5 Tips for Adding Humor to a Self-Help Book

Self-help books should be helpful, but bestsellers tend to offer humor too. Here are five tips for adding humor to a self-help book.
Author:
Publish date:

Self-help books should be helpful, but bestsellers tend to offer humor too. Here are five tips for adding humor to a self-help book.

Self-help books are fun to write. This is your chance to climb up on your (educated) soap box and tell people everything about themselves that they need to change. Whether you're an advocate of more sunshine or more sunscreen, readers are waiting by their beach chairs to hear what you have to say. Here's the thing though: You have to make your book funny.

Image placeholder title

(5 tips for writing a self-help book backed by strong research.)

If you offer expertise backed up by reams of scientific research, your book—and I'm telling you this as a friend—risks being boring for the average reader. If you offer expertise backed up by research and humor, you may have the makings of a bestseller. Humor helps engage the reader, keeps 'em turning pages, and makes difficult-to-swallow advice a little more palatable.

Based on the lessons learned writing my humorous self-help book I Wanted Fries with That: How to Ask for What You Want and Get What You Need (New World Library 2019), here are five tips for adding humor to a self-help book.

Throughout this 12-week workshop, you will get step-by-step instruction on how to write nonfiction and write articles, essays, or a few chapters of your book. Register for this workshop and discover how fun writing nonfiction can be.

Image placeholder title

Click to continue.

Detailed Examples

Let's say your book is about exercise, and you are trying to encourage people to move their bodies more. And let's say you want to combat common excuses that people make for not working out, one way to make your advice funny is by being super specific and addressing the concerns directly.

(How to write better using humor.)

You can say something like: "True, wiping sweaty bro-water off the elliptical is no one's idea of a good time. Still, if you can find the time to spray away those germs and get your steps in, you will feel so much better." Or, "Once you've wrangled your ta-ta's into that too-tight sports bra, you've already started burning calories. Might as well jump on the treadmill and make it official."

Details like the elliptical instead of the gym, or sports bras instead of vague references to workout wear are funny because they resonate with the reader. People identify with cleaning off workout machines or squeezing into their spandex and you will be able to convince them to listen to your words.

Laugh at Yourself

In my experience, part of writing a self-help book includes exposing some of your flaws related to the relevant material. Maybe you always used to bask in the sun, until your skin began to dry out and now you want to teach us how to mix our own moisturizing sunscreen at home.

To make this funny, think of an incident or two that happened before you changed your sun-worshipping habits and discovered dewy do-it-yourself hand cream. Did your suntan flake off during a parent-teacher conference? Did you scratch your dry skin until it looked like you had been attacked by a pack of killer house cats?

If you are able to laugh at some of these tougher circumstances, and share them with your reader, then the reader will laugh too, and they will be more inclined to follow along.

Funny Language

Some words are funnier than others. Countless lists have been compiled (and published online) to indicate which words seem to make people laugh easily. Take the time to understand what funny words resonate with you and with your message, and use them to lighten up some passages. Depending on your subject matter, you may choose words that sound naughty but in fact are innocent. I would put crapulence (a light drinker), fard (made up), and vomitory (theater entrance) into that category.

Image placeholder title

(How to write funny dialogue: 5 tips for making readers laugh out loud.)

I have a soft spot for old fashioned words like "lollygag" and "malarkey." Say you are writing about how to pick yourself up after a divorce. You might want to use a word off the retro list, as in: "Forget about that hussy—it's time for you to take charge of your life and chart a new path." Or; "Your ex might be prancing around like everything is fine, but you don’t know what is actually going on behind those dark sunglasses." Words that are considered retro or quaint can give your readers a humorous break in a heavy section of the book.

I urge you to spend some time poking around at lists of funny words and even compiling a compendium that might work for your book.

Exaggerate

I exaggerate a million times a day. I am either deathly exhausted or have never been more awake in my life. If you're like me, and you think in extremes, this tool will come naturally to you. While you want to be truthful in your nonfiction storytelling, you can exaggerate so dramatically that it's completely obvious that you are lying through your teeth.

You might tell your readers that you spend at least 18 hours a day in the sun (impossible) or that you haven't seen the sun in decades (also highly unlikely). You can exaggerate circumstances as well, like the tea was so hot that your tongue was engulfed in flames or the shoes were so big they would have fit an elephant with room to spare.

This humor tool is so simple a three-week-old capuchin monkey could do it.

Running Jokes

I'm going to close with the most controversial item on the list: running jokes. Not everyone likes them, but then again some people drink decaf. I start my day with a Tim Horton's XL, and I'm a huge fan of inside jokes that carry through the book.

For instance, in the first paragraph of this piece, I give the example of sunshine vs. sunscreen and I run the joke through the tips, mentioning sunglasses, dry sunburned skin, and sunbathing. These work because everyone wants to be "in on the joke."

We like the feeling of "Ohhhhh, I get it," whereas someone else who starts reading halfway through may not know why we're all lying on our beach chairs laughing, coated in DIY sunscreen from head to toe, and looking up word lists on our phones.

If you love to write and have a story you want to tell, the only thing that can stand between you and the success you're seeking isn't craft, or a good agent, or enough Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but fear. Fear that you aren't good enough, or fear the market is too crowded, or fear no one wants to hear from you. Fortunately, you can't write while being in the flow and be afraid simultaneously. The question is whether you will write fearlessly.

Image placeholder title

Click to continue.

Poetic Forms

Rannaigecht Mor Gairit: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the rannaigecht mor gairit, a variant form of the rannaigecht.

Weinstein_1:21

The Writer, The Inner Critic, & The Slacker

Author and writing professor Alexander Weinstein explains the three parts of a writer's psyche, how they can work against the writer, and how to utilize them for success.

Stottlemyre_1:21

Todd Stottlemyre: On Mixing and Bending Genres

Author Todd Stottlemyre explains how he combined fiction and nonfiction in his latest book and what it meant as a writer to share his personal experiences.

plot_twist_story_prompts_take_a_trip_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Take a Trip

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character take a trip somewhere.

Probst_1:20

Making the Switch from Romance to Women’s Fiction

In this article, author Jennifer Probst explains the differences between romance and women's fiction, the importance of both, and how you can make the genre switch.

Wrobel_1:20

Stephanie Wrobel: On Writing an Unusual Hero

Author Stephanie Wrobel explains how she came to write about mental illness and how it affects familial relationships, as well as getting inside the head of an unusual character.

who_are_the_inaugural_poets_for_united_states_presidents_robert_lee_brewer

Who Are the Inaugural Poets for United States Presidents?

Here is a list of the inaugural poets for United States Presidential Inauguration Days from Robert Frost to Amanda Gorman. This post also touches on who an inaugural poet is and which presidents have had them at their inaugurations.

precedent_vs_president_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Precedent vs. President (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use precedent vs. president with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 554

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a future poem.