Writing satire allows you to make people laugh while simultaneously making a statement. It is a theme in writing going back to ancient Greece. There are different traditions in satire, but one commonality runs throughout -- a desire to make light of those in power. Perhaps you have dreams of writing satire to sell to prominent satire websites such as The Onion or Cracked. On the other hand, you may just have an ax to grind and a quirky sense of humor. Regardless of your reasons for wanting to start writing satire, there are a handful of basic skills you should keep in mind.
Styles of Satire
There are two main types of satire -- low satire and high satire.
When you think of low satire you should think of something along the lines of South Park. While you may think of such scatological ruminations as beneath your station, it is important to remember that low satire is the original form of satire, with a long history dating back to ancient Greece. Few things level the playing field more than bodily functions and depicting those in power at such awkward and vulnerable moments really brings them down to the level of the common man. Beavis and Butthead would be another example of low satire, substituting the everyday life of head bangers for the toilet functions of powerful politicians and celebrities.
High satire is the more erudite form of writing satire. This is where you take deeper insights into society and its mechanisms of power. Then you select some aspect of either and amplify it for comic effect. Televisions shows such as The Colbert Report and websites like The Onion are exemplars of this style of writing satire.
To write this kind of satire takes a great deal of intelligence, a quick wit and knowledge of current events.
Guidelines for Writing Satire
You should keep two things in mind when writing satire if you want to be successful -- your audience and good taste.
Knowing the Audience
The type of satire in Mad Magazine is different from the satire on The Onion. The main difference is one of audience. Mad Magazine is written for adolescent boys, whereas The Onion is written for adults. Similarly, satire directed at a left-wing audience is different from satire directed at a right-wing audience. Always remember who you are writing satire for when you sit down at your keyboard.
Keeping Good Taste
Racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry are always in bad taste. Religion is a very sticky area that can easily flare up into violent controversy, even when you tread lightly. In questionable cases it is always prudent to err on the side of caution. Once you've crossed the line, it's been crossed and there's no going back.
Ways of Writing Satire
There are seven different main ways of writing or approaching a satirical topic:
- Writing about specific people such as famous politicians and celebrities
- Writing about groups of people such as bankers or college athletes
- Mocking politics and the political process
- Blatantly creating ludicrous facts
- Mocking disasters can be dangerous ground, but mocking tragedies is always to be avoided
- Religion and philosophy are dangerous areas as well, but a skilled satirist can pull it off, particularly when satirizing one's own background
- Fewer things are funnier than someone who can satirize himself
Get Started Writing Satire
If you want to write your own satire pieces, take advice from satirists like Jon Acuff or Gregor Stronach to get started.
- Pick your issue. Satire is, at its heart, truth wrapped in humor. The saying goes "If you're going to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise, they'll kill you." Satire is all about using irony, sarcasm and humor to get to the heart of a real world issue. Take the time to find something that you're passionate about and that you believe is important enough to be discussed.
- Exaggerate it to death. Most issues you may want to satirize may not be very funny. Death, government waste, political scrutiny and other topics usually aren't very funny on their own. When you take one or more aspects of the issue and exaggerate them, you're bringing more subtle points to the forefront of the conversation. These are your points, the ones you're trying to get across to people. The whole idea is to take something that others may not see and bring it right to their face.
- Keep it relatable. One of the most important things to keep in mind here is that satire is funny because people can relate to it. If it's not realistic and relatable, it's not going to have the same impact and will likely fall more along the lines of farce. When you keep things realistic enough that people can relate to the story and the characters, your piece can have much more impact.
- Ask real questions. Part of what makes satire so interesting is that it's not just silly humor. It involves real questions about real issues, and your piece needs to illustrate that. Think of some key questions you want to ask with the piece. You don't need to outright ask the questions in the text, but they should be the framework for how you develop the story based around the issue you are exaggerating.
Practice Makes Perfect
Satire is a difficult field to get into the groove of writing for. As with any other style of writing, taking a workshop can help hone your craft. However, with some practice and attention to detail, you'll soon be speaking truth to power while making the masses laugh with the great satirists of all time.