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Writing and humour

Writing and humour

One of the best ways to get people to read something is to make them want to read it. This sounds like a tautology but it’s actually a lot more difficult than it seems. People are exposed to information all of the time, leading them to flit from place to place like a sparrow on crack. One of the symptoms of this change in reading behaviour is Twitter – along with its kin, it basically suggests that if information can’t be presented in 140 characters, it isn’t worth reading.

What does this mean for the writer trying to get eyeballs? Well, it means that you need an engaging voice – whether informal, conversational or confrontational, it needs to be compelling. One of main problems with getting readers by changing your voice is just that – it’s your voice. This means that trying to change it will be fraught with difficulty and, in the end, not be you. A possible solution to this problem is to apply lenses to your writing.

A writing lens is a tone or style that you can apply to your writing, whether copy, a blog or something more formal. It’s not a change in your voice but in the way your voice is expressed. Again, this sounds like a redundancy but it’s a way to tweak your writing to appeal to a particular demographic or group. A recent book that has good coverage of this idea, albeit from the perspective of game design, is “The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses” (website for the book). I chose the term lens specifically because of this book – it’s a metaphor that suggests changing the way one sees something is critical for success. So, I am suggesting that if you want to engage your readers, try the lens of humour (or humor, for our u-less American friends).

The title for this blog post is, obviously, a reference to LOLCatz – one of my favorite sites. It’s disparaged by many of the so-called professionals but it’s a fantastic resource for funny with brevity. The best examples from this site can provoke a belly laugh using 4 to 6 words (I’ve included some of my personal favourites below) – granted that the picture itself is worth another 1000. Another good use of this site is to see what types of jokes don’t work and why.

What do pictures of cats (and sometimes walruses) have to do with getting more people to read your writing? It’s simple. Both are examples of getting people to do something important – invest their time. Use your lens of humor to find what is, or at least what can be, funny in what you’re saying. You don’t have to be rude, crude or crass in the writing – the most engaging humor tends to appeal to a broad cross-section of people.

Also note that I didn’t say to use comedy in your writing, I said to use humour. What is the difference?
Humour is the cream pie in the hands of one clown looking at another, comedy is the SPLAT!!!
Humour is low-cut dress, comedy is the 70’s bow-chicka-bow-bow music playing in the background and the slow fade to black.
Humour is usually more subtle and indirect than comedy, and leaves more to the imagination.

Note that even formal prose can greatly benefit from some tongue-in-check writing; in fact, it could be argued that it’s more important in this case. Formal works tend to be long, complicated, and boring – the trifecta of writing turn-offs. Even a little humour or levity in this sort of documentation can greatly improve comprehension and retention.

Now, as promised, some of my favourite LOLCatz pictures (click on each for full-size goodness):


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Writing image courtesy of jeffrey james pacres / flickr.com
LOLCatz images courtesy of icanhazcheezburge.com

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