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Use Satire to Fire up Your Writing

Updated on December 31, 2012
Cervantes' Don Quixote
Cervantes' Don Quixote

Satire is prose or verse that employs wit (intelligent humor) in the form of irony, innuendo (insinuation and allusion), sarcasm (from the Greek meaning, “I strip the flesh from the bones”) or outright derision (mockery and contempt) to expose human wickedness, vice, and the folly of the age. Your writing can benefit from using satire, especially if you are in a foul mood—and you want to write something original to show to an agent or publisher. The key is using the genre to abuse the genre.

Satirists have been with us for thousands of years. Juvenal targeted the Roman Empire in his poetry while Geoffrey Chaucer mainly targeted the Catholic Church and chivalry in The Canterbury Tales. Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Voltaire’s Candide, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice are three satires that have become classics. Modern cartoonists like Al Capp (Li’l Abner) and Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury) have continued the satiric tradition. TV shows like Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Scrubs, M*A*S*H, and Saturday Night Live thrived and still thrive on the use of satire.

The typical Hollywood teen romance is ripe for satire. He has to be the perfect jock-stud. She has to be the perfect, pure, ditzy cheerleader-type. Their friends generally share the same mind. The setting is some atypical California high school where students don’t actually attend class and frequent parties daily. The adults are always caricatures, the conflict and complications light and full of slapstick and dramatic irony, and the ending is always happy and open for a sequel. Take that “formula” and flip it upside down … and you may end up with something like Napoleon Dynamite. I intended for my first novel, Renee and Jay, to be a satire of romance novels. I created a character (Renee) who hates romance with a passion and doesn’t want to have anything to do with a man. Perhaps a specific genre grinds you to no end. That genre, then, is perfect for satire.

Genres to abuse

If you’re satirizing science fiction, overdo the science and the fiction. Give too much scientific information and jargon and make the alien beings and worlds more fantastic and nonsensical than anything created before:

Thignokhrl-9 hated space. It was far too big for the average Dweezilian to comprehend. It was freaking huge and went in all freaking directions, like, forever, and it was easy to get lost since there were no good small maps. The best maps were several parsecs wide and never folded back together, and the directions for the Intergalactic GPS devices were usually written in Swedish. There were also few McDonalds this far from Earth, a dreary planet that at least had satellite radio, TV, trans fat, and Gilligan’s Island.

If you’re satirizing westerns, overdo the melodrama and dialect:

Tex carefully whipped out his trusty Bowie knife, twelve inches of steely steel. “I’ll save ye, dahlin’!!!”

“Oh, Tex!!!” she cried in a southern accent. “Yer muh hero!!!”

Tex jumped off his fiery steed Cupcake and used his knife to deflect all six shots blasted from Evil Diesel’s Colt .45. Then Tex did a back-flip over Diesel and held the seriously dented Bowie knife under Diesel’s loathsome, vile, and unshaven chin.

“Iffen ye don’t cut it out,” Tex growled, spitting a stream of black tobacco juice on a stray horny toad’s head, “I’ll cut yer head clean off!!!”

“Oh, Tex!!!” she cried again.

Tex deftly made several slicing motions in the air, reducing Evil Diesel’s black leather vest, chaps, pants, and snakeskin boots to shreds.

“An’ let this be a lesson to ye,” Tex said with glee in his heart and a yellow grin on his face. “You cut up in muh town, and yer gonna git cut up, y’hear?!!!”

“Oh, Tex!!!” she cried yet again.

If you’re satirizing spy novels, create a character that is not brawny, brainy, or good with weapons and have him save the world by mistake:

They had killed dear Emily, the dearest love of his life, and they would pay dearly.

“I will bury them,” he said, pounding his fist on his kitchen table, which also doubled as a Patriot missile array if the kitchen got too hot.

