Weekly Prompt: Hello, I'll Be Your Toddler Tour Guide for this Trip Out the Front Door
Craft element to note: Humor. Humor writing probably seems like one of those things that you either have or you don't, but just like any other form, it can be honed. I chose this piece in particular because, while people often think of humor writing in conjunction with satire, which is often political, humor writing can focus on anything, so long as there's an element of universality. This piece resonates with anyone who has kids, but it also resonates with me (someone who does not have kids) because the irrationality of toddlers is pretty widely understood.
The key here is leaning in without losing a sense of your audience. We're in the POV of the toddler—reinforced by the way in which the world is explained—but Preston isn't actually writing the way a toddler speaks, which would grate on readers pretty quickly, and instead sticks with the advanced vernacular of a professional tour guide mixed with classic toddler wording and phrases. The dissonance between the two is part of what makes it funny. The piece is theatrical without crossing into melodrama. Another key is that this piece is very straightforward—Preston is telling us what's happening without trying to be fancy about it. This is in part because we don't expect toddlers to be fancy but also because, by nature, humor writing is a bit convoluted—we're suspending our disbelief in order to get in on the joke—and additional styling can often confuse readers.
- As shown in this piece—as well as most political satire—our basis for humor usually comes from what exasperates us. Using the prompt "I'm annoyed by," make a list. The list itself could be a piece, otherwise you can choose a topic from that list and use it as a basis. Think about a scene or summary that encompasses the topic. How can you reframe it to be funny?
- Much of the humor in this piece comes from the insignificance of the moment. Because there aren't real stakes, Preston could meander wherever she wanted, emphasizing or de-emphasizing as she went. Write about a character—real or fictional—who very animatedly struggles to do something very basic.
- On the opposite side of the significance spectrum comes dark humor, which is often used to cope with trauma, anger, and grief. Using humor in this instance provides an atmosphere ballast—the humor prevents the writing from dipping into melodrama. Write a funeral scene where everything possible goes wrong, concentrating both on your character's loss and the chaotic humor.
- The toddler in Preston's piece is so funny because they're so blunt. This holds true for adult characters as well. Write about a character who is adamantly honest—often to their detriment. A good starting point is an interaction with another character that balances on a big question: Do you love me? Will you marry me? Will she make it, doctor?
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