How to write (or be) funny

When I think funny, and in particular, funny middle grade novels, the first character I think of is

Charlie Joe Jackson.

Charlie Joe belongs to Tommy Greenwald, who is also pretty funny. When his first book, Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading was released, I interviewed him HERE. (For a while, after I posted that interview, people thought I was funny, too!)

Well… Charlie Joe is BACK with Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit. And I am still laughing. But now I want to know more.

Because, like a lot of writers, I would really like to know how to write funny, So, instead of an interview, I thought I would ask Tommy to share some of his secrets.

Because he is very funny.

And generous.

Or maybe he wants a favor from me.

Because he did it!

Are you ready to learn? Because here he is:


Write my blog post, Tommy!!!!!

(no problem, Sarah!)

People always ask me how am I able to write such funny books.


Then they realize I’m not who they thought I was, and they give me a slightly embarrassed look and walk away.


I think that may be what happened with Sarah, the nice woman who asked me to write this blog. (note from Sarah: flattery may not be funny, but it gets you everywhere!!) But the difference is, she asked me over email, so she can’t tell that I’m not the person she thought I was. And if she’s walking away embarrassed, I can’t see her.


So I’m writing the blog anyway. Just try to stop me.

How do you write funny? Wow, that’s a really good question. It’s kind of like asking, How do you BE funny? There’s no real answer. There are just a few tidbits, hints, suggestions, guidelines, bits of nonsense and wild guesses that I can share. It might help you. But it probably won’t.


  1. Don’t overdo it. I learned this the hard way, when I was starting out with my writing, and trying to make every situation hilarious and ridiculous and side-splitting. That just ended up making my writing completely overwrought. Keep the humor subtle, sly and surprising. Let it sneak up on you while you’re writing, and it will sneak up on the reader too. (In a good way, not in an “intruder in your house” kind of way.)
  2. Don’t underdo it. Don’t be so subtle, sly and surprising that no one gets what you’re trying to do. There’s nothing wrong with a good, solid gastro-intestinal joke every forty-seven pages.
  3. Let the characters be funny. I’m not sure this one makes sense, but I’ll say it anyway. Your job isn’t to be funny. It’s to make sure the characters are funny. The sense of humor has to be theirs, not yours. Don’t show the world how funny you can be. Show the world how funny your characters can be.
  4. Let the comedy breathe. Meaning, when something funny just happened in your writing, let the reader enjoy it for a little while. Don’t be in a rush to be funny again immediately. Take your time, get into a nice rhythm, relish in the chuckle you’re getting, then go in for the kill again a page or two later.
  5. POV. Make sure your characters have a distinct personality and point-of-view right away, complete with quirks. If the reader knows that the main character is a sarcastic, somewhat obnoxious book-hater right off the bat, then the reader knows some hopefully-entertaining commentary and situations will result.
  6. First Person rocks. I’m a huge fan of writing in a character’s voice. I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but I’ve found it’s a lot easier to make a character funny when he’s able to offer snarky asides and then get completely humiliated directly to, and in front of, the reader.
  7. Do what comes naturally. Every writer has their wheelhouse. For me, it’s writing humor. The idea that I could write a complicated dystopian romance is comical in its own right. Not a snowball’s chance in Phoenix. But I can write funny, so I go with it. Write to your strength. It’s impossible to force the funny.
  8. Eat a ton of chocolate and play with your dogs a lot. That’s what I do, anyway. (note from Sarah: FINALLY! something I can do!!!)


So, there you have it. My non-rules for writing humor. Follow them at your own risk. Except for the gastro-intestinal joke thing. That’s a must.


Thank you, Tommy!

You’re welcome, Sarah!

READERS: if you want a good laugh,

and we KNOW you do…..

check out Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit. If you would like people to look at you funny, read Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit IN PUBLIC! It’s a fun book.

(Just don’t drink anything while you’re reading. If you know what I mean!)

And don’t forget….if you have a question for Tommy….or you want to try making him (or me) laugh, post a comment!!! 

Sarah Aronson is the author of books with mostly subtle humor. (Another way of saying: not really all that funny. But still good. Just not all that funny.)


Sarah Aronson
  1. What a fun post. Great tips. Right on target. Thanks so much!

  2. Even when he’s talking about being funny….he’s funny!

    (I think it’s harder, too.)

  3. I think it’s a lot harder to make someone laugh than it is to make them cry, so I have lots of admiration for people who can write funny. Great advice about pacing and not over doing it. Thanks!

  4. Humor is hard!!!!!

    But there was nothing like it for getting my boy to read. (now he won’t stop!!!)

  5. Great post!
    I’ve read the Charlie Joe Jackson series and have to commend the author on a great job. I love books with witty and subtle humor. I tend to think like that, but when I try to write like that, it comes out all wrong. Very frustrating 🙂 I think I need to work at it more and maybe not try so hard.

    I really like the books by David Walliams. I love that kind of kidlit humor, it’s fantastic!