Monday, January 30, 2012

New Voice: Kami Kinard on Writing Humor & The Boy Project

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Kami Kinard is the first-time author of The Boy Project (Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister)(Scholastic, 2012). From the promotional copy:

For anyone who's ever felt that boys were a different species....

Wildly creative seventh grader, Kara McAllister, just had her best idea yet. She's going to take notes on all of the boys in her grade (and a few elsewhere) in order to answer a seemingly simple question: How can she get a boyfriend?

But Kara's project turns out to be a lot more complicated than she imagined. Soon there are secrets, lies, and an embarrassing incident in the boy's bathroom. Plus, Kara has to deal with mean girls, her slightly spacey BFF, and some surprising uses for duct tape. Still, if Kara's research leads her to the right boy, everything may just be worth it...

Full of charts and graphs, heart and humor, this hilarious debut will resonate with tweens everywhere.

As a comedic writer, how do you decide what's funny? What advice do you have for those interested in either writing comedies or books with a substantial amount of humor in them?

When I hear humor writers speak, they usually say that you can’t teach someone how to write humor, it just happens. Once upon a time, I could see their point. For me, humor writing did seem to come naturally.

But then I taught a novel revision class and one of my students was working on a humorous manuscript. I kept telling her places she needed to ramp up her humor. She asked me how I knew what to do. I said, “It comes naturally.”

Later I realized I had given her the lamest possible answer. I knew that as a teacher, I needed to bring a better answer to the next class. So I have given this question a lot of thought. Why does writing humor come naturally to me?

I think part of the answer is that I enjoy humor, so I’ve immersed myself in funny.

I love reading books that make me laugh! I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I laughed so hard when reading one of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney that I couldn’t speak for something like fifteen minutes. My husband kept asking me what was so funny, but I couldn’t even choke out an answer.

When I finally settled down enough to read the passage to him, he just looked at me (without laughing) and said, “This only proves that you have the sense of humor of a middle school boy.”

Well, that’s part of it! One reason I can decide what is funny is because I read a lot of funny books for children. And I laugh at them! If you want to write humor for children, you should too.

I also love funny T.V. shows. I’m a longtime fan of shows like "SNL" and British comedies like "Keeping up Appearances." I used to struggle with insomnia, but now I put myself to sleep by listening to "M*A*S*H" on DVD. The voices of Potter, Radar, and Hawkeye sing me to sleep every single night. Sometimes I chuckle as I’m dozing off. (If you try this at home, avoid episodes where Houlihan gets angry. That voice will wake you back up in a hurry!)

So, did humor writing really come naturally to me, or had I just familiarized myself with the techniques by soaking up vast quantities of humor writing via books and television over the years?

You didn’t know there were actual techniques? Me either. But after failing my student, I ordered two books about writing humor: Comedy Writing Secrets by Mel Helitzer (Writer’s Digest Books, 2005) and How to Write Funny by John B. Kachuba (Writer’s Digest Books, 2001). Both are loaded with tips, strategies, and techniques for writing humor.

It turns out, I was using many of them when I wrote The Boy Project. I just didn’t know they were standard issue and that they came with names like "convention suspension" and "anecdotal reverse." Anyone wanting to ramp up the humor in their writing should check out these books or others like them.

Other than immersing yourself in humor and reading up on the techniques, the biggest tip I have for humor writers is this: remember to surprise your audience. (In a good way, not in a jumping from a closet wearing a hockey mask way.) No one is going to laugh at your pranks if they know what is coming.

So as you write, look at your wording and the situations you present and ask yourself, can I surprise my audience by exaggerating this situation until it is larger than life?

Can I paint a picture with words that puts a funny image in their heads – a surprising one that they wouldn’t think of otherwise? If you can do this, you can write humor.

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

Kami's office.
I’m a writer who needs a quiet space. I don’t listen to music when I write, and I don’t get much done when there is a lot going on in my house. I do most of my writing during the school day when no one else is home.

When we moved four years ago I insisted on buying a house that had office space —space I wouldn’t have to share with anyone.

The home I left had a beautiful office with windows all along the wall, a built-in bookshelf, and French doors, but I had to share it with my husband, and even when he was working quietly, I found it distracting to have someone else in the room with me.

We moved to the coast and housing prices at that time were at an all-time high. So it wasn’t easy to find a house we could afford that had an extra room for an office!

When we looked at the house we are now living in, it didn’t have an office. What it did have was a small laundry room. I immediately saw office potential! It was a tiny room, but big enough for my computer desk, my antique writing desk, and my imagination.

We moved the washer and dryer elsewhere, put in a glass door so I could see the outside, and installed bookshelves on the wall over my computer. It is all I need and it is perfect.

Now I have my own little office where I am very productive. It works for me because the space is mine; there isn’t room for anyone else!

Hello, puppy!

Cynsational Notes

Check out Kami's craft blog, Crafty Crafts!

5 comments:

Laurisa White Reyes said...

I'm jealous of her office space. So neat and tidy and spacious. My "office" is just 3x3 feet and so cluttered I can't find my desk!

Kathy Cannon Wiechman said...

I'm also jealous of her office. Mine is cluttered, but it is all mine. Every time I decide to clean up the clutter, I sit down & write instead.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Laurisa and Kathy, everyone works differently. Maybe your messy, cluttered offices are key to your creative process. It's at least something you can tell yourself. Write on!

kami said...

And my desk is usually a lot more cluttered! I admit to tidying it up a bit for the photo, but you can still see clutter in the edges. :)

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Kami, thanks so much for offering the peek into your writing space!

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