When I first met my husband, he loved to provoke the curiosity of a tot by reciting a poem about the "Pee Little Thrigs" or "Rindercella who slopped her dripper."
The first response to this was always a blank stare while a puzzled child would try to decipher the code. Next, came what sounded like a giggle stick and then, chuckles gave way to snorts.
After a few minutes, my husband, encircled by a growing audience, began his cartoon voice impressions, mimicking every character from Yogi Bear to Yacky Doodle to Snagglepuss. Adults and children stood holding their sides while laughing so hard they could cough.
While the comedic effect worked well in person, humor can be risky in writing if not used with wisdom.
I recently critiqued a sobering tale that was chock full of obnoxious spoonerisms. It was apparent that the author was quite entertained by them but this reader found them offensive. If the man was writing a comic book or memoir, I could possibly find it in my heart to cut him a little slack but in a murder mystery, the puns were way off-base.
So how do you know what word plays and wacky wisdom to use and when?
1. Make sure you are really feeling the mood of your story
2. Think long and hard before using jokes that don't fit that mood.
3. Make sure your critiquing colleagues are not afraid to be brutally honest with you.
4. Be willing to extract things from your text that you really love but to which your readers may not be able to relate.
While it is a great idea to entertain your reader, using cute phrases is a bit like playing cards while holding crossed fingers behind your back. "You've got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them."