Use its perfect Rule of Three structure to get used to delivering humor in three beats!

Now… how do I use the Rule of Three to create humor? the boy problem

When I want to employ this technique, I usually start by thinking of the funny moment – the punchline – first. Then I think backward to set it up.

Sometimes this is done by placing all three beats close together in a single sentence, like I did earlier. Sometimes I drop them in further apart like I did in this scene from my book, The Boy Problem, where  Tabbi is invited to the skate park by her crush and her best friend Kara is advising her to stay off of skateboards. (If you click on the image it should enlarge enough for you to read it.)


You can even have your beats span several pages. I illustrate this in today’s exercise.

Whether you’re writing a funny story or a more serious one that includes a comical scene, humor is going to offer your reader something everyone loves: a feel good moment. So set that moment up, put a frame around it, then serve up the unexpected with the Rule of Three.

Head Shots from Carpe Diem 015Kami Kinard is the author of The Boy Problem  and The Boy Project, which is being newly released in paperback July 2016 as part of Scholastic’s WISH series. Her poetry, stories, articles, and essays have appeared in numerous periodicals for children and adults. In addition to her professional critiquing services, she is a SCBWI mentor, and often leads writing workshops at conferences and in schools. She is a co-founder of Kidlit Summer school. You can find out more about her by visiting her visiting her website  www.kamikinard.com, liking her Facebook Page, and following @kamikinard on Twitter.

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Kami’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

If you haven’t registered for #KidlitSummerSchool yet click HERE.

GIVEAWAY! Kami is giving away a TWENTY PAGE manuscript critique with a follow-up phone call or Skype session. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win this prize, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

BONUS GIVEAWAY: To promote the paperback release of The Boy Project, Kami is offering another giveaway on her website. Click HERE for details. 

Don’t miss your chance to get perfect attendance! Leave a comment on this post within the first 24 hours. Moderators have to approve first-time commenters, so your comment may not show up immediately.