That’s not funny: Including humor in your work

I love a good story. Even more, I love a good story that makes me laugh.

Until I started writing novels and screenplays myself, I had no idea how tough it could be to write humorous situations and dialogue that would actually make my reader or viewer laugh. But, I can tell you from experience, what’s funny in your head is not so easy to translate to a page.

There is hope though, as we can learn from the many writers who clearly understand how to write humor well. I encourage my students to go back to the masters like Charlie Chaplin and dig into the way he understood humor that transcended time and is still so incredibly funny today. Watch The Gold Rush or The Great Dictator and you’ll see what I mean.

Just because it’s tough to write humor well doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. You should. Audiences and readers are starved for intelligent, effective humor, as much of what we find today is lazy, crass, and unlikely to be funny twenty or thirty years down the road. That’s a shame because in my experience, people really do like to laugh.

As you venture down this path to writing effective humor, understand that much of your success will be found in strong editing,  not in the initial drafts of the work, regardless of medium.

I found the following clip of Jerry Seinfeld talking about writing jokes and thought I’d share his process with you. Enjoy!

And happy writing!


A peek into my process: Writing Dialogue

Although I’m certain I’ve written about the challenges of writing quality dialogue on my blog previously, it never hurts to revisit a subject that so many writers struggle with.

That said, I found this short video today and noticed that it highlights things I tend to do as I’m working to create effective dialogue.

Comment below if you have any other tips for writing dialogue that work for you.

Happy writing!


What writer’s block?

My dissertation “Stranger than Fiction: Student Perceptions of Writer’s Block” considered what college students think about writer’s block, and if film can influence those perceptions. stranger 1

You might notice that in my description of this work I never said it was about ‘solving’, ‘fixing’ or ‘ending’ writer’s block. That made my research interesting because the majority of what’s out there about writer’s block considers this part of the process to be a problem in need of a solution.

What my dissertation found, however, was that writer’s block is a natural part of the writing process. That said, I’m here today to share with you one of the many lists of writing prompts out there to inspire your writing. Given the creative opportunities for writers, I’m curious how any writer actually ever has writer’s block for very long– for instance I keep a Pinterest board of ‘characters’- pictures I found to be interesting whose stories I eventually want to tell.

Sure, given a particular project, we all get stuck at times. Again, this is natural. But, starting a project? Nope. Between the lists, websites, pictures, google, living life (and being remotely observant), I’d like to encourage writers to be ready at all times. The inspiration is there. Are you ready to take it and run with it?

Happy writing!

Oh- and here’s your link 🙂


Guest Blog: Creative Perfectionism is Real and it’s Crippling

Please enjoy this guest blog post by Grace McNamara: 

Last semester, I did an independent study on creating a website for my little calligraphy business Written With Grace. My hope for the semester was to design a beautiful website full of original products that I am proud of. I wanted there to be a simple checkout process and a place to inquire about custom orders or wedding services. Unfortunately, my dreams don’t just come to life easy peasy. That season of life was filled with a lot of hesitation, trial, and error, and doubt due to my own creative perfection. Good news– I did finally post the website and I am proud of it, but I learned a lot on the way.

Personally, I don’t really think creativity and perfectionism should go hand in hand. To me, spending time creating should not be crippling, but quite the opposite– freeing and fun! I often find myself overwhelmed with all the ideas in my head– dreams to start a business, try felted wool art, take up videography, etc. All these hopes and dreams are overwhelming but exciting. To me, launching my calligraphy business was a leap in the right direction. I just wanted people to be proud of my accomplishments– which is a dangerous place to be in —  and then I really thought I would be freed from this cycle of perfection.

To start, I made products I was proud of. This process is challenging but exciting to me. I love to create and be inspired by other amazing artists. The creating process was fun and peaceful. Then, the more daunting part– the website. I finally bite the bullet and bought the website because then I knew there was no going back. I was locked in. The fact that this project was an independent study, with a deadline was helpful. If it wasn’t for the deadline, lies in my head saying “this isn’t good enough” would have stopped me in my tracks.

Now, this isn’t necessarily based in insecurity. I wouldn’t say I’m insecure. Instead, the issues lie in knowing my own strengths– what I am capable of–  and being overwhelmed by the thought of sharing it with the whole wide web. Putting yourself out there is incredibly bold and brave. It is so important. It allows for confidence to try our more dreams– such as felted wool art or videography.

