Jumping the Snark: 9 Tips for One-Liners That Slice

This post originally appeared at Owl Eyes Scriptorium, a group blog I’ve been contributing to. Check us out.

Ever have that moment when somebody says something to you and you just have that perfect comeback on the fly?

Yeah. Neither have I. That’s why I’m here to give you my tips for writing snappy one-liners.

1.       Read them out loud.

I’m a big proponent of doing this with all your fiction, but if you read nothing else out loud, read these. To get the sound of the wisecrack, crack wise, my friend.

2.       The setup.

Remember, the burn is only as sick as its victim. Maybe your setup is a lesser burn, or maybe it’s a straight line, but a one-liner is at its most satisfying when it hits a deserving target. Take aim at the right one.

3.       Try them different ways.

Write it a dozen times. Sometimes your first shot is perfect, but sometimes it falls short. Write it two dozen times. Read them aloud and pick the one that makes you giggle the most. Preferably the one that makes you snort, and your child/significant other/patrons in the coffee shop/whoever give you a strange look.

4.       Test them out.

What’s humor when it doesn’t make other people laugh? Test them on a writing partner or six. Lucky me, I have the Scriptorium, but if you don’t have something like it (which you should make if you can’t find!), get some friends, make sure they know what you’re doing, and let it fly.

5.       Read great snark.

Books that make you laugh. I recommend Dave Barry (say what you want, he turns a phrase), Ogden Nash, Chuck Wendig, Terry Pratchett—but if none of these hits your funny bone, find something that does and strip it for parts.

6.       Remember your character’s voice.

If some incisive Jon Stewart-style line is coming out of your hillbilly himbo, you’d better think again. That character type can be hilarious to a high degree, but it isn’t going to come out the same way, so put some thought into it. If you have to think dumber than you are, have a few drinks and get back to me. If you have to think smarter, do it sober.

7.       Words that sound dirty, but aren’t.

Oh, baby. Where do I start? Mukluk. Moist. Pulchritude. Mastication. Squelch. Blast. They add rhythm and flavor. Find some favorites. Red-breasted warbling cuckoos or something. It’s fun.

8.       Rudeness.

You don’t get the good stuff by holding back. You can be subtle, imply a world of rude and nasty things, if that’s appropriate for the character, but go for the throat.

9.       Fucking swear [optional].

A personal favorite of mine. Look, words like ass and cock and shit and fuck just sound funny. Every other word? No. But spice it up a little. Call the guy a ten-pound bag of assholes. That’s funny right there.

Now you’ve heard my advice. Let’s hear some of your wicked burns. Comment below, you red-breasted warbling cuckoos, you.

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