Masterclass Event Report: Writing Funny with Mo O'Hara

Banana skins, Blackadder and belly laughs. Alex English reports on the Writing Funny masterclass with Mo O'Hara. 
I found myself in a pub on a recent Saturday afternoon studying a banana skin and talking about farts. All in aid of making my writing more humorous, you understand. But is it possible to learn how to be funny? That was what I was here to find out. 

I'm sure most SCBWI members will know Mo O'Hara as the author of the My Great Big Zombie Goldfish series. Mo is an officially multi-talented funny-person as she has also written several picture books, performed sketches at Edinburgh and written comedy for Radio 4. If anyone can teach me how to be funny, she can. 
Mo O' Hara 
We started with a great ice-breaker - talking about funny the books and sit-coms we loved. My personal favourite Frank Cottrell-Boyce cropped up several times, as did Mo Willems and Chris Haughton. We learned that TV sit-coms have many parallels with series fiction, and Mo used plenty of examples from Blackadder throughout the afternoon. 

Mo recommended we should consume comedy in all forms - live, TV, radio, and not just comedy for children either. Even the more grown-up sort of laughs would help us to get in the zone and see how the funny stuff is structured. However, children's comedy has slightly different rules - no meanness allowed here! 

After Mo's introduction, we started to look at creating comedy characters. We came up with our own animal heroes and villains by thinking about their character traits, jobs and objectives. We also role played to understand character status, with Cath Howe miming a very convincing CEO of a multinational company. 
Cath Howe 
Next we came on to plot and situation. A good comedy location where the key characters cannot escape, but new characters come and go and there is potential for conflict. We had to think sit-com again here - hospitals, schools and spaceships were all up for grabs. 

Mo's experience with improv theatre helps her to come up with funny plotlines. Her big tip? Never shut an idea down - at the brainstorming stage you must keep saying yes to your ideas, and then ask 'what now?' Censorship is not your funny friend. 
Mo O' Hara
When it came to talking about revision, I was relieved to hear that even the best writers' first drafts just aren't that funny. Only 10% of Mo's first draft makes it unaltered into the final manuscript, and in Hollywood, punch writers are hired to "punch-up" the script by adding jokes to every page. Unfortunately us children's authors have to go it alone, but it's still essential to go through the process with a punch-up draft where we turn the funny dial up to 11. 

By now it was 4pm. My sides were aching, my notebook was full and my brain was bursting. It was time to wrap things up, so Mo left us with a quote from Tina Fey: 

Comedy is truth, plus time, multiplied by monkeys, divided by one fart You can't really argue with that. Now I'm off to watch some more Blackadder and punch up my latest WIP.

 Alex English's latest picture book, MINE MINE MINE SAID THE PORCUPINE is published by Maverick in October 2016. She is currently studying for an MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa and is working on a middle-grade novel as well as more picture books. She is represented by Joanna Devereux of the Joanna Devereux Literary Agency.


  1. Great write up of an awesome Masterclass. Thanks Alex

  2. Really enjoyed your report. I'm hoping Mo does this again so I can go!

  3. This was... funny. Thanks Alex.

  4. It was a great masterclass. Glad you enjoyed the write up!

  5. Thank you for sharing - wish I could have been there!

  6. We have been able to bring all those essentials and details which are even said to be of utmost importance. writing a photographer bio


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