Make your inner ten-year-old laugh: how to write funny fiction

Published on: 11 January 2018 Author: Lissa Evans

Lissa Evans, author of the hilarious Wed Wabbit (shortlisted for the Costa and Blue Peter book awards), shares her top tips for funny writing – whatever your age.

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People rarely drift into funny writing: most comedy writers that I know have been obsessed with the genre since childhood. As kids, they knew great chunks of Fawlty Towers or Porridge or Red Dwarf off by heart, they wrote scripts in secret, they sought out funny books like pigs seeking truffles, they congregated with others of their kind and attempted to be witty.

At 16, I wrote and directed the school pantomime, earning the nickname ‘Ken Russell’, but also hearing, for the first time, the wonderful, sweet, addictive noise of people laughing at jokes I had written.

My point is that comedy should be something you think is important – not a “lesser option”, but a fine and noble art form, worth taking time and trouble over.


Good comedy writing is unforgiving.  

Imagine you’re reading a page of descriptive prose. You’re just starting to think ‘this is a bit long, isn’t it?’ when you come to one gorgeous, evocative sentence – one phrase that forever crystallises an image in your mind. In an instant, the rest of the turgid page is forgotten. THE WRITER HAS SUCCEEDED.

Now imagine you’re reading a line that’s obviously supposed to be funny, but it doesn’t make you laugh. THE WRITER HAS FAILED.

There may be many reasons for its failure – perhaps it just doesn’t appeal to your sense of humour – but often the difference between a funny line and an unfunny one is a matter of a changed word, an extra syllable, a clearer metaphor or crisper structure. The analogy often used is that of music: the line needs the right number of beats, it needs to sing (it often helps to read it out loud) and, like a good tune, a good funny line is instantly memorable. Hence the fact that my head is still stuffed with lines that made me laugh in childhood, and which constantly remind me of the level that I’m aiming for. Which brings me to… 


I write books for both adults and children, and while my adult books tend to be  more serious than those I write for children, I would still classify them as “funny’”. The frames of reference I use for my two audiences are obviously different but the types of jokes are often similar – children love slapstick and silly names, but they also love sarcasm and smack-downs, dry wit and exaggerated simile. They particularly love running gags – jokes set up earlier in the book that go on to explode again and again in subsequent chapters. 

Think of the jokes that were made by the “funny kid” at your school – they were often surprisingly sophisticated and fully capable of making the teacher laugh as well as the other pupils. So when you write your funny prose for kids, write it for yourself as well; your audience is always and ever the ten-year-old inside you. Make her laugh.

Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans is available in paperback from David Fickling Books, RRP £6.99. 


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Read our review of Wed Wabbit

Wed Wabbit

Author: Lissa Evans

Don't be fooled by the cutesy title. The particularly 'Wabbit' in the story is anything but sweet! Fidge is a clever, slightly cynical 11 year old who is flung into the world of her little sister Minnie's favourite story - the world of the Wimbley Woos.

Read more about Wed Wabbit

Favourite funny books

A booklist

Some of the funniest books around are children's books, so you're in for a treat with these favourites below. Be careful, though - there's a danger of actual tears and serious stomach-hurt from doubling-over with laughter. Don't say we didn't warn you!