Funny Way to Put It, Part 3: Exaggeration and Personification


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Vision 76

 

Funny Way to Put It, Part 3:

Exaggeration and Personification

By

S.E. Batt

Copyright © 2014, S.E. Batt, All Rights Reserved

 

Funny Way to Put It: Writing Humour, Part 1 -- Conflict

Funny Way to Put It, Part 2: Defying Expectation

In the past few issues of Funny Way to Put It, we’ve covered topics as to how a writer can fuse humour with the ever-useful story driver of conflict, as well as using some tricks from the comedy world to get a laugh from the audience. Now, we’re going to take a look at two elements of humour that can really get the most out of your writing: exaggeration, and personification.

Exaggeration

This was a trick that I learnt from the writer of the Dilbert comic. The method is this; one of the ways that humour can shine is when it is larger than life. Simply replicating what we see around us isn’t exactly humour material, as our general surroundings aren’t always funny. A way to make something humorous, then, is to inflate its proportions to the point where it’s comically large and over-the-top. This could be used in such things as worlds, characters, and plot, but it can be used within writing technique, as well.

Let’s do something I always enjoy doing in examples. Let’s transform a really boring sentence into a funny one.

Here is the sentence we’re going to put into a humour piece:

Tracy danced awfully.

It’s not very funny, is it? All we really did was tell the reader how Tracy danced. Nothing really jumps out of the page as something well-written or engaging the imagination. In a boring example such as this, we can use exaggeration to get the most out of this simple sentence.

When I say ‘exaggeration’, I don’t mean doing this:

Tracy danced really awfully.

That’s not very funny, either. Someone might say it’s funnier than the first example, but it’s still no humour piece. What I mean by exaggeration is the act of relating the topic to something very larger-than-life, something that goes a bit beyond reality and expectation. If we do something like that, we might come up with something like this:

Tracy danced like an elephant.

Okay, that’s a little funnier. But we can exaggerate this even further, can’t we? Let’s give it one more go, and this time, really turn up the exaggeration to maximum:

Tracy pranced across the stage, like an elephant in a tutu trying to perform Swan Lake and forgetting the moves halfway through.

That’s more suitable for a humour piece than the above examples. We derived this new sentence from the phrase ‘Tracy danced awfully’ simply by making the mental image exaggerated. See how even ‘normal’ sentences you’d write in your story can be turned into sources of wit and humour?

The best part is, this method of describing engages the imagination much better than simply tellingthe reader how Tracy danced. The person reading your story will have their own, personal mental picture of an elephant in a tutu, and it helps build an image as to how bad Tracy really is at dancing.

A few more examples to get the ball rolling:

Chris looked angry. -> Chris looked like a bulldog, who had finally found the owner who neutered him in the first place.

Garry’s voice was raspy. -> Garry’s voice sounded like a rat who took a fancy to both cigarettes and using sandpaper as a sore throat remedy.

The weather was cold. -> The weather was like stepping into a walk-in freezer, after the thermostat had been turned to the ‘next ice age’ setting.

Patricia was well-built. -> Patricia wasn’t just built like a mountain; she was the one mountain that went to the gym and lifted weights and kicked sand in the eyes of smaller mountains for their lunch money.

The wilder you get, the better. The best part about these exaggerations is that they’re contained within the description, meaning you can have a very normal and realistic plot alongside bizarre and abstract descriptions, and it won’t look amiss. As long as the exaggeration is used within a description, the rest of your story won’t become farfetched as a result.

Personification

This is an off-branch of exaggeration, where you relate the actions of an object to a human reaction. For a brief moment, you give whatever object you’re describing an exaggerated human action, despite the fact that said object is totally unable to perform such a thought. This can work on both non-sentient objects, and sentient animals that lack the same mental prowess as a human.

So, let’s take another boring example and give it a bit more spice. How about this sentence?

The cat stared at Jason from the other side of the room.

Great, that’s boring enough. We, for some reason, really want to tell the reader about this cat eyeballing our main character. Perhaps because it’s about to transform into a shapeshifter, or suddenly start speaking. But we don’t want the cat just to be staring. We could use exaggeration here, but because we’re trying to describe the way a cat is doing something, we can also link it to human actions for maximum effect. How about this:

Jason became aware that a cat was staring at him. It looked clean and well-kept, as if taking pride of its appearance. This was coincidental, as it was currently giving him a glare as if he had walked in with a fashion sense straight from the 80’s, and a haircut to match.

Of course, cats don’t judge people by their clothing style, but this description helps build an image as to how the cat is staring at the character, and adds a dash of humour to boot.

As said above, you can apply the same trick to objects that aren’t capable of emotion. One of my personal favourites is to apply personification to the mind of the character undergoing some intense feeling. Instead of just writing:

The flaws in his logic made Faye’s head hurt.

You can do something like this:

Faye processed the flaws in his logic. Her brain stood up from its desk, threw its hands in the air, and filed its month’s advance notice.

There is nothing that can’t have some sort of personification put to it. Here are a few more examples:

Tony stood bored at the beach, the rocks his only company. -> Tony looked around the beach, thoroughly bored. Even the pebbles in the sand had seen more exciting days, strewn across the beach, all waiting for something exciting to happen.

Judy ran into a wall. -> Judy decided to pick an accidental fight with a nearby brick wall. The wall let her know that it was having none of that.

“Go to Hell,” said Peter. -> “Go to Hell,” said Peter. Hell reported that there were no more vacancies, but they could probably slip something in for next April, if that’s alright with him.

Alice stared at the painting. -> Alice stared at the painting. The painting glanced back with its watercolour eyes. Alice knew who would be winning this staring contest.

Patricia sang to the birds. -> Patricia sang to the birds. The birds sang back telling her to bugger off, as it was still five in the morning, and some of them had actual jobs to wake up to later.

The wilder you get with your personifications, the better. Attaching personification to the most non-sentient of objects can give the scene more life, and help aid with the imagination process. It’ll also make for a good piece of humour writing, as well!

Conclusion

Perhaps you have noticed a small trend occurring in these two examples. Both of these tricks were applied to sentences that you would read in a ‘normal’ story, albeit a quite boring one. It shows that humour doesn’t have to have a rip-roaring, side-splitting plot in order to operate; if you prefer to have a normal, realistic storyline, and keep the humour to the descriptions and dialogue, using these two tactics will allow you to inject humour into an otherwise serious storyline. Of course, it will also work if you plan to have a funny, bizarre plot, but you have a lot more to work with when writing such a story. For stories that stay on the sane side, a little injection of humour in the narrative can definitely work a charm.

Have fun with these techniques, and write some humorous pieces! Next time, we will be looking at how to turn a humorous idea into a humorous story, and will probably be the final piece in this series. See you next time!