Brian Dean Humor

How to Write Limericks: Part 5

Writing a Limerick About a Friend

What if you want to write a limerick about a friend? In this case, you can use something I call “following the rhyme.”

Basically, you start with the person's name and see what rhymes with it. Then you seek inspiration from the words that rhyme. The process is similar to writing an idea-based limerick, but more difficult because you're writing about a real person.

We're going to write a limerick about my friend Millie Hamp, so the limerick will start with:

Something something Millie Hamp...

Now the task is to rhyme HAMP, using the Rhyming Alphabet. To do this, we remove the first letter, so we are rhyming the sound AMP.

The Rhyming Alphabet

Using the Rhyming Alphabet, we create the following list:

As you can see, this isn't a very long list. Of course, TRAMP must be discarded — because it's offensive — along with SWAMP, which doesn't really rhyme with HAMP.

Now that we have the rhymes, we can think about how one of these words can help create a story with a beginning and an end. Here's the list again, with notes on possible ideas:

Some of the ideas a really lame, like getting damp, or walking up a ramp. On the other hand, the camping idea has possibilities. It's time to ask, "What happened when Millie went camping?"

Remember, one of those words in the list of rhymes is going to be the end of the punch line. So, to answer the question, maybe Millie went camping, it rained, and she got DAMP? Still pretty lame.

OK, maybe something happened to her LAMP. Let's brainstorm some (silly!) ideas:

When you're brainstorming, don't judge the ideas: just write them down, using the creative part of your brain. Then, evaluate the ideas, using the analytical part of your brain. Here's the list again:

Time for more brainstorming: "What flew away with Millie's lamp?"

This is getting hard! A bird taking the lamp is BORING, and Batman is just TOO weird. That leaves the giant mosquito. Let's try:

On the wilderness trail, Millie Hamp,
Something something did a thing in her camp,
---- --- ------ ---- --- ------ ,
---- --- ------ ---- --- ------ ,
And a giant mosquito flew away with her lamp.

Nope, giant mosquito has too many syllables. Maybe another kind of bug... Got it!

On the wilderness trail, Millie Hamp,
Something something did a thing in her camp,
---- --- ------ ---- --- ------ ,
---- --- ------ ---- --- ------ ,
And a MOTH flew away with her lamp.

This is good. Regular moths are attracted to lamps, and it would take a really big moth to carry away a lamp, so we don't even need to say GIANT — it's implied. MOTH makes the correct number of syllables, too.

Since we're talking about giant bugs, let's include the idea in the setup (line 2), then have Millie complaining about big bugs for lines 3 and 4:

On the wilderness trail, Millie Hamp,
Had a problem with bugs in her camp,
“Every spider I found,
Weighed at least half a pound,
And a moth flew away with my lamp.”

Again, lines 3 and 4 are doing their job to fill out the story and set up the punch line.

If you don't like this version, you can go back to the rhyme words and try to find a way to have aliens or bears or Batman stealing Millie's lamp. Don't quit until you're happy with the result, and you have something that will make your friend laugh, not squirm.

Keep Writing!

Here's a funny story, followed by an important moral:

A friend of mine once ordered a “harmonica with 50 page instruction book.” What he got was a tiny, four-note harmonica and a stapled “book.” The first page said, “Place the harmonica to your lips and begin blowing.” The other 49 pages said, simply, “Keep blowing!”

The moral? Limericks are tricky little devils, so keep playing with words and rhymes until you can craft the kind of limericks that make YOU laugh out loud. If your friends like them, that's a bonus.

Finally, to read more limericks, check out A Sample from LOL Limericks.