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A Workshop with Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

This year’s SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles (August 1-5) was the ultimate blend of inspiration, guidance, and professional advice for children’s authors and illustrators. All the workshops were amazing, but one was particularly memorable for its advice and inspiration: Comedy Comes from the Heart, with Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver.

  • Henry Winkler is an actor, producer and director, who is best known for his role as “the Fonz” in the 1970’s television series “Happy Days”. Though he is quick to tell you that he’s most proud of writing books for young readers.
  • Lin Oliver is the co-founder of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a long-time television writer, and a well published children’s author.


Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver are two of the funniest people on the planet. Put them together in the same room and it’s no wonder things spiral virally into the hilarious.

This dynamic duo teamed up to write 17 books in the Hank Zipzer: World’s Greatest Underachiever series, and have completed four books in the Ghost Buddy series. They are both are hilarious, and they know how to translate that humor onto the written page. You can read my review of Ghost Buddy ~ Zero to Hero here.
Hank Zipzer and Ghost Buddy covers

The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing Comedy

Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver earned their Fabulously Funny street creds on the page as well as the screen. They know what works, and what doesn’t, when it comes to comedy. Here are some of the comedic secrets they shared with us:

  1. Write what makes you laugh. If you think something is funny, someone else will think so too.
  2. Write what you know is true. Don’t try to write what you think will be funny for a particular audience. Young readers know when humor is not authentic.
  3. There are different types of humor, such as character humor, physical humor, observational humor. Write the type of humor that works for you, what you think is funny.
  4. What makes you laugh the most, also makes you cry the most. Good comedy always has a cringe-worthy (pathos) moment.
  5. Write from your own experience. Mine your own life for “most embarrassing” moments.
  6. You have to love the character you’re putting in comedic jeopardy, or else it comes off as being mean. You want your audience to laugh with the character, not at him.
  7. Good comedy must have tension, just like good drama.
  8. Specific details are almost always funnier than generalizations. For example: Principal Zumba has a mole. Or… Principal Zumba has a mole shaped like the statue of liberty that looks like it’s doing the hula whenever he talks.
  9. Don’t edit yourself on the first draft. Go with your first impulses. Craft the humor afterward.
  10. Use improv to get into the character’s voice. Henry Winkler showed us how a slouch and a tilt of the head, brought out “the Fonz” in his voice.
  11. Titles are very important to young readers. Take the time to craft a terrific title.
  12. “Trying” to be funny is a formula for death. Write down 25 things that made you laugh, then analyze each instance for the elements that made it funny.

Henry Winkler embellishes an explanation for the audience [photos by moi]…

Henry Winkler acts out advice to writers

The following advice from Henry Winkler was particularly inspiring:

There’s many ways to do things. You have to be courageous enough to do things your way.

For information on some of the other amazing workshops at the LA13 SCBWI Summer Conference, you can read the official SCBWI blog.