Why So Serious?

January 12, 2010 at 5:28 am (Character) (, , , , , , , , )

I find some characters so much harder to write than others.  I mentioned in a previous post that I find creating laconic characters really quite difficult, mostly because they won’t stop talking.  Recently I’ve come to the conclusion that I also have difficulty creating a character who could be described as the ‘comic relief’.

Part of the problem here is that my characters all take themselves far too seriously.  Most of the humour in the stories I write comes from gross misunderstandings or misinterpretation – sometimes from hyperbole or severe understatement.  Rarely do I create characters and situations that are absurd and comic for the sake of it.  I now realise that part of the reason why I haven’t written these characters and scenes is because it is really hard for me to do.  The common sense part of me kicks in and argues with the characters actions and lack of thought process.

The reason I’m suddenly concerned about this is the last couple of outlines I’ve written have required me to create a character who might at times assume the role of comic relief and yet when it has come to actually creating this character I’m drawing a complete blank.  For the moment I’m working without him but I know that eventually I’m going to need to nail this character.

This brings to mind a few questions.

1.  What makes a character funny and not just silly?

2.  How important is humour in story telling (and given I love books that make me laugh or smile in between tense situations I find humour very important)?

3.  How do you go about creating a character that is humourous?

I would love to hear your thoughts and whether you’ve ever faced a similar problem.


  1. Crystal Clear Proofing said,

    Those are excellent questions! I’m going to have to check back later and see what comments others leave, as I can’t offer any suggestions or input on this one! I find it amazing that writers come up with characters and plots and BOOKS as it is! I love reading them and working on them, but the writing of them to me is incredible talent!

  2. Carol Kilgore said,

    My opinion only …

    1. What makes a character funny is the humor that comes from within. Maybe she has a unique take on the world and people and situations.

    2. I think humor is an important tool in storytelling. I also think it shouldn’t be overdone, unless you’re writing a comedy. It takes many forms. It can be used to mislead or to ease tension or even to increase conflict.

    3. I usually don’t set out to create a funny character, but the character does or says things that turn out to be funny. Sorry that’s probably not much help.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      True though.
      I agree that humour probably shouldn’t be overdone but it is fairly important.

  3. Siggy said,

    Perhaps, this will help your discussion. I don’t write fiction but I do write humorous poems at times. You can’t force any thing. I simply capture what is. If it was a humorous situation, the poem will be humorous. Serious. Serious.

    I realize you are taking about fiction and injecting humor in some of your characters. All I could suggest that if you can tap a humorous situation in your head and translate that into the character it will come out right..

    I write only non-fiction because I have an unending source of material thus have no need to write fiction. That is me. All I know about fiction is the source you tap has to be genuine in order for your characters to ring true. To me all literature is autobiographical: the only question is how covered up it is and removed from truth and fact. The writer always has to tap real emotion and thought. No matter what kind of literature it is.

  4. kimberlyloomis said,

    Good questions and ones I had never contemplated before- even though I’m now finding myself knee deep in a serial on my blog that NEEDS comedy relief. Here are my answers:

    1. He takes a normal statement from another character and puts an unanticipated spin on it. Not gag reel stuff, but plays on words or something along those lines. He also winds up in a battle of wits with someone who shows how adept she is at the same game. Makes him funny twice over, esp since I can then write in his reaction.

    2. I think it’s important. Just as each type of humor used should fit in with the style of the story. Ex. Atlas Shrugged had painful humor in it- more of the sarcastic/cynical variety- it fit and provided some relief. This is the best kind of humor one can strive for in a book- the styles being complimentary while providing your reader some relief from the drama. Such moments highlight both moods. (dark/light and light/dark)

    3. I look for the right entrance point in the story then decide what brand of humor would provide the proper form of relief. Also what type of character would work best interacting with the key group they’ll be surrounded by.

    Thank you for the thought provoking questions!

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Thank-you for the helpful responses. I agree that the humour has to fit with the story in order to support the story telling rather than distract from it.

  5. barbaraannwright said,

    Sarcasm is always funny to me. Not biting angry sarcasm, but banter. Witty banter. I think it’s very important in a serious novel to relieve the tension occasionally. Otherwise, I have a hard time making it through the story. That’s why I had to give up watching Battlestar Gallactica. It made me want to off myself because the last season or so provided so little levity.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I think that’s why the original battlestar gallactica was better. It never took itself that seriously.
      You’re right that it helps to relieve the tension and that can sometimes make the heaviest of reading a bit easier to handle. Thanks for your comment.

  6. catwoods said,

    I love humor. I married for it and am still smiling 18 years later because of it.

    Our house is filled with quick wit. Our five year old has the more well developed sense of humor than many adults.

    I love writing that makes me laugh out loud, though I hate slap-stick kind of stuff. A funny turn of phrase, understatement and light banter are great for lightening a scene.

    I don’t know that you can force humor into your writing. I think it is a talent that you either have or don’t. Some people can tell a joke. Others don’t even get them. I think writing is the same way.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      You probably can’t force it, but I think you could develop an ability for it over time, particularly if the emphasis of the writing wasn’t on humour and the humour was used simply to lighten the writing in places. I’m with you in hating slap stick though.

  7. jmartinlibrarian said,

    I love razor sharp wit. Humor is often underestimated. On the Orbit books site, author A. Lee Martinez wrote a great post on humor in novels. http://www.orbitbooks.net/2009/11/23/funny/

    Funny is sometimes harder to write than despair.

  8. Breanne said,

    Ah sarcasm, the joy of my life. It’s a unique day indeed that doesn’t bring my snarky side rearing to the front. Yet, down below all of the nasty wit and trite banter (usually at someone else’s expense), I am a rather dark and brooding person. I suspect that a good many characters would embody this kind of duality. So, being that you stated you are more comfortable with the serious, grave, kind of internal dialogue–perhaps do some psychological research on those (like yours truly) who use it to cover deeper things. Perhaps seeing the reason for the humor will help you better understand when and where to use it in fiction.

    I agree with whoever said they didn’t care for slapstick. I hate it. If a character is specifically ‘allocated’ as the comic relief, I likely won’t like him/her too well. I much prefer a villain with a quick wit, or a hero with a penchant for dry humor. Even a sidekick who thinks he’s bigger than his britches. The key to all of it, is to ask yourself, what makes YOU laugh. Because truly, if you don’t think it’s gut rumbling funny—we likely won’t either. You’re talented, trust your instincts.

  9. Elizabeth Spann Craig said,

    Humor is so subjective, but it’s a great element to include. I like to have characters with specific traits and then put them in situations where they’ll naturally be uncomfortable…it’s sort of a built-in humor….situational humor.

    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

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