Episode Seven – The Story Thief Challenges – Writing funny stories!

Written by Liam and Aoife!

Featuring top kids author Lara Williamson!

Note: If you’re a teacher or librarian or work with kids check out the guidance for educators section including advice on how to do this month’s Story Challenge with your students!


Everything you need to know if you haven’t read the other episodes

Hi. I’m Liam. Aoife is my annoying little sister. This is episode seven of our twelve episode blog series about the crazy and scary things that happened to us last summer when the Story Thief whirled into our lives.

Who is the Story Thief? Well, it steals writers’ stories if they don’t write them down or tell them quickly. It carries a massive pen like a spear and has a ledger on its back where it writes the stolen stories before hiding them away in a secret library.

Our writer Dad’s books weren’t getting published so he tried to win a great story idea by summoning the Thief and doing three story challenges. Dad got one answer wrong so the Thief won all his stories. That would have been bad, but we soon learnt memories are stories too when the Thief started taking Dad’s memories as well.

Our Mam was away with work and the Dad we knew and loved was vanishing in front of our eyes so me and Aoife summoned the Thief. We agreed to do its Story Challenges to win back Dad’s stories and memories. If we failed any of the challenges, it would take our memories and stories too.

While Dad forgot loads of things, almost becoming a child again, we completed the three story challenges story thanks to the advice we got from top kids’ fiction authors we emailed.

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But the Story Thief appeared in our house and told us:

‘Your father was but one, you both are two, So it’s six challenges you must do!’

It disappeared with a laugh just as our front door opened and our mother returned home …


 

Mam walked into the sitting room. She was stunned – it was almost four in the morning. ‘Why are you both up?! Is that Dad -’

We had to stop Mam seeing how Dad had changed. She wouldn’t understand. She definitely wouldn’t believe us. But I was shocked, still taking in the Thief’s revelation.

Aoife, however, leapt into action. She threw a blanket onto Dad to hide him, jumped over the couch and intercepted our confused, tired Mam with a big hug.

She cooed, ‘Oh I missed you, Mam.’

Mam tried to get past Aoife. ‘It’s the middle of the night-’

‘Dad fell asleep in front of the TV during a war movie.’ Aoife hugged Mam, moaning louder, faking tears, ‘I thought we were being attacked.’

Dad tried to sit up, said,‘What’s going on?’

I snapped into action, shoved him back down, but Mam’s ears pricked up.

‘Is he -’

Aoife increased the volume of sobbing while I explained loudly. ‘He’s been working really hard. We should let him sleep.’

Aoife pulled Mam towards the stairs. ‘Can I sleep with you tonight? Please! Please!’

I pretended I was tucking the blanket over Dad. ‘Poor dear.’

Finally Mam gave in. She let Aoife lead her towards the stairs. She waved to me to follow them, ‘You too. Come on. Bedtime. I’ll talk with him in the morning.’

I waited till they were gone upstairs then let Dad to sit up on the couch. He looked around like a sleepy toddler then tried to stand up.

‘You just go to sleep there Dad.’

‘Okay. I’ll go to sleep.’ Out of nowhere, he hugged me. ‘I love you Liam.’

I pulled him tight not wanting to let go. My words were quaking, shaking things. ‘Love you too Dad.’

He lay down on the couch, pulling a blanket up over him. ‘Night night.’

‘Night night Dad.’

Upstairs, I found Mam in her bed snoring loudly, still fully dressed, obviously shattered from work and travelling. A wide awake Aoife quietly disentangled herself from Mam’s arms and stood up then stopped. Pointed behind me.

One of my books was sitting on the landing with a note stuck into it. I felt a burst of fury. Would it ever stop?

I read the fourth Story Challenge out-loud to Aoife. It was the cruelest so far.

Hard to write, but worth your money,

A story with mirth, a story that’s funny.

It must be done right, not done by half,

By Midnight tonight make me laugh.

I threw the note at the wall. ‘I’m not feeling funny Aoife.’

She tried to keep me perked up. ’Come on. We can do it. We’ll just write something funny for it.’

I just got angry at her. ‘Easy for you to say, I do all the writing -’

‘I help!’

‘Your ideas are stupid -’

‘No, they’re not!’

