The importance of humor in fiction
Make it dark, make it grim, make it depressing, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.
Hello, everyone, my name is Tom and I’m the Author of Dauntless. Let me ask you something, who is the most popular character in Game of Thrones. The answer is, almost universally Tyrion Lannister. Why is that? He’s not the strongest character, he’s not the bravest character, and while he’s extremely intelligent, he’s not the smartest character. So what is it about Tyrion that’s captured the hearts of so many fans? I mean, other than the fact that Peter Dinklage is a national treasure. The answer is simple:
Tyrion is hilarious.
The same can be said of a lot of books. No matter how dramatic the series or the book, a lot of the time the moments that stick with us are the moments that make us laugh. Laughter leaves an impression on the reader. The bigger the laugh, the more that moment digs into our brain. There’s a reason that referential humor is a thing. Laughter releases endorphins, lowers blood pressure and can even fight pain.
Humor also aids in pacing. Good pacing has a natural ebb and flow. If the pace and tension keeps rising constantly, you run the risk of doing one of two things. The first is that it could simply exhaust the reader, keeping them from being immersed in the novel due to their being no real break in the action. The second is a phenomenon called spectacle creep. Each time you have a big set piece in a novel, there’s a temptation to try and make every moment bigger. Including the humorous moments break up the tension. They help refresh the audience and isolate the big moments so that they’re able to be experienced on their own.
So the next question you may be asking is how do you include funny moments? The easiest way is to build expectations and then subvert them. One of the funniest comedy routines, that has been translated and parodied in every form of media from radio serials to anime, is Who’s on First? The setup is pretty simple, with one of the players trying to explain the very unusual names of a sports team, while the other comedically misunderstands them and gets angrier the longer it goes on.
It’s easy to use the comedic misunderstanding and/or bait and switch in almost every genre. Have the noble, stalwart warrior pull his sword against his hated enemy, only for him to drop it and have to defend himself with the swordfish they were having for dinner. The starship commander beams down to discuss the recent trade relations, only to find himself standing on a family’s table as they’re eating dinner. Have the grizzled hard-boiled detective track down his subject to a nondescript building, only to get embarrassed when he sees that it’s a furry convention.
Or have the lesser member of a noble family walk right up to the king, slap him silly and call him an idiot.
You may want to be careful when applying this to darker fare but even then when it’s done, it can really make a huge impact on the reader. And isn’t that what we’re all trying to do?