A note from Sarah Ainsworth
Sarah here writing the newsletter this week.
Last month I went to see a stand-up comedy show, which has got me thinking about the art of comedic writing. Of course, performing on stage is quite different from writing a comedic story meant to be read, but for now I want to focus on the written word. What makes a story humorous? Does a story have to revolve around a single joke, or should it consist of many amusing moments?
One of my favorite comedic writers is Jack Handey, who wrote for the television show Saturday Night Live and frequently contributes to The New Yorker’s humor section. Often his writing is composed of very short lines (“Deep Thoughts,” as he calls them) that are so utterly ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh. Here’s one that I like: “Dad always thought laughter was the best medicine, which I guess is why several of us died of tuberculosis.”
Or another: “The face of a child can say it all, especially the mouth part of the face.” And one more: “Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself. Basically, it’s made up of two separate words—‘mank’ and ‘ind.’ What do these words mean? It’s a mystery, and that’s why so is mankind.”
Handey’s approach is to turn an idea or phrase on its head and surprise the reader. His lines completely misinterpret an expression or idiom that the reader is likely familiar with. He is able to surprise the reader in just a few sentences, which may seem easy in such a short length, but those who participated in our short short fiction contest last year know that it is often more difficult than it sounds.
Can you incorporate Handey’s method in some of your own writing? How can you take a seemingly straightforward premise and turn it into something unexpected? What kind of twist in a story might make you or your reader laugh?
If you come up with something you like, please submit it!
Calling all critics!
We are planning to make our July/August issue a review issue! We’re especially in need of movie and TV show reviews, particularly well-known children’s movies like Mary Poppins, The Lion King, The Princess Bride, and Frozen—as well as film and TV adaptations of classic literary works, such as A Wrinkle in Time, Matilda, The Borrowers, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and The Jungle Book.
If you would like to send us a book review, we are most excited to read about classics rather than newer titles, and are also seeking reviews of classic poems. We simply recommend that you check our site for any existing reviews before deciding on a piece, to avoid duplication.
To be considered for publication in the issue (and not on the blog), reviews—which should range from 400 to 700 words—must be received via the “Review” section of our Submittable site no later than April 20.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
We’ve partnered with Adroit Journal, a literary magazine for teens. The applications for their Summer Mentorship program have just opened. This program pairs young writers in grades 9 through 12 with an experienced writer who helps them learn more about the creative process. We know this is for an audience older than ours, but if you know any teenagers who are aspiring writers, encourage them to apply!
Highlights from the past week online
Don’t miss the latest content from our Book Reviewers and Young Bloggers at Stonesoup.com.
On Monday, we published a heartfelt piece by contributor Sabrina Guo about her initial hesitations about writing and how she pushed through them to discover the power of words:
“Although I had a complicated relationship with books, I did love writing song lyrics. After school, I would transform my tangled thoughts into strings of words, which I wrote down in a tiny notebook about the size of my hand. Little did I know that these song lyrics were actually poems; later I would take a risk and reshape my lyrics into a more literary form. And that was how I took my first step into writing.” Read the rest here.
Wednesday, we featured a piece about the importance of animation from blogger Dylan:
“Animation, while often thought of as a more or less modern medium, has been being used in different forms since 1906! Throughout the last century, we have used it to entertain, as propaganda, and to tell stories that invoke emotion.”
Do you like animation? Check it out and leave a comment! Plus, read the other animation-related posts by Dylan on the blog.
From Stone Soup, March/April 2004
By Philip Grayeski, 11
Illustrated by Devon Cole, 12
The soaring red sparkler flew over my head with clouds chasing behind. I gazed up and pondered what it would be like sitting in the Red Comet, wind rushing at your face, an old greasy leather cap on, with goggles bigger than your eyes, and you’re just looking ahead feeling so free.
My granddad landed the plane as smoothly as a feather falling. When he was gliding down, the engine purred like a cat. He hopped out of the plane he received as a gift from the Air Force, the Red Comet. No one ever was allowed to ride in it because he wanted it to be so clean because he believed that it’s important to take care of things close to you. The Air Force gave it to him because he was the best pilot in the world. At least that’s what he said. He did many tricks that would make your stomach fall like you were on a roller coaster.
My granddad and I are more like friends than family. He always says I’m his favorite grandson because I’m his only. We always watch TV together. We love to watch basketball at night, especially when the New Orleans Hornets play.
I feel bad for my granddad not only because Grandmom died last year, but because he has cancer. He knows it but he’s trying to make the best out of it like very few people would which is what I look up to. He said he doesn’t worry because he’ll see Grandmom in the heavenly skies above. Questions fly through my mind when he says that. I wonder things like are you sure? I also wonder what is heaven? I want to ask will you come back later? It’s tough and I’m scared.
Granddad lives across the street so I go over a lot. It’s great living close to your family. We went out fishing in the great Mississippi woods. Fresh pine smell swirled in my nose, sticks tangled in my laces, and branches clung on my raggedy hat that had a little fishing hook stuck on from when I caught my first fish. Granddad gave it to me. When we got to our little lake the log that we sat on was like a couch with no back because of all the moss grown on. Granddad said it was a birthmark of the forest. As I cast out, glimmers from the fishing line sparkled into my eyes as the line sank into the water. …/more
Stone Soup’s advisors: Abby Austin, Mike Axelrod, Annabelle Baird, Jem Burch, Evelyn Chen, Juliet Fraser, Zoe Hall, Montanna Harling, Alicia & Joe Havilland, Lara Katz, Rebecca Kilroy, Christine Leishman, Julie Minnis, Jessica Opolko, Tara Prakash, Denise Prata, Logan Roberts, Emily Tarco, Rebecca Ramos Velasquez, Susan Wilky.