Thankfully, I was bold and stepped out of my comfort zone because my website has been one of my favorite achievements to date. It has taught me how to market and network, the art of design, customer relations, and most importantly, how to get over the fear of not being perfect. Creative perfectionism is a real problem among many– not just creatives. Taking baby steps, working hard, and just going for it is so worth it. Seriously, even if it means closing your eyes when you click “make website visible,” who cares! The website is still visible and it’s a check off the bucket list.

The experience I had with my website was invaluable. Something I didn’t even know I dealt with– and have been dealing with– was brought to light and I was able to tackle it head-on. Creative Perfectionism is not uncommon and there are helpful tips to overcome it so creatives can keep on doing what they do best.

Films for Writers: All the President’s Men

While some might think this film is relevant mostly, or perhaps only, for journalists, I strongly disagree. All the President’s Men reveals the difficulties writers often face in getting interviews, information, and even structuring a story to the greatest effect.

While All the President’s Men is a film about the Watergate scandal, its value is found in more than its historic impact. Writers would be wise to also consider the valuable lessons contained within the struggle to investigate and report such an important story. Some issues to note- interviewing techniques, not taking no for an answer, creativity, and relationships are all considered in this film.

And per the clip below, there are other issues including editing, working with another writer, ethics, and more.

If you’ve never seen it, or haven’t seen it in a while, I encourage you to check it out.

Happy writing!

Websites for writers

As writers we’re on our computers all. the. time.

Personally, I’m frustrated when I waste too much of my day getting lost in the swirling vortex of information, so that when I shut down for the day I feel as if I’ve accomplished a whole lot of nothing.

Today’s post is intended to help eliminate, or at least minimize that problem.

The Write Life posted a fantastic list of resources for writers of all styles, genres, and skill levels. It’s worth checking out and may even save you some time today.

Happy writing!

The 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2019

What’s your favorite movie?

Do you have a favorite movie? As in, a movie you’d watch no matter how many times you’ve already seen it, or how well you know every bit of dialogue?

I teach film (and writing) courses for a living so you can imagine I have a lot of  ‘favorite’ movies.

Of course there are those in each genre, and those that go with moods (either those I am in or want to be in), but as soon as people find out I teach film, they immediately want to know ‘what’s your favorite movie’? That’s a tough one.

Over the years I’ve learned that what people are looking for is someone with a bit of expertise (and I’ll hold that I have only that much) to give them a recommendation. After all, there are a lot of films out there, and sometimes it can be hard to choose. But, I’d also guess this question comes with a measure of challenge (how much do I really know) and interest (is there something the person hasn’t seen that they should), and maybe a bit of curiosity (what will this recommendation tell them about me as a person).

So, depending on the situation, person, and mood I’m in I have a few answers. But the one I give most frequently? 1934’s ‘It Happened One Night’. This film, starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable was the first film to sweep the Oscars. When I show it to my film students today, I have to be honest, it is still a HUGE hit with them. In fact, one of my former students recently bought a theater and is having a classic cinema week. The film he’s leading with? You guessed it! It Happened One Night.

This will mark the first time I’ll see the film in an actual theater and to say I’m excited is an understatement. Seeing a film on a computer screen is nothing compared to being in a theater with a group of people experiencing the story and action together. I’m thrilled to do this- even if I already know what’s going to happen and what the characters will say. If you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend it.

One of the main reasons I adore this simple story is that despite the years that have passed, the humor (because it is intelligent, snappy, and interesting) still resonates so well today. While many modern films are hilarious too, the trend tends to be toward a crass brand of humor that is (in my opinion) easy and weak. It Happened One Night is smarter, and thus, funnier.

So, if you have a theater in your town that is having its own classic movie night/ week, please go out and support it. I promise you will better appreciate modern cinema when you’ve experienced the classics.

So, I end this post with an obvious question- what is your favorite movie? And why?

(Disclaimer: by the time this post is published I’ll have already been to the theater as I’m writing this in advance of the showing)

Guest Blog: Tired of Movies? See a Play Instead!

