Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Adding Comedy

Adding comedy to works of fiction can serve to ease the tension and pace of a story. When used effectively, stories become more enjoyable. It isn’t for every tale, but if you’re considering how to best add some humor, consider two possibilities: the lighthearted character and the lighthearted observation.

The lighthearted character is one that rarely becomes serious, even if his or her life is at stake. Such characters may be humorous just by their appearance, though often it is their dialogue and actions that elicit a laugh. There should be limits to how much such characters should be used at the risk of turning the entire story into a comedy. It might also be helpful in dramatic scenes to see the comedian become grave in manner, letting the reader know just how serious the plot has become. Keep in mind that these characters shouldn’t be overly silly, or they quickly become annoying. Use discretion.
The lighthearted observation can come from any character or the narrator, whether thought or spoken. The important thing with such observations is not to milk them; by that, I mean that it is better to say less than more. Suppose, for example (and I don’t mean for this to be funny in the least), that two characters observe a chicken crossing the road. The characters might then look at one another and smile, and this serves the point. A worse approach would be to keep going after the initial observation, perhaps by adding dialogue such as: “Wasn’t that funny to see a chicken crossing the road? It’s just like the joke. I mean, we’re out here next to a road, and now we’ve seen a chicken crossing it!” End the joke promptly; the readers can pause and make additional comments or call their friends about it if they want. Don’t do that for them.

The best examples in humor that I’ve read involve characters who are unintentionally funny. I’ve seen this a lot with first person narratives, perhaps because when we tell stories in our own lives, we sometimes fail to see the humor in what we’re saying until others laugh at it. It takes a clever writer to successfully pull off such a tactic, but I think it’s something to aspire towards.

Consider the tension of a story as a level of brightness, with darkness being the most dramatic. It takes time for your eyes to adjust to darkness, and adding a comedic punch line flips the lights on full. It will take time for the reader to adjust to more drama, and that costs words. If you want to lighten the mood, instant humor might not be the best solution. Be careful and purposeful.

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