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How to Write A Funny Punchline

Here are a few ideas on how to write comic strip punchlines. Although these are general principles that should apply to any comic strip, this section was originally designed to accompany the Write Your Own Pits Competition. So I might refer to it from time to time.

Keep It Simple Stupid Follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid!). Aim to keep your punchline as brief as possible. Generally speaking, a punchline should be a short, sharp jab rather than a long, raking hook.

I apply this rule to every panel of all my comics. After writing a comic, I read through every line and trim off every unnecessary word. You should do this with your punchlines. I've read a lot of submitted punchlines that had a good concept but were executed clumsily.

For those of you entering punchlines in the Pits, Twist or Sev Trek Competitions, know that my favourite punchlines are ones that contain a lot of information in just a few words. A prime example is the Klingoff Forehead comic strip. The winning punchline by Ryan Turcotte is only ‘My Brain Shrunk’ but contains a lot of meaning. Specifically, it's saying the Klingoff foreheads look the way they do because their brains got smaller, leaving a lot of loose, wrinkly skin on their forehead. It also implies that they got stupider over time. That's a lot of content in 3 words!

Know your characters You need to have a clear idea of the comic strip's characters and situation. Being familiar with the strip's world helps you to understand what a character would or wouldn't say in any situation. Having defined specific features of a character will also become a well spring for ideas in the future.

In the case of the Pits Competition, this means get to know the comic strip. Read some comic strips in the Online Pits Book and get to know the characters in the Pits Information page. Submitted punchlines that gets the names wrong or show a complete misunderstanding of The Pits situation rarely win.

A punchline changes a strip’s direction One approach you can take with a punchline is to take the reader by surprise. A comic strip is heading in a certain direction, then in the final frame it swerves off into another unexpected direction. For example, the initial frames set up a situation you're familiar with. The last frame then reveals that the comic strip is about something else entirely. It takes the familiar and gives it an unexpected slant.

To practically apply this to writing a comic strip, take a familiar, everyday situation and try and reinterpret in an unexpected way.

An example from Round 4 is the punchline "Computer, end program". While it didn't win because it was too much of a location joke (specific to Star Trek), I found it very funny. The reason is because you think the comic strip is about Herman and Lance having an arm wrestle when suddenly the final frame reveals that Lance is actually on the holodeck of the Enterprise arm wrestling with an artificial Herman. This implies that in real life Herman could never beat Lance (well, I assume that's what the author was thinking). It's quite a good punchline.

Conclusion Well, I hope this advice helps you with The Write Your Own Pits Competition as well as writing comics in general. More cartooning resources can be found in The Sevloid Guide to Cartooning which features advice, tips and links to many how-to-cartoon web sites.

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