Mam turned in her bed behind us, said sleepily, ‘What is…’

We shushed and waited. Mam drifted back into sleep. Started snoring again.

Aoife patted me on the arm, ‘You can do it. Come on.’

I nodded. We didn’t have any choice.

On Dad’s computer in his office, I quickly found the author’s website and clicked into her Contact page. I typed a message:

Dear Lara, can you give us some tips on how to write really funny stories? Please! It’s urgent! Liam and Aoife

Once I’d clicked send, I spun around in the office chair to Aoife. ‘But what do we do about Mam?’

‘It’s only a flying visit. She’s leaving this evening. Not back for another three days.’

‘But she’ll find out about Dad.’

Aoife whacked me on the shoulder, ‘You’re a dummy! If we can keep her away from Dad tomorrow then she goes away for three more days -’

I got it. I grinned. ‘- it’ll give us time to do the last three challenges.’

‘She won’t need to know anything!’

I raised my hand. Aoife hi-fived me. We were back on track.

8am. Mam was still fast asleep. We pushed Dad out of the front door of the house into the bright sunny day. We were in our school uniforms. He was in the same rumpled clothes that he’d slept in, his hair flying in every direction. He looked around our street in a daze.

‘Where are we?’

I patted his arm, ‘On our street Dad.’

‘Oh.’ He smiled and his eyes widened with excitement. ‘So pretty!’

I grabbed his one arm just in time to stop him from running onto the road after a butterfly. Aoife grabbed the other arm. We braced him and guided him back onto the footpath.

This wouldn’t be easy.

As we walked, Dad’s phone beeped. It was an email with Writing Advice from Lara Williamson, author of Just Call Me Spaghetti Hoop Boy and other books.

Image result for just call me spaghetti-hoop boy

 

Dear Aoife and Liam,
Writing funny is a serious business so when I got your urgent email request I knew I had to reply straight away with my tips on how to write humour. Oh, it would be easy to tell you to just throw a few gags into your story but no, here are some little secrets from me to you that might help.
My tips on how to tickle your funny bone;

  1. Whenever I’ve written something funny, the first thing I think is; does this make me laugh? If my face is as hard as an unwashed bowl of breakfast cereal set in concrete then the answer is probably no. If I’m not laughing or at least silently chuckling to myself I reckon that there’s no point in going any further. You’ve got to laugh at yourself and your own writing – you’re your first audience. Okay, let’s say you’ve read your funny writing and been rolling around on the floor laughing for five minutes now. You might even think you’re an undiscovered comedic genius but STOP – that’s still not enough. Now you’ve got to hand your writing over to someone else, a friend or family, and see if they laugh too. It is a well-known fact that I laugh at all my own jokes but sometimes, just sometimes, no one else does. If that happens I have to fling that particular joke aside and allow it to drop as flat as a pancake on the pavement while I write something else.
  2. Farts, poop, snot and all those shenanigans are usually funny but that’s because we can all relate to the joke. Connecting with others and realising you find the same things funny is the best. Observe what’s going on around you, listen to others tell funny stories too, find the funny in everyday life and experiences. Think back to things that have made you laugh. Use that. Oh, and talking about observation you wouldn’t believe how much fun I have just walking down the street (seriously, have you looked at shop names? There’s nothing funnier. Curl up and Dye for a hairdresser’s? Frying Nemo? Planet of the Grapes?). Most of my writing is based on observation, nothing more, nothing less.
  3. Hey, why put in one joke when I could do twenty-three bazillionty jokes? I mean that would make the story stronger than King Kong and The Hulk combined. Pfftt… nope. You’d probably get a laugh at the first few jokes and then your readers would switch off. No! Wait! Forget the gazillion jokes you’ve got up your sleeve. Pull out one great joke and let the other weaker ones go. Hey presto – that’s the real magic. Sometimes it’s what you leave out, not what you put in.
  4. Read funny books, comics, whatever you can get your mitts on. Watch comedians on TV too. Listen to what’s going on around you and carry your own little notebook to jot down anything that’s made you laugh. It’s easy to forget the small things but small jokes can snowball into big funny stories. Before you know it, you’ve got an avalanche of humour.
  5. Okey dokey! My final and favourite tip has nothing to do with your funny bone but it has a lot to do with your heart. This is the one tip I can give that really counts because it applies to everything, not just writing funny. If you do something from the heart, if you mean what you say, if you 100% believe in it, if you find it funny or important, if you enjoy it, if it’s vital that you get it out there, if you care about others, if you connect, if your heart sings then you will be able to conquer the world.