Please enjoy this guest blog post written by Emory Ujano: 

In today’s day and age of having to choose between a romance, an action, or a funny movie that isn’t really that funny, sometimes going to a movie seems to be more of a chore than an intriguing experience. Seeing a live-action play where characters seem to be easier to connect to, as they are just a few steps away, can be a refreshing change to the usual screen time we get every day.

A great example of a well-performing theatre is the Blackfriar’s Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia. It is also an American Shakespeare Center that gives a fresh look on Richard III and As You Like It, while also giving modern takes on stories like Emma by Jane Austen. The interesting aspects of this theatre specifically are that it was built to replicate Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. This means that it is an arena-like stage that has keeps all the lights on. Seeing other audience members during the play allows for a community feel that only adds on to the experience. This also adds difficulty for the actors to produce a believability to the audience in terms of the special effects being used. This only makes these performers more impressive as flower petals fall from the ceiling and trees are made out of the columns right in front of your seat.

With even modern shows and musicals like Hamilton, Lion King, or Wicked, people still come together for a night of sophistication in the enjoyment of theatre. This drastically conflicts the pajama dressed individuals who hide their own snacks in their pockets at the movies, to a black tie occasion on Broadway. Therefore, mixing up the environment of entertainment that can only spice up your experience.

If the East Coast is a little out of range for your travels, local theatre can also bring an enriching adventure to your door. Traveling theatre comes through major cities that offer an array of shows for all the different tastes and preferences. If ticket prices are an issue, go to the local high school or college play! This is a small look at upcoming performers who might surprise you on the quality of acting they possess.

No matter the show, this form of art creates a timeless perspective on entertainment that stands in its own category. For centuries, the theatre has become not only a source of enjoyment but also has created a literal platform for actors to share their talents in telling you a story that can change your perspective, drag you through various emotions, and maybe even take you out of your life for a few hours.

As the acclaimed playwright, Thornton Wilder states, “I regard theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

The book list to end all book lists

As I prepare to go away with some friends for our yearly vacation, one thing stands out as the high-point of the trip (outside of all the talking, laughing, and eating of course)– and that is the used bookstore we always visit. Every year, I buy way more than I’ll actually read, finding a strange sense of security in an overflowing bookshelf.

This year I intended to go in with a plan if possible. And then I found this rather exciting list:

While I’ve read a solid number of the books included in the list, there are many I don’t own and others I have yet to read, making this a perfect guide to take to the used bookstore with me.

Feel free to use this list in your own yearly reading plan (if you make one), or even just when you can’t decide what to read next.

Happy reading! Happy writing!

Making it real: Are the stakes high enough?

Something I’ve noticed in my beginning writing students is that often they’ll have a great story idea, a command of character motivation(s), and even a solid grasp on writing dialogue.

Where they fall short is in the stakes. Simply put, many writers fail to recognize that knowing a character’s outer motivation isn’t enough (s/he wants to get a date with that special someone, they want to land the perfect job, win the race, or whatever other outer tangible motivation you can think of).

In order to write a high-quality novel, short story, or screenplay, a writer also needs to understand (and be capable of clearly articulating) why this outer motivation matters. In other words, what will your main character lose if s/he doesn’t get whatever they’re after?

I’ll say it as gently as I can, if your character’s life goes back to basically the same thing win OR lose, well, your stakes aren’t high enough.

I know. You’re ticked I’m adding something else to your writing/ editing checklist. But trust me, you’ll be glad in the end.

Think about it, when Rocky Balboa is ready to fight Apollo Creed, he is a changed man. Don’t get me wrong, the fight itself does matter (sort of), but Rocky’s real victory is in being mentally and physically up to the challenge. He’s done all he can do and guess what? He’s no longer a bum- that means life will never be the same.

Now, consider this information in regard to your own character. How will s/he be different if they get what they want? How will s/he be different if they don’t? If you can’t answer, or if the answer is weak, that means your stakes aren’t high enough.

So, your next line of defense is to ask, how can you up the ante? Some basic ideas are putting your character in physical or emotional danger (will there be a death? A psychological impact?), or personal danger (losing family connections, a sense of well-being, etc.)- these are just some of your options. Think about what is most important to your protagonist and put that in jeopardy as it connects to his/ her motivation.

Seriously. Filter your favorite book or movie through this conversation and you’ll see it works.

Try it out. Ask yourself what is at stake in your WIP? How can you up the ante?