Instructor Q&A: Wendi Aarons

“Humor works best when it’s sprinkled in lightly, then occasionally dropped like a bomb. Less is more.”

-Wendi Aarons

Wendi Aarons is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas on May 20 at St. Edward’s University called “How to Write Funny.” This class will introduce tips, tricks, and easy ways to lighten up dialogue and prose to be more humorous in conceptual humor pieces. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

Wendi AaronsScribe:
When developing humor, do you find that character personalities or setting and circumstance play a larger role? Or perhaps a mix of multiple elements?

Wendi Aarons: I prefer a mix of multiple elements, but most enjoy seeing how certain personality types react to uncomfortable or different situations and circumstances. For example, you could write a character that is naturally funny and have her sit in a room all day just saying humorous lines and that would work somewhat. But it’s even better to take that character and place her in a situation where she’s not living in a humor vacuum. David Sedaris’ narrator in his essay “Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol” is amusing on his own, but David places him at a local grade school’s Christmas pageant, which he then reviews like the snotty theater critic he is. That’s a humor home run. Of course, it doesn’t always have to be as elaborate as that, but think of the humorous situations you’ve seen in real life, things that make you laugh, and use it for material or inspiration.

Scribe: Do you have any tips to help writers find a balance so that humor within the story doesn’t overpower the plot?

WA: Even if you’re able to do it, an essay or story that has wall-to-wall jokes is exhausting to read. You’re not a stand-up comedian. When written, humor needs air to make the lines really work. Think about meeting someone in real life who just cracks jokes non-stop instead of letting you see his or her real personality. It gets annoying quickly. Humor works best when it’s sprinkled in lightly, then occasionally dropped like a bomb. Less is more.

Scribe: Are there any tropes that you find particularly useful for first-time humor writers, or any that you feel are overused and should be avoided?

WA: I’m a big fan of the List. My first accepted humor piece was a list on McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies, and it was called “Potential Nicknames for the Star Player on My Son’s Soccer Team.” I think there were less than 100 words total, but it was an easy way to jump into that type of writing. It’s not as intimidating as prose or a longer piece. As for what should be avoided, I admit to not enjoying song parody because I think the joke is made immediately, then it’s the same thing for three more minutes. (However, the success of Weird Al Yankovic means many people don’t agree with me on that.) I also think people should be careful when jumping into parody where they are speaking in another person’s voice, like my Twitter parody account @PaulRyanGosling that concerns Speaker Paul Ryan. It’s not as easy as it seems, and care should be taken to get the tone and voice right before really going full-steam on it.

Scribe: What is one piece of advice you’d like to give to someone who is trying to write funny for the first time?

WA: Read a lot of humor. Listen to a lot of humor. Realize that humor is subjective above anything else. What you find funny may not be funny to me and vice versa (although, let’s be honest, I’m probably right). Be natural and don’t force the jokes. Don’t be offensive or insulting because the meanness will outshadow the humor. Play around with words because even the adjustment of one word can take something from “eh” to LOL. Don’t expect to get it right the first time you try because it’s not always that simple. As they say, dying is easy, comedy is hard.

Thanks, Wendi!

Click here to register for Wendi’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.


About the Instructor

Wendi Aarons is an award-winning humor writer and blogger who lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two sons. In the past few years, she has written for a number of publications including McSweeneys, and for Esther’s Follies, Austin’s famous comedy revue. She has also been a commentator on Austin’s NPR station, KUT. Wendi is one of the creators of Mouthy Housewives and the much-lauded twitter feed @paulryangosling. She is also a writer for US Weekly magazine’s Fashion Police.

Online Class Instructor Q&A: Stephanie Noll

“When you choose a point of view, you are choosing the lens through which you want your reader to see the world you are creating.”

-Stephanie Noll

Stephanie Noll is teaching an online class for the Writers’ League called “Whose Story Is it? Playing with Point of View.” Choosing a point of view shapes how you—and your reader—experience any narrative. This class will give students the tools to determine how to best tell a story using point of view.

12418907_10207882495915523_8038592689268215250_o-1Scribe: Which points of view will you be discussing? 

Stephanie Noll: We will discuss 1st person, 2nd person, and 3rd person limited and omniscient.

Scribe: Why is it important to consider the different points of view a story can use? 

SN: When you choose a point of view, you are choosing the lens through which you want your reader to see the world you are creating. Each POV option has its advantages and shortcomings, so a writer should be clear on which POV they are selecting and how that choice will best support the story they are telling.

Scribe: In the class description, you ask, “What if Gone Girl had been told through a 3rd person omniscient point of view?” What would have happened?  

SN: Part of the success of a novel like Gone Girl is that the writer is asking the reader to consider multiple points of view and determine (or not!) what is reliable. The book is written in a way that allows the reader to draw their own conclusions, and had it been told using the 3rd person omniscient POV, some of that would be lost.

Scribe: Once you pick a point of view for a story, do you need to stick with it? Can you ever change it?

SN: When revising, you might determine that the POV you initially told the story from is not effective. But there are lots of books that vary the POV from chapter to chapter.

Scribe: Are there certain kinds of stories that are better off told through particular points of view?

SN: I think it can help to look at the genre that you are writing in. Young adult novels are often written in the first person, I think because that POV offers and immediate intimacy. Mystery novels or crime dramas seem to use a 3rd person POV–it’s escapist fiction, right? Using that POV really can allow for the author to create a character–one that might even be the fixture of a whole series of books. With literary fiction, it’s definitely anything goes, and I think it’s in that genre where you’ll see writers experiment with POV.

Scribe: What are some of the stories and novels that you’ll be using as examples?

SN: We’ll read excerpts from The Great Gatsby, Gone Girl, and ZZ Packer’s fantastic story “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.” We’ll take a look at pages from Mary Karr’s Cherry to consider how to use the 2nd person POV, and we’ll look at work by Mary Helen Specht and Ben Fountain when talking about the 3rd person POV.

Thanks, Stephanie!

Click here to register for Stephanie’s class.

Click here for our current online class schedule.


About the Instructor

Stephanie Noll taught the Advanced Craft Workshop in Fall 2016. She studied fiction writing at Texas State University, where she earned her MFA. She is a frequent storyteller at The Story Department, a monthly fundraiser for the non-profit Austin Bat Cave, and has also told stories at Listen to Your Mother, Backyard Story Night, Hyde Park Story Night, and the Tellers. Stephanie has 18 years of teaching experience and works as a senior lecturer in the English department at Texas State where she recently was awarded an Excellence in Teaching award. Stephanie is the director of Old Books for New Teachers, an organization that helps first-year teachers build classroom libraries. She has written a novel about a standardized test cheating scandal at an inner-city Houston high school.