How to write a funny article

by Instant Noodle

” Do you really write?” said Sylvia, gazing at me large eyed with wonder. I admitted as much.

” And do they print it just as you write it?”

“Well, their hired grammarians make a few trifling alterations to justify their existence.”

” And do they pay you quite a lot ?

“Sixpence a word.”

” Oo ! How wonderful!

“But not for every word,” I added hastily, “only the really funny ones.”

“And they send it to you by cheques?”

” Rather. I bought a couple of pairs of socks with the last story ; even then I had something left over.”

” And how do you write the stories ?”

” Oh, just get an idea and go right ahead.”

” How wonderful ! Do you just sit down and write it straight off?”

I just only just pulled myself up in time as I remembered that Sylvia was an enthusiast of twelve whose own efforts had already caused considerable comment in the literary circles described round the High School. I felt this entitled her to some claim on my veracity.

“Sylvia,” I cried,” I shall have to make a confession. All those stories you have been good enough to read and occasionally smile over are the result of a cold-blooded mechanical process and the help of a dictionary of synonyms.”

” Oo ! How wonderful ! Do show me how.”

“Very well. Since you are going to be a literary giantess it is well that you should he initiated into the mysteries of producing what I shall call the illusion of spontaneity. Now take this story here. Here on this old envelope is THE IDEA.”

“Oo! Let me see. I can’t read a word.”

“Of course you can’t; nobody could. Rough copies are divided into classes as follows :-
No. 1. Those I can read, but nobody else can.
No. 2. Those I can’t read myself after two days.
No. 3. Those my typist can read.
This story is about a certain Brigade Major who is an inveterate leg-puller. Some Americans are expected to be coming for instruction. Well, before they arrive the Brigade Major has to go up to the line, and on his way he meets a man with a very new tin hat who asks him in a certain nasal accent we have all come to love if he has seen anything of a party of Americans. Spotting him as a new chum, the Brigade Major offers to show him round the line, and proceeds to pull his leg and tells him the most preposterous nonsense. For instance, on a shot being tired miles away he pretends they are in frightful danger, and leads him bent double round and round trenches in the same circle.”

“What a shame!”

“Wasn’t it ? Well, when he gets tired he asks the American if he thinks he has learnt anything. The American says, ‘ Gee, I’ve been out here two years now, but I guess you’ve taught me a whole heap I didn’t know. I’m a Canadian tunneller, you know, and I ‘ve got to show some Americans our work, but I guess I’ve had a most interesting time with you.”

“Ha! ha!”

“Well now, to put the story into its form. Here ‘s Copy No. 1, on this old envelope. ‘Americans coming – Brigade Major sees American looking for party – pulls his leg – pretends to being in frightful danger – American is Canadian who has been out two years.’ See? Copy No. 2. Here we begin to till in. Describe Brigade headquarters and previous leg-pulls of Brigade Major. Make up details of what he tells the American ‘ That ‘s a trench. That thing you fell over is a coil of wire. This is a sunken road we sunk it, etc., etc.’ Copy No. 3, additions and details, little touches of local colour, revision of choice of words, heartrending erasions. And here, my child,” I concluded, bringing out the beautiful, clean, smooth typed copy ” here is the finished work itself, light, pleasant, fluent, humorous and, most important of all, spontaneous.”

“Oo! But how awfully cold-blooded. I thought you smiled to yourself all the time you wrote it.”

“My dear girl, it takes hours. If I smiled continually all that length of time the top of my head would come off.”

“Isn’t it wonderful ? Fancy building it all up from jottings on an old envelope! What’s that piece of paper you took out of the typed copy ?”

“Oh, that’s nothing to do with the literary side of it,” I said, crumpling up the little memorandum, which said that the Editor presented compliments and regretted that he was unable to make use of the enclosed contribution.

(January 1919)