Creativity Exercise

Loren Ekroth, Dr Conversation (Better Conversations EZine), shared a play- on-words joke which he created from the word Hinterland. While talking to a friend who was performing a one-woman show at a local church, he realized that although she was was not playing on Broadway.  “She was performing Hintertainment.”

I started me thinking about the play-on-words creative process. We start by defining the key word. The definition of the word will help us focus as we exercise our joke writing skills.

Some of the definitions of Hinterland are:
– Less developed parts of a country.
– The back woods.
– An area more picturesque than urban areas.
– Lying beyond what is known.
– Not near cities and towns.
– Where life is less complicated.
– Inland from the coast.
– Away from metropolitan or cultural centers.
– The definitions of Hinterland are neither good nor bad, they generally
state that the Hinterland is just a place that is different from other

As a writing execise, and with a little thinking, we could come up with a
Top-Ten list:


1. Two small countries can easily become hinterdependent.

2. The Voyager space craft was to make an exploratory fly by of Pluto.
However, before it got there, Pluto was declassified as a planet making
the mission hinterplanetary.

3. The road to the Bridge To Nowhere begins at a remote hintersection.

4. Universities are offering reduced-fee degrees in Political Science with
a focus on Hinternational Relations.

5. There is a movement of people from rural to urban areas and visa
versa. By nature people are hinterchangeable.

6. Moving to a rural setting requires that a slower lifestyle be

7. Is it possible that more conservative religions as a group tend to be
hinterdenominal? And are they more likely to have revivals which are

8. A city psychologist moving to a rural area may need different skills
for hintervention.

9. Agricultural colleges are involved in activities which are

10. If you live in a boring town, doing a word exercise like this is


1. I exercise my mind just for the value of the process. Through exercise the brain gets stronger.

2. A writing exercise develops the ability to make connections and see
relationships. This strengthens your humor skills.

3. I usually recommend working from lists when you have a goal for
creating new humor. In the case of writing jokes based on the word
Hinterland, a person could build a list of INTER words (interact,
intercepion, intercom) from which one would create new HINTER
(hinteract, hinterception, hintercom) words. Usually I try to work from
two contrasting lists to find fresh connections. But in this case we’ll
work with just one list, INTER words.

4. For the sake of the exercise, I normally start out with building a
HINTER list from INTER words which I discover in my own head. It
would be faster and easier to just use a reference source, like a
dictionary, to find a long list of INTER words, but if I force myself to
build a top-ten list just using my own thinking, the exercise will be more of a stretch for me.

5. So step one was to come up with as many INTER words as I could,
and then create a one-liner joke for each word, switching INTER to
HINTER. I completed a list of ten jokes doing this process.

6. Step two was to go beyond my list of ten and make a longer list.
Humor writing is a numbers game. The more lines I can write, the more
I’ll have to choose from when I pick my ten best lines for the final list.
One technique to Go Beyond is to look in the dictionary under INTER
and see how many words I could identify as candidates for writing a
joke. I found 28 more words which I hadn’t used in my original top-ten
list. I know I could have written 28 more joke lines, one for each new
word. Instead I quickly scanned the list and picked six which looked
like excellent possibilities for creating new jokes. And in a short writing
period, I came up with six more joke lines.

7. The process of taking INTER words and turning them into HINTER
jokes is not your usual joke writing process of looking for connections
from two different lists. Instead you have a HINTER word which is a
new punch line. You then work backward to create a set-up which gives context to the HINTER word. Your goal is to create a set-up which gives meaning to the new punch word.

8. As I looked over my new list of jokes, I realized that most of the lines needed some structural editing. The punch word, in my initial effort, was not normally at the very end of the line. So he next step in the creative process was to re-write the lines so that the punch word was always at the end. That was easy to do, it just took a deliberate focus to do the editing. Line #4 didn’t sound right with Hinternational as the last word, so I ended that line with Hinternational Relations.

9. Now I’m ready to create the final produce, the Top-Ten list. I’ve
written 16 lines. It’s my job to predict which ten lines are the best and
belong in the final Top-Ten list. Having over-written the number of
jokes…needing ten and writing sixteen. I’m ready to de-select the
weakest jokes. The challenge in joke writing is NOT to know what’s
funny to you, but to know what will be funny to your listener or reader.
It’s a guess, you never know for sure. But the more you edit, the more
educated your guess becomes, and your choices become funnier. This
skill becomes important when you have written two or three Observational Humor lines and you want to pick the best one to open a speech.

10. The top-ten list you found earlier in the article is he result of this
writing exercise.

11. Some people challenge their mind to cross word puzzles. Some play video games. Some master the Rubic’s Cube. Some play trivia games. I look for a seed idea, often from something I see or hear, such as the statement: “She was performing Hintertainment.” Then I challenge myself to write a Top-Ten list on a theme. For me, it’s more fun than watching a TV drama. It keeps my brain active. It helps to focus my humor radar.