Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Touch of Speculative Humor

I think some speculative stories need an injection of humor.  I'm not writing about stories that are entirely comedic; instead, I mean fantasy and science fiction stories that include humorous breaks.

I enjoy humor, and I enjoy making humorous quips with friends and family.  And I find that just as laughter breaks the tension in real life, so it does in fiction.  But that's the catch - by employing humor, it will break any existing tension, even if only momentarily.

Here are some dos and don'ts around speculative humor:

Don't use cliches.  Take my elf; please.  No, please don't.  Perhaps a character uses cliched humor as part of his/her identity; that's fine, but it will have a different effect.

Don't use humor you don't enjoy.  If you're trying to force something to be funny, it won't work.  It's like twisting someone's arm and ordering them to laugh. 

Don't expect everyone to match your sense of humor.  What's funny to you may not be funny to me.

Don't break up all tension.  Tension can be a great thing, like taut strings on a violin that's perfectly tuned.  There are movies that bug me because the director/screenwriter decided that the tension was perhaps a bit too much, so they injected something silly because there was humor earlier.  For example, Gimli's part in the movie adaptation of Lord of the Rings went a bit too far at points; yes, we get that he's short, but please don't break the tension of Helm's Deep. 

Okay, so this is just a list of don'ts.  So use caution with humor.  Add just a touch as needed (if it's needed at all).  It's a noticeable spice within your story's ingredients, and if you add too much, your story risks becoming a long-running joke.  By this, I mean that your intent wasn't to write a comedy, but because your plot became rife with silliness, you're left with a mess that audiences can't connect with.

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