So, I hope I’ve helped you write funny in some small way. But, from here onwards, I think that your heart will guide you to greater things. Good luck on your journey, my friends.
Lara

PS: Here’s a Story Challenge for you!

What has really made you laugh this past week? Why did you laugh? Now, close your eyes and remember how you felt. Try to take that situation and put it into a story and the story can be long or short and you can make it even funnier or more absurd than it was in real life. Let it snowball! Or, how about writing a funny rhyming poem based on the situation? Words can be used in so many different ways.

When we got to the park, Aoife opened her school bag. It was filled with lunch plus paper and pens for us to work on our funny story.

‘Let’s get working.’

I put out a hand to stop her. ‘What about him?’

Dad was sitting on the bench staring in awe at the leaves of the trees flickering in the sun.

We both spoke at the same time, ‘Playground!’

While Dad climbed the jungle gym and went up and down on the slide, myself and Aoife sat at the picnic table and worked hard on our funny writing. We took breaks to play with Dad  – it took both of us to push him on the swings. He played with all the kids in the playground. Had great fun. Every grown up who came into playground couldn’t keep their eyes off him – he was more of a child than the six year olds that he was playing with.

One parent went up to him and said, ‘You’re great with kids. What’s your secret?’

Dad said, ‘Huh?’ and ran off to try the seesaw.

Calls kept coming through on Dad’s phone from Mam. We let them ring out then texted her back pretending to be him. We said his phone was broken and promised to pick us up from school then bring us to the library. We quickly changing plans when she said that she’d meet us all there.

But Mam’s texts got angrier and angrier. She complained about having to leave without seeing anyone. It was upsetting to ignore them. Finally Aoife just turned the phone off.

Eventually it was 7pm. It was chilly. Dad was tired, sitting slumped half asleep in a slide. We were all hungry. Grownups were starting to ask us if we were okay. Plus we’d finished our challenge, although it was hard to tell if it was funny or not.

Aoife looked to me, ‘Mam should be gone by now.’

‘Let’s go home.’

It was a long walk home. Dad moaned about being tired and kept trying to lie down. At the house, I reached to unlock the front door.

‘There should be some food in the -’

The door swung open. Mam’s face was red and angry. ‘What’s going on?’

Aoife said, ‘I thought you were leaving -’

Mam ignored her. ‘Phil! What’s going on?’

Dad looked up at her and smiled a tired smile then –

I felt a cold wind blow, saw a flicker of the Thief’s black cloak and Dad’s smile disappeared. Another memory had just been stolen from him, but I didn’t know which.

Aoife pulled on his sleeve and said, fake cheerful, still hoping to cover up everything that had happened to him, ‘Come on in Dad.’

Dad shook his head.

Mam’s eyes tightened. ‘Phil? What are you playing at?’

Dad pulled me aside, whispered in my ear, ‘Who is that woman?’

And the very last thing I wanted to do at that moment was laugh.

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Go straight ahead and read Episode 8 featuring Erika McGann (author of The Bubble Street Gang books)

As usual here’s the stuff Dad told me I had to tell everyone…

The Story Thief Challenges is a twelve part series published on the first Monday of each month. Each episode includes writing advice from an Irish children’s fiction author and a Story Challenge activity that can be used by teachers, librarians and other educators with kids.

To subscribe to The Story Thief Challenges – click here.

If you would like more information on Lara Williamson and her books and how to contact her  click here.

If you’re a teacher / librarian / educator or parent and you would like advice on how use The Story Thief Challenges and each month’s Story Challenges with children to promote reading, writing, story telling and creativity please click here.

Check out the work done by kids on this series and get your kids’ work featured too –click here. 

The fab drawing of the Story Thief here was done by talented writer and artist Eve McDonnell – check out her work here.

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