How To Write a Novel — Playing

Day 13 of writing my novel in public

Photo by Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash

I’ve started something scary here on Medium. It’s something I’ve done before, but never in public. I have a process that I’m going to follow, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you want to follow the journey from the start, go here.

If you missed yesterday’s, you can find it here.

Day 13 — Playing

If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society.

— Jean Piaget

Yesterday I did some analysis of the humour in Gangsta Granny by David Walliams. If there is one thing certain to kill humour, it is over-analysing it. I didn’t have time to look at how I can boost the humour in the book I’m writing, but that means that today I get to play.

Idea generation

I’m going to start by just creating as many funny ideas as I can around my book. They might not all make it in, and will need work where they do, but I need some material to work with.

I’m going to set a timer for 10 minutes. Long enough to get into the exercise, but not long enough that I have time to procrastinate.

What if Charlie’s dad can’t cook — contrasts with Charlie’s cooking ability. What if he can only make toast. He knows how to use a toaster — maybe he works for the company that makes them. So everything is toast to him. For breakfast toast. For lunch toast. For dinner — cold baked beans. On toast. He is the inventor of the toasted toast sandwich. A piece of toast between two pieces of toast.

What if the pigs Boo and Kay eat everything. They eat things that you are not supposed to eat. If you leave it lying around then it will disappear and you’ll see them looking smug. Maybe even a small child goes missing at one point and people think they’ve eaten it.

Also what if they smell lovely. Miasmus has invented his own range of perfumes for pigs, called Oink. Oink for pigs.

What if Mr Needem the baker makes bread from all round the world. Every day he tries to tempt Charlie’s dad with a new type of bread — pizza, flatbread, ciabatta, bread sticks, baguette, Turkish bread, etc etc. Charlie’s dad always considers the bread, thinks about how it will fit in the toaster and then asks for his usual sliced white.

What if the Quicks own a dog that gets blamed for farts. If Charlie’s dad lets one go then he blames it on the dog. But Charlie can see the fart, maybe he uses a different word like parple. What if the parple is purple. Charlie sees the purple parple and knows it was his dad. But his dad blames the dog and puts it outside.

What if the Quicks are poor, so poor that it is Charlie’s birthday and he doesn’t get anything he wants. What he really wants is the ingredients to make his own birthday cake, but his dad doesn’t believe in such frivolities. He has a special cake. Made of toast. A bread cake. Toasted.

What if Charlie’s mum has gone around the world to find herself. Charlie gets postcards from her on her trips. She is doing the most bizarre and absurd things and tells Charlie about it. He doesn’t really understand what she is up to.

Perspectives on the ideas

Next, I’m going to take each idea and look at it through the lens of each of the comedy techniques I looked at yesterday. There are the ones from David Walliams:

  1. A joke is often based on a surprise, something unexpected happening
  2. Art of the aside
  3. Rule of 3
  4. Funny lists
  5. Surreal and absurd
  6. Toilet humour with wit
  7. Timing is everything

and the ones from Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett:

  1. Twist a cliché
  2. Defy genre expectations
  3. Put a funny expression at the end of a sentence
  4. Use contrast
  5. Use funny words
  6. Figgin
  7. Sherbert lemon

I’ll go through my ideas and try to fit them into this list of 14 perspectives.


Looking at the two ideas of Charlie’s dad’s obsession with toast and a birthday cake, what if Charlie is expecting just toast for his birthday treat, but his dad says he has a surprise for him? Charlie imagines his dad has branched out, maybe toasting a teacake or a slice of pizza. But he has invented a toasted toast sandwich. A slice of toast, between two slices of toast.

When Charlie meets Boo and Kay, the pigs, he expects them to be smelly, but actually they are spotless. Not only that, but Miasmus has developed a perfume for them called Stoink (better name than oink) for pigs.

Mr Needem has a taste for the exotic in making his bread, and is always experimenting. He makes fisher’s loaf from maggots, bush bread from hairs found in the plughole, cheesy bread from toe cheese, flat bread from old tyres, bread sticks from glue, sourdough made with pickled fish.

Art of the aside

Charlie couldn’t see the point in making his cupcake look fancy. That would be like playing a fanfare while you look at the Mona Lisa.

Rule of 3

Charlie received postcards from his mum from exotic locations all over the world. The last three arrived from a beach in the Bahamas, a boat in the Balearic Islands and Butlins in Bognor Regis.

