Columns > Published on August 11th, 2023

The Don'ts And Definitely Don'ts of Writing Stupid-Funny Books

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Most of my writing advice is questionable, but if you want advice on writing incredibly stupid, incredibly fun books, I’m your Dingleberry. Or Huckleberry. Whatever berry you like, I’m that.

Off to a stupid start already. Let’s keep this rolling.

Quick Definition

A stupid-fun book is a book that's meant to be fun, funny, and when people call it "stupid," you have to agree, it's pretty stupid.

TV is filled with examples of stupid-fun: The Simpsons, Family Guy, Bob's Burgers, you get it.

By the way, if you want to argue about how incisive these shows are and how I'M THE STUPID ONE for offering those examples, feel free to DM me on Twitter. Or Threads. Or any of the many social media platforms I no longer use as receptacles for messages about how stupid I am.

Don't Write With Your Ego

If you write to be respected or to make your English teacher proud or to show your parents that you’re a real adult, you’re going to have a tough time down in the gutter with those of us who write stupid-fun books.

Because trying to demonstrate that you’re smart within the context of a stupid-fun book makes your job harder and makes the book crappier.

Besides, it won't work. Your dad will never respect you. 

Don’t Target Something You Genuinely Disdain

When you mock something you love, the reader will feel the background emotions of love and affection instead of hate and anger.

Shaun of the Dead works because you can tell Edgar Wright really respects Dawn of the Dead. Hot Fuzz works because Edgar Wright likes Tango and Cash. If he hated those sorts of movies, his movies might be funny in a cutting, biting kind of way, but they'd be a lot less fun.

Write something stupid-funny that addresses something you love instead of taking down something you hate. It’s so much easier. And more enjoyable.

Definitely Don't Do Anything Unfunny

EVERY decision in your stupid-funny book is about what makes it funnier.

Should the character get married or break up with her fiancé? Well, which one’s funnier?

Should I put the accent on the word fiancé or not? Well, is it funnier for your character to get all fancy and French or to be vehemently opposed to accents on words?

Should I use quotation marks or not? Well, which one makes the jokes easier to read and understand?

Everything in service of the funny.

Don't Write Characters Who Aren't Trying

Wile E. Coyote is funny because he tries REALLY hard. Walter Sobchak from The Big Lewbowski is funny because his intensity level is always a 10. Ash from Evil Dead is funny because his best effort is really pathetic.

It’ll always be funnier if your character, given every tool they need to make the right choice, provided every advantage, still does something really stupid.

Don't Forget to Make Your Characters Optimists

How much easier is it to get your character into trouble if he’s always overestimating his abilities? How much funnier is it to watch a character who’s up for anything get into something he REALLY shouldn’t be involved with?

As a bonus: This is an endearing quality a very stupid character can possess while still being stupid. If you’re writing a slightly more substantive stupid-fun book and want to have a touching moment (I advise against it, but you do you), a stupid character can be a very fun, loyal friend without needing to suddenly become suddenly, briefly smart and self-aware in order to have an emotional moment.

Don't Wait to Decide How Wacky The World Is

Has ANYONE complained that a stupid-funny movie is a little light in the lessons learned department?

Seinfeld’s characters inhabit a pretty realistic world, so their odd encounters and eccentric behaviors make comedy out of contrast. 

The Simpsons is wackier. Most Simpsons characters would be too unrealistic for Seinfeld.

Rick and Morty’s world is very unrealistic. This is how we get multiverse jokes where sentient chairs are sitting on humans, using slices of pizza as phones to order phones for dinner.

Different levels can all work, but you're going to want to keep it fairly consistent.

At the very least, make the world elastic: It can stretch to be wackier at times, but it always returns to its established, baseline level.

Definitely Don’t Write A Smart Character In A Stupid World

Don’t write Idiocracy.

This rarely works, and usually the smart character comes off as smarmy, turning their nose up at everyone else. And we don’t want to spend our time with the one smart character who’s having the least fun. It’s like going to a party and a bunch of people jump in the pool with their clothes on, and then there’s the one guy in the corner, scoffing at how stupid they are. Who wants to hang out with that dud?

In the battle of Snobs Versus Slobs, you don't want to be on the wrong side of history.

Definitely Don’t Teach Me A Lesson

The WORST part of any comedy is the part where someone, somewhere, decided we should have a serious life lesson embedded in all this wackiness.

I get it, movie studios think they have to do this shit. But has ANYONE complained that a stupid-funny movie is a little light in the lessons learned department?

Don't Overstay Your Welcome

Do me a favor: finish this column, then go to The Onion. Read it for 40 minutes.

Somewhere between minute 10 and minute 40, you’ll get bored.

Stupid books can easily overstay their welcome by either pitching a consistent level of stupid and becoming boring or by trying to get stupider with each page and becoming exhausting.

Which is why 100 pages is more than good.

Write something that people can read in one sitting. Write something that they only have to be in the mood for once.

Leave them wanting to buy another one of your books, not feeling like they’ve heard all of your jokes and then some. 

Really, Definitely, Seriously, Really Don’t Read Reviews

I promise you, if you write a stupid-funny book, the unfunniest person on the planet will write this exact review:

I have a great sense of humor, and I did not get one laugh out of this book.

Book reviews of stupid-fun books are not for you, the author.

People will ascribe your character’s mannerisms to you.

People will zero in on one joke out of a thousand and base their feelings on it.

People will insist that farts aren't funny, as though that's a truth we've all agreed upon.

Tell you what: Read funny books, read sincere books, and when you’re 100% through all the good books ever written, then go ahead and read reviews of yours.

Get The Writing Life: Reflections, Recollections, And a Lot of Cursing by Jeff Strand on Bookshop or Amazon 

Get The Spy With No Pants by John Swartzwelder on Amazon 

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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