3 tips for writing better satire
I should start by saying that I’m not the final authority on what good satire is. I’m just using my own definition. That means that, while I’ve had more than a few articles tank, I have still gotten a decent pile of positive likes, shares, and comments on my satire articles.
I’ve also helped out some of my peers who were new to satire and I’ve seen them succeed. Based on audience feedback (Facebook validation is as good as any) I want to pass along what I think works and doesn’t work to get the attention you want for good satire.
And while I think that following these few points will help you improve, it’s not the whole story. Using only the information contained in this article, you would not be fully equipped to write funny satire that people liked. You have to bring some of your own skills to the table.
That being said, I’m gonna keep it extremely simple with the broad strokes so you don’t forget, and super specific with the techniques so you can actually do what I’m suggesting.
Know what satire is (and isn’t)
Satire is a funny work of entertainment that puts a critical twist on something we already know exists. That means that your audience has to know about the thing which you’re satirizing.
It’s kinda tough because sometimes you just want to write something funny without being critical. That’s okay too, and it’s often fine to write plain ol’ humor on the same channels as satire.
However, satire is not simply
- Practical jokes or pranks
- Irony or sarcasm
- Direct criticism
This tip is insanely important. If you ever feel lost while writing satire, start by asking yourself these questions to hit the reset button:
- Am I being funny?
- Am I being critical about something that deserves it?
- Can my audience make the connection, even if only subconsciously?
Depending on how you answered these questions, you’ll want to dig deeper into the solutions I’ve provided below.
1. Be funny
I cannot emphasize this enough. If your headline is thought provoking, or critical, or ironic, or clever, or weird, but it’s not funny, then I think it sucks. A lot of other people will think it sucks too.
If you’re preaching to the choir, they may think your stuff is “funny” because the effigy gets them fired up even if it’s actually pretty dull.
By the same token, people who are extremely defensive on the subject matter might not be amused by a pretty good joke.
The best ways to inject more universal humor are simple, so ask yourself if you can do these things with your satire:
- Can you take a jab at the side of the argument that you fall on?
- Can you add silliness like puns, exaggeration, physical gags, bait and switch, etc?
- Can you remove something really inflammatory to lighten the humor?
2. Have a worthy target
Since you probably have to decide the target of your satire before you can be funny about it, this one could have gone in front. The only problem is this:
If given the choice between being funny and saying something meaningful, be funny. People will tune you out and hate you forever if your preach at them, but if you make them laugh, at least they’ll come back for more.
A worthy target can be anyone, a person or group of people, who’ve done something silly, careless, or wrong. There are a couple rules for how targets work:
- The more specific your target, the more important that the issue is of public interest and that the person or group behaved badly.
- The meaner the jokes, the more important it is that your target has done something wrong (as opposed to just dumb or peculiar.)
- Not everyone who has done something bad deserves every criticism thrown at them.
- Being a victim or hero in some way doesn’t make you immune to criticism.
Because these rules are relative, my only recommendation is to read them and ask yourself, subjectively, where you stand on it. If you end up writing a brutal satire of a local 5th grader and call him out by name, that’s on you.
3. Be relevant
If you write something funny and your target is worthy but nobody cares, does anybody read it?
It’s not a trick question. The answer is no.
You’ve got to create a draw. Whether it’s finding something familiar to your audience or just pulling from current events, be relevant so people care and read (or watch, or listen to) your satire.
That tip was tricky because it was too easy: write about something your audience will know, which is usually an inside reference, a common experience, or a current event.
Ironically, this tip probably could have been the very first tip because it’s the one best-suited for idea generation. The only problem is that I still numbered these in order of importance, not order or execution.
Given the choice between a funny article with a good target, and a relevant article that’s not funny or has a bad target, go with the first option. Being current or familiar without being funny is just pandering. Being funny and taking on the right target with a tiny audience is still better than pandering.
Hopefully, with these tips, you can make us look twice, laugh, and think.