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Guest post: Alan Dapre on what makes a funny book

Posted on 20/04/2018 in Alan Dapre Porridge the Tartan Cat

What makes a funny book? Making a book laugh-out-loud (or even just quietly-giggling) funny is a huge challenge. But it’s something that Alan Dapré does PURR-fectly in his Porridge the Tartan Cat series.

In this guest post, Alan tells us how he doesn’t set out to BE FUNNY!, and gives us some top tips for amazingly a-MEOW-sing stories.


What makes a funny book

BE FUNNY!

These two ominous words were written in large letters at the top of one of my TV scripts. Two words guaranteed to make me freeze. My writing usually incorporates some humour but I never set out to BE FUNNY! I simply write and see what happens.

If you want a masterclass in comic writing, why not read Winnie the Pooh? First published in 1926, each story features outstandingly inventive wordplay and dry humour from A. A. Milne. Sometimes he takes the commonplace and riffs on it:

“There’s a South Pole,” said Christopher Robin, “and I expect there’s an East Pole and a West Pole, though people don’t like talking about them.” 

Other times, A. A. Milne has fun with repetition and reduces things down to an absurd yet logical point:

“Two days later, there was Pooh, sitting on his branch, dangling his legs, and there, beside him, were four pots of honey….Three days later, there was Pooh, sitting on his branch, dangling his legs, and there beside him, was one pot of honey. Four days later, there was Pooh…”

Children love following an idea to its absurdly comic conclusion. That’s why I’ve used exaggeration in my books, at least a million and seven times. (Top tip: apparently odd numbers are funnier than even ones.)

What Makes a Funny Book - Snail

In my own writing, the comedy comes from my quirky characters and the surprising situations that they find themselves in:

Ross sprouted a snout and whiskers too. His teeth became fangs and big paws grew. His eyes became orange, no longer blue. He howled at the moon like scary wolves do. “Graagghh!”

“Aarggghh!” I roared back, reusing the same letters because it’s good to recycle.

When Ross is turned into a hairy Scarewolf at the Unfair Funfair, his sister Isla has to courageously find a way to change him back. Children can learn valuable life lessons reading about the comically unpredictable predicaments of characters.

I love to use puns. Many authors tend to shy away from them but puns appear fresh and funny to young children – mainly because they have never heard them before. In Porridge the Tartan Cat and the Bash-Crash-Ding, the characters go to the Crystal Cave ‘at the foot of Ben Tankle’. Me-groan.

What makes a funny book - Crystal Cave

Children also enjoy reading made-up words, and they’re fun to write too:

“Rossssssssss! Don’t touch that lever or I’ll tell Dad!” Isla shouted. But the beastly boy-wolf couldn’t hear. His eyes were glazed (like the yucky cherries that children pick off cakes, so they can just eat the icing and the sponge bit). He walked like a mummy and a zombie mixed together – a mumbie! Or was it a zommy?’

If authors are going to BE FUNNY it’s best to draw on tried and tested comic techniques. My favourite one is a type of misdirection where a sentence is given a quirky twist: “Windy Wendy spent all morning feeding the animals. She was feeding the grasshoppers to the lizards and the lizards to the buzzards when something unexpected happened…”

Humorous books are invariably full of surprises, inventiveness and fun. They reflect a child’s natural energy and playfulness. A funny book can make kids feel better.  Comedy is the flipside of sorrow and sadness. It’s a brilliant thing to share. When I was a teacher, I’d stand in the school playground and listen to pupils telling jokes. I’d hear old jokes that I’d told when I was their age!  They loved to make themselves laugh – and adults too. Comedy bridges generations. We all benefit from a good giggle.

Making children laugh isn’t easy… So, play with quirky characters, zany situations, unusual words and off-beat timing. Don’t strive to BE FUNNY!, just play with the words until things feel right. If you’re struggling, try thinking outside the box  – and the book. Perhaps go for surprising meta-humour that never fails to capture children’s attention and make them laugh:

It was Windy Wendy the pet shop owner! Who is she? Tell us more, I hear you whisper because it’s probably late at night & you’re meant to be asleep, but you like this book so much you can’t put it down, so you’re reading it under the covers & turning the pages very quietly.

When children experience the ‘I get it!’ moment – you’ll know the penny has dropped.

Or the Porridge…

What makes a funny book - Boat


More about Alan Dapré

What makes a funny book - Porridge the Tartan Cat Unfair Funfair coverAlan Dapré is the author of the Porridge the Tartan Cat series. In this zany new series for young readers, Porridge purrfectly CAT-a-logs the McFun family’s hilarious adventures from a cat’s-eye perspective. Meow-some illustrations are provided by Yuliya Somina.

Porridge the Tartan Cat and the Unfair Funfair, the latest book in the series, is available now! Other Porridge adventures include …the Brawsome Bagpipes…the Bash-Crash-Ding…the Kittycat Kidnap, and …the Loch Ness Mess.

Grand finale to the series, Porridge the Tartan Cat and the Pet Show Show-Off, is coming soon!

What do you think makes a funny book? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!

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