By: Glynn Harris
As an outdoor writer for over half a century, there is one style of writing I have always wanted to master, a style that I occasionally and accidentally stumble on but with no consistency. Humor writing.
I have been an admirer of the writing of one fellow who had it down ” pat”, as in Patrick McManus who died in 2018 at the age of 85. He could reduce me to thigh-slapping guffaws every time I picked up a copy of Outdoor Life or Field and Stream magazines and read one of his humor columns.
I even got up the nerve one time to write him a letter asking about how I could improve my humor writing. I was astounded and dumbfounded when he answered my letter with a two-page handwritten reply. One thing that stands out in my memory of his reply was that to evoke laughs from readers, the punch line was the key. Have your readers expecting what should be the obvious conclusion to one of his tales was to come out of left field with a zinger that was totally unexpected. I have three of his books in my library that I’m going to read again after recalling what a special type of writer he was.
I have a friend, Jim Mize, who writes humor pieces for a number of publications. The title of his three books gives an indication of what you’ll read when you pick one up….”The Summer of Our Discount Tent”; “A Creek Trickles Through it” and “Hunting With Beanpole”
I had Mize as my guest on my Glynn Harris Outdoors radio program recently and had him discuss how he got into humor writing.
“I’ve been writing humor stories for more than 30 years and it’s sort of interesting the way I got started,” said Mize. “I had an assignment from a magazine for a fishing story and I injected humor in my introductory and ending paragraphs. The editor contacted me and asked why I didn’t make the middle of the story funny like the beginning and end so I did.”
Mize said that he began studying humor, how stand-up comics came up with their jokes and how they learned to create them.
One thing Mize shared was the same thing McManus had said, and that had to do with the punch line.
“If you’re ending your story with a predictable punch line, something the reader expects, he’s not likely to be impressed. However,” Mize continued, “if the punch line involves an element of surprise, something totally unexpected, that’s what grabs his attention.
“My first two books contain the stand-up comedy style of stories while ‘Hunting with Beanpole” puts the main character into situations. This fictitious character is unpredictable and jumpy; he is constantly digging himself deeper into the hole he’s created. He is the sort who manages to find the cloud in every silver lining.”
Chapter titles give you an inkling of what you’re about to enjoy as you follow along on hunting trips with this guy who always finds a way to get himself entangled in one zany episode after another. “When Boxer Shorts Save Your Life”; “The Premonition and the Talking Frog”; “The Stuffed Moose” and “The Campfire Ghost” are among the 25-plus chapters in Mize’s book.
For my readers who are interested in any or all of Mize’s humor books, each of which is illustrated by well-known cartoon artist, the late Cliff Shelby, visit his website http://www.acreektricklesthroughit.com. You won’t be disappointed.