In today’s post, I asked Cathy Turney, author of Laugh Your Way to Real Estate Sales Success: For Real Estate Agents, WannaBes, UsedToBes, and Those Who Love Them, to share her tips for those who want to know how to write a humorous business book, how to add light humor to a business book, or how to write humor for business audiences or business writing, in general. Why? For one thing, humor gives you an edge in the publishing marketplace. In addition to practical advice and expertise, readers enjoy being entertained. Many readers also know that we often actually retain the funny stuff more easily and better than the writing that doesn’t make us laugh.
Cathy Turney is a San Francisco Bay Area real estate broker and managing partner at Better Homes Realty in Walnut Creek, California. She has won national humor-writing awards and has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, several national magazines and has her second book coming out this month— Laugh Your Way to Real Estate Sales Success: For Real Estate Agents, WannaBes, UsedToBes, and Those Who Love Them.
Laugh Your Way to Real Estate Sales Success had this non-realtor laughing out loud, sharing stories with anyone in close proximity.
Cathy did not begin to write for “public consumption” until later in life, almost accidentally, proving that, more than likely, you can write humor for business regardless of where you are in your writing journey.
Lisa: How did you start writing humor for business audiences?
Cathy: Sheerly by accident! I wrote a newsletter for my “farm” (a geographical area where I sold real estate), and was always looking for things to fill the pages. I had, at that time, two dogs, “the poodle from hell” and a deaf Dalmatian. They had a hilarious dynamic going, and I took a chance on putting their stories in the newsletter. One day I asked a resident if he thought that dog column as too “out there” for a business newsletter, and he answered, “Are you kidding? That’s the first thing I read!”
A few years later, readers told me I should put them into a book, so I did and it was actually Number One in its category on Amazon for about an hour! That was all the encouragement I needed to keep writing.
Lisa: Why do you think injecting humor into business writing is important? It does take more time than just reporting the facts.
Cathy: Humor has a subliminal effect on readers. They smile. They feel good. They associate that feeling with you. That sharpens your competitive edge. They remember you—good for business. I’ve had people stop me on the street to say how much they enjoyed the latest “Bubbles’ and Spot’s Corner.” It distinguishes you from the pack (no pun intended).
It also gets your message across more pleasantly if it’s a dry subject.
Lisa: So how do you put humor in nonfiction writing?
Cathy: First, if you don’t already own one, buy yourself J.I. Rodale’s Synonym Finder. It is the best thesaurus, in my opinion. And you’re going to be using a thesaurus a lot.
Then, you have to flesh out your story or article—the who, what, when, where, why. I have my writer’s block avoidance techniques for getting your story down in draft form.
Bear in mind that the humorous parts don’t all happen in one sitting, so don’t get frustrated. Sometimes nothing you write in the first draft is funny. Getting the humor in takes repetitive refinement. You aren’t just “reporting the news.”
Lisa: So, after you get the outline written, what’s the next step?
Cathy: At this point, I collect all the little notes I have so far from my purse, the kitchen, my car, and start typing them in under the corresponding who, what, when, where, and why. It’s amazing how just typing them up gets your muse flowing.
So after that’s done, I print it out and leave it until the next day. Meanwhile, thoughts pop into my head—enhancements to the story, ways of phrasing points, and I play around with ways to say those things in a lighter, funny way. And I write those thoughts down immediately (in the car at a stop sign, in the grocery store) because I guarantee they won’t be back.
A day or two later I sit down with that next collection of notes and start working them into the story. And I keep writing until I’m stuck, which means my brain has had enough of that story for the day. Each time I return to the project, I refine, refine, refine.
Here are some techniques I use to squeeze smiles out:
• Alliteration. Example: “And then there was my one-acre lot listing in the hills, about which I explicitly explained with elaborate exactitude…”
• Juxtaposition of incongruity. For instance, this chapter title: “The Evolution of the Real Estate Business, Loosely Translated from Genesis 1.”
• Double entendre. Referring to an escrow officer’s $30,000 error on a closing statement, and her cleavage: “She could have charged for the view and my client’s husband wouldn’t have noticed.”
• Puns. Referring to a client who loves to call me out to update him on his home’s value every year: “This exercise is repeated annually because I am Number One on his hit list.”
• Punctuation: I. Don’t. Think. So.
• Exaggeration and cross-throughs to reveal a mischievous thought: “There are roughly one million forms in the California Association of Realtors library, which are there for the sole purpose of
discouraging potential new agents from entering the business helping Realtors and clients cover all our litigious bases.” Another: “Protect that gift down payment to the kids.”
• Search the thesaurus for a similar word that makes the sentence funny. Example: Not “I’m hanging my clothes out to dry.” Rather, “I’m baking my clothes,” referring to a hot day.
• Onomatopoeia creates a sound effect that can be funny. Example: “She varoomed into the meeting, late.”
• Oxymorons. Example: “an introspective narcissist.”
• Understatement. Example: A daughter’s response to her mother’s question about where the car is: “It’s complicated.”
• Hyperbole, overstating something. Example: “My gift from the Universe—a signed listing agreement.”
Lisa: How do you know the story/article is finished?
Cathy: Give me another day and I’ll give you another revision! A project is probably never finished in the author’s eyes. I think it’s critical to have an editor for anything you put out there for the public to read (except on Facebook)—someone who gets your “voice” and can catch the errors. An objective reader who can determine if what you wrote communicates what you intended to say. Are you connecting all the dots? I once (inadvertently) apostrophized “Obama.”
Lisa: Do you have anything else you’d like to share with writers looking to write with humor?
Cathy: Two things. Don’t be hard on yourself. You are retraining your brain to think funny, and even as you improve (and you will), there will be times when it just doesn’t happen that day. I read once that Dave Barry would often free his muse by walking into the kitchen and eating peanut butter. Even the greatest humorists have their moments.
And I want to share the best book I’ve come across for writing humor: Comedy Writing Secrets, by Mel Helitzer and Mark Shatz. Helitzer is a former Clio award-winning Madison Avenue ad agency president and was one of the first to teach humor writing on the university level.
Cathy Turney is a San Francisco Bay Area real estate broker and managing partner at Better Homes Realty in Walnut Creek, California. She has won national humor-writing awards and has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, several national magazines and has her second book coming out this month— “Laugh Your Way to Real Estate Sales Success: For Real Estate Agents, WannaBes, UsedToBes, and Those Who Love Them.”
“Laugh Your Way to Real Estate Sales Success” had this non-realtor laughing out loud, sharing stories with anyone in close proximity.
Cathy did not begin to write for “public consumption” until later in life, almost accidentally, proving that, more than likely, you can write humor for business regardless of where you are in your writing journey. It’s true. Try it! And feel free to ask Cathy your questions about writing humor for business audiences as a comment below: