Question: Comic relief

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Serra K

Full Member
Apr 2, 2022
Sydney, Australia
So...after plotting out the whole story, I look over it and realise how grim it