Writing Mad Libs Is Harder Than You Think

Photo: Courtesy of Penguin.
In an era of clickbait headline generators and addictive iPhone games, who would've guessed that there's still a market for old-school, time-consuming Mad Libs? According to Splitsider's Nick Douglas, Penguin still releases about 20 Mad Libs each year, most tied to entertainment franchises like Star Wars and Hello Kitty. Yep, people still love 'em.
Douglas spoke to Mad Libs editor Laura Marchesani, who described in detail her lengthy thought process when dreaming up and editing a new grammatically incomplete (and hopefully hilarious) story.
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First, Mad Libs writers must pick a topic. Snoop Dogg was easy enough, apparently, but a 21-story volume devoted to Jersey Shore's The Situation was too tall of an order.
Then comes research on a given topic, plus story structure. For an Adventure Time book for example, "[there] are countdowns, wishlists, doctor’s reports, commercials, an 'ode to a cupcake,' horoscopes, an online dating profile, lyrics, quizzes, how-tos, a Dear John letter, recipes, drink recipes, diary entries, [and] an 'office party oath.'"
One writer describes the writing portion of the process as "a math game," starting with blanks and then filling in the context, instead of the other way around. "The point of all this calculation is to make the game foolproof, so that no matter what words players pick, they’ll get a satisfying result," writes Douglas. "A Mad Lib writer is playing straight-man in a comedy duo, and playing it blind."
Then comes edits and proofing, because "a Mad Lib might become accidentally offensive due to some real-world event like an actor’s untimely death."
Think about that the next time you sub in Joan Rivers' name in a Mad Lib dating profile for The Situation. (Splitsider)
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