Charlie’s dad’s diet was extremely limited. For breakfast, he had toast. For lunch, he had toast. And for dinner, he had Wheatiebricks. On toast.

Funny lists

What if Charlie receives some presents that cost nothing, or have little value, as a list — a piece of toilet paper (nearly new), a broken piggy bank, a used stamp, a false tooth, one chopstick, a yellow toenail, one popcorn (unpopped), one party popper (already popped) that sort of thing.

Names of Miasmus’ line of scents — Juzz for men, Eau de Colon, Chic to Chic, Smoochy Time, Smell the Toeses, Womance, King Pong.

Absurd and surreal

Whenever Charlie gets a postcard from his mum, it is her doing something weird — maybe surfing a hippo across a river, performing dentistry on a crocodile or having afternoon tea with a bear.

Toilet humour with wit

The purple parple falls into this category.

Timing is everything

A joke can be slight, if set up correctly and delivered with perfect timing.

After Charlie is convinced that his sister is able to talk to animals, he asks her how she knew something that was supposed to be secret. She says a little birdie told her. This time he believes her.

Twist a cliché

The security guard is an old age pensioner and a member of PENSA, the society for pensioners with extremely high IQ. She is small and wiry and an expert wielder of knitting needles. She likes to make crochet models of the double helix structure of DNA.

Defy genre expectations

The book I’m writing will be a thriller novel. But I’m writing it for children, so I’ll try and defy the expectations. The main character is a boy and his sidekick is the even less likely younger sister. Here’s how I’ll twist the familiar:

  • Charlie’s main skills are ‘seeing’ smells and baking cupcakes, rather than espionage and shooting things
  • Miasmus is using smell as a weapon by making stink bombs which make everyone evacuate and allow him to steal things, rather than acts of violence
  • the big climatic event that brings all the powerful people together will be the launch of Miasmus’ new scent
  • a plot twist will be a ‘smell’ bomb going off but it is a very pleasant smell. The real bomb is the cupcakes that are laced with parple powder that will turn everyone into a miniature stink bomb
  • Charlie dismisses his little sister when she says animals have spoken to her, such as their dog, and ‘a birdie told her’ but in the end he realises she can communicate with animals and she calls the birds to snatch the cupcakes out of everyone’s hands

Put a funny expression at the end of a sentence

The Smell Tower was shiny, and straight, and so high that on the upper floors even vampires got nosebleeds.

Mr Needem was a regular baker, with regular baker arms, like pythons.

When Charlie goes to the beach, he sees sea smells on the seashore.

Use contrast

What if the two pigs Boo and Kay are opposites. Kay is sweet tempered and loving and nuzzles your hand. Boo is hot-headed and angry and will bite your fingers.

When Miasmus threatens Charlie and his sister, Sandy says their dog Woofy will protect them. She tells Woofy to attack and he rolls over for a tummy rub.

Use funny words

When Miasmus is making a stink bomb, he calls it a WMO, a weapon of mass olfaction.

Miasmus’ headquarters is called The Smell Tower.

Purple and parple, both funny words.

Stoink is a funny word, the scent for pigs.

Woofy is a funny word, maybe the Quick dog’s name.


In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, a Figgin is a small short-crust pastry containing raisins, so I’ll definitely include one of those.

It is also used as a euphemism, so I think I’ll have someone get kicked in the figgin.

In story terms, it is something that promises to be horrible, but turns out to be funny. Maybe Charlie bakes something that smells terrible but tastes fantastic so that his sister Sandy won’t eat them all, and Sandy calls it a Reekin. Later the Reekin prompts Charlie to realise that Miasmus is creating the opposite, something that tases fantastic but makes you smell horrible.

Sherbert lemon

This is something that is a minor detail added to make the reader smile. It doesn’t add to the plot or have a payoff later.

Miasmus’ headquarters is called The Smell Tower (his original name Trump Tower was already taken).


Day 13 was all about playing for laughs. I came up with some ideas that I find funny based on the techniques of David Walliams, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I’m sure they will develop before I’ve finished the book, not all will make it in and others will emerge.

Tomorrow I will look at creating the story threads for my book.

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If you want to try the process with me and write your own novel, I’d love to have you join me on this journey. Put in the comments on how you went with this step.

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