“Brevity is the soul of wit.”William Shakespeare, Hamlet
It’s tempting to stop here, as a hyperbolic statement of the value of brevity.
The best humor sneaks up on you. Taking you on a path and then making a sudden turn, pushing you over the edge and down a cliff of surprise.
But you’ve got to be quick to trick. Readers can’t see it coming.
For me, this is the #1 thing that sets great humor apart from flat prose. This is why short humor, 900 words or less, or even flash fiction of 500-ish words, can be a crash course in concision. It’s like packing for a trip in my wife’s Miata. Forget standard suitcases, you have to go with squishy bags and the bare essentials. Even then, you must often upack and repack and squeeze stuff into every corner.
Can you do this? Yes? Congratulations. You can now travel the road short-form humor.
If not, then tear your story apart. Humor-writing is often the art of subtraction. Boil a phrase down to one word. Ditch an aside, side-trip story. Can it be cut without losing your story’s punch? Probably.
When it doubt, leave it out.
Good humor is good writing, and no other than Professor Will Strunk, of The Elements of Style fame, nailed this point in his principle #17- “Omit Needless Words.”
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.William Strunk Jr; E.B. White. The Elements of Style Fourth Original Edition
Revise and trim until it hurts. Your stories will get funnier, and they will sell.