He had no idea who “they” were, but he didn’t care. He looked at his store of weapons in a secret compartment in his basement that no one knew about, not even the man who installed the secret compartment to house them …

If you’re satirizing the family saga/epic, overdo your “authentic historical moments”:

The Pilgrims came to town … the Iroquois came to town … the British came to town … George Washington came to town … George Washington’s mistress, Sally Hemings, came to town … the gypsies came to town … the dad-blasted Yankees came to town … Abraham Lincoln came to town … the Pony Express came to town … the Iron Horse came to town … the horseless carriage came to town … murderous thieving scum came to town … the dad-blasted Yankees returned to town … the cholera came to town … the Diphtheria came to town … the influenza came to town … the interstate highway didn’t come to town …

If you’re satirizing fantasy, lengthen your character’s names and make the plot as convoluted as possible:

Flutterby was a tree-hugging wood nymph with magical powers. Though she was only eleven inches tall, she could transform into a blue whale whenever she wanted to, as long as there was plenty of water around for her massive body.

Flutterby enjoyed casting spells on the other wood nymphs. It was her thing. It empowered her. It made her feel taller. It made her forget she smelled like a blue whale. Her favorite spell caused all the other wood nymphs to have really bad eczema, and since Flutterby also made anti-itch potion out of the magic plant gronwynwyn, she was very rich.

One day, Flutterby got some bad news. The really bad, uptight Tree People of Salem Wood were on the march to destroy her gronwynwyn fields because they believed gronwynwyn was habit-forming, led to harder drugs like aspirin, and smelled faintly like blue whale. She had to get some muscle, so she summoned Pew the Pepe, Fog Leg Horn, and Martian the Marvin …

If you feel like satirizing a classic movie like It’s a Wonderful Life, overemphasize the melodrama that’s already there:

GEORGE attends HARRY’s graduation party. GEORGE dances with MARY, fresh from her third try at rehab. MARY is drunk and thinks colors are speaking Portuguese to her and that Tony the Tiger is real and even kind of handsome when you look at him sideways. MARY doesn’t notice that GEORGE is the biggest dork at the party and finds GEORGE strangely attractive, though he reminds her of a buck-toothed donkey. GEORGE and MARY throw themselves from the stage into the crowd, but no one catches them. Others quickly jump on them, beating them into the floor. MARY loses both of her contacts and then thinks GEORGE looks like a young George Clooney.


All satirical excerpts in this hub emanate from this ridiculous novel.
All satirical excerpts in this hub emanate from this ridiculous novel.

If you’re satirizing romance, make the lovers so over-the-top that no one will take them or their love for each other seriously:

Her eyes were green lights panting “Go, go, go!” as she beheld the manly man standing outside her window after his Porsche 911 ran a red light and plowed into her Geo Storm. As scorching blood steamed and streamed from a literal crevice in her forehead, Cat Mann knew Gunn Adhamh Glendonwyn was her soul mate by the way his wound matched her own.

Gunn tore off her door in a nanosecond, pulling her from the fiery wreckage.

Cat Mann melted into Gunn’s arms—literally—as flames licked her clothes, giving her nasty, festering, oozing second- and third-degree burns on over thirty-four percent of her sexy body. Their smoke-ravaged eyes locked, their sooty tongues did the tango as if they were dancing in a smoke-filled bar in Brooklyn, and their lips tasted like burnt microwave popcorn and exploded airbag residue.

It was love at first fiery Geo Storm explosion.

Then Cat collapsed like a fainting goat, the kind they show on YouTube and those amazing video shows, and although it doesn’t seem to hurt the goats, it sure as crap looks as if it does because they hit the ground hard. And that’s funny and we bust a gut laughing when we shouldn’t because the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals would let vultures eat our livers for eternity if it could.

That’s how Cat collapsed.

If you’re like me, you’re tired of the vampire/werewolf/shape-shifter “literature” hogging up the shelves at bookstores. Tear them up. Give the werewolves hairballs and the vampires cavities. Maybe one of your vampires is O-negative-intolerant. Make their “offspring” as annoying as Beavis and Butthead crossed with Pee Wee Herman. Overdo their makeup until they glow …

Use the limits and idiosyncrasies of the genre to skewer the genre in a satire, and you’ll be writing for days, weeks, and even months. And don’t be surprised when some agent decides to represent your satire because it’s quirky, different, and unlike anything else out there.

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