I love humorous picture books. I love reading them and I love writing them. There are many ways to appeal to the reader’s sense of humor. One tool that I love is a good pun. Puns are like any other tool—they’re seasoning. They’re meant to bring out the flavor of your story and not to overpower it. Many puns will be more familiar to your adult reader, but when carefully placed, the context will give enough clues that your child reader/listener will find humor, too—even if the pun isn’t familiar to them.
So how do you go about using puns to add humor? The first few words in the definition of pun give us a hint.
The pun is a form of word play.
So take “word play” literally and play around with words.
This was my process for adding puns to my upcoming picture book, A COOKED UP FAIRY TALE.
1. Google food puns, cooking puns, etc.
2. Paste the results below my story-in-progress
3. Google cooking terms
4. Paste the results below my story-in-progress
5. Create a list fairy tales that include food and paste below my story
6. Revisit my manuscript and look for “pun possibilities.” Are there places where a pun would make sense? Will it add to the humor or fall flat? Will it confuse my plot or strengthen it? Does it seem out of place or poorly timed? Because remember puns are meant to flavor my manuscript, not overpower it.
You may notice that I paste my research right below my story. This is a constant reminder to look for ways to add puns to my story. And keeping my research in the same document saves time because I don’t have to open another document.
When adding a pun or word play, look at ways to change up the original to fit the theme of your story. I used this: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” But, I just used the “idea” of that phrase. I changed words in it to fit my story. The phrase will be recognizable, but new and original to my story.
I use this process with all of my stories. I find that it not only helps me find places for puns, but also encourages other forms of word play that add humor to my stories.
A mentor text for puns and wordplay is Tara Lazar’s recently released, LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD. When Tara mentioned the number of times she referenced fairy tales and nursery rhymes, I worried that she’d gone way beyond seasoning and may have possibly overpowered her story. Not so! I was delighted when I read her book. Her timing was impeccable! I laughed all the way through the story and learned that it’s not the number of puns or amount of word play you use, but your skill in placing them in your story. As long as the puns don’t take the reader out of the story and they move your story forward, you’re using them successfully.
So if you’re writing a humorous manuscript go for the fun of the pun! Good luck.
Penny Parker Klostermann is the author of (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2015) and the upcoming,(Random House, 2017).
Penny was named Runner-Up for the 2012 Barbara Karlin Work-in-Progress Grant for a picture book manuscript. She is represented by Tricia Lawrence of the .
Penny loves all kinds of books, but especially loves very silly picture books that make her laugh. She has been known to hug her favorite picture books and seriously hopes that someday her books will gain huggable status too.
Places you can find Penny.