Happy Monday, friends! 🙃
It’s possible that you may have noticed, that this month my TBR list is riddled with stories of a serious nature. Most of them are genre-strong, foundational types of books that pretty much embody a certain type of literature:
We got the popular, stand-out YA fantasy novel that’s hitting the movie theaters, the artistic spin on traditional fairytales, and two horror novels- one on the grotesque end of the spectrum and one on the ghost story end. All pretty capable, basic types of novels that embrace their stereotype with fervor and ease.
But what about those novels that blend and sew genres together into a sort of patchwork quilt? I’ve read a few novels the past year that mesh multiple genres within a single story: horror, literary fiction, and dystopia (The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis), epic fantasy, regency romance, and humor (Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix), romance, mythology, and YA fantasy (The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Abdieh)… all are pretty terrible to actually market in this blown-out, genre-focused industry, which makes this mixture of genres even more compelling in thought and conversation.
In most mediums, the comedy genre is NOT taken seriously. In movies, plays (Shakespeare may have made it cool, but not many else have), and literature, comedy is seen as a satirical take on what’s really important. But as an added bit of a genre twist to an already serious piece of writing, comedy can take a novel from merely acceptable to ingenious.
What novels have you read that incorporate humor into their dialogue or narrative? What part does it play and why does it make a story seem so well-rounded?
Humor is necessary in writing because it is realistic. All these fantastical novels in fiction are either too dark, too unrealistic, or too imaginative, but one of the things that grounds them is a sense of humor. It is real and relatable and can touch even the most cynical of hearts on the worst day.
I have found that humor is displayed in three primary ways when not in a comedy-driven genre novel: we see irony, sarcasm, and surprise used in dialogue and narration in order to instill a bit of realistic tension in the audience.
More than anywhere else, humor is interspersed in dark fantasy and fiction. Characters goad other characters to make the audience laugh, the protagonist comes upon something unexpected which elicits a shocked giggle, and the narration turns themes and plots on their side, making humorous yet truthful remarks about its intent.
Some of my favorite novels that include humor in its most honest form are the following:
- Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
- The Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith/ JK Rowling
- The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
- Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Each of these novels showcase the different applications of humor as a literary device.
Galbraith doesn’t really write humorous characters in the Strike universe, but the three stooges-like depiction of some of the scenes had me giggling uncontrollably through all three books. Strike might be tailing psychotic murderers with an amputated leg, but some of the situations he manages to get himself stuck in are darkly funny and Galbraith uses that to bring the audience back from the depressing reality of crime.
Hawkins and Kadrey both write about terribly dark universes with pessimistic, trying-to-cope protags. Mostly, their lives were altered by someone else’s terrible actions, and because of that they developed a sick sense of humor and wit. Dialogue is like a battle of one-liners that leave the audience rolling with laughter, even though the characters just escaped a world-altering event or watched a loved one perish.
The thing that Bray, Kadrey, Galbraith, and Hawkins all have in common is the horribly dark, depressing universes that their characters exist in, and the audience can feel it’s oppression in the world-building. But the characters themselves bring the light and comedic effects to the forefront of the novel, therefore connecting with the audience and bringing a sense of realism to the story that other devices cannot succeed in.
Authors who successfully navigate the boundaries between humor and overwriting are the ones that produce well-rounded, interesting novels and characters. Comedy as a singular genre is just as flat as any other single-faceted genre, but when mixed with other devices it can create a realistic portrayal on paper.
Irony, surprise, and sarcasm make for interesting twists in otherwise one-dimensional narratives. Humor is just as important as any other device: a fairyland wouldn’t be worth defending without conflict, and a blue-collar worker wouldn’t be as interesting to get to know without tragedy.
I’d love to hear what you all think about humor in literature and some of your favorite examples. I know I didn’t list any classics above, but there for sure are some gems in the past. Do you think it adds to the story? Does it detract? Have you seen particularly terrible executions of it?
Let me know 🤗
Until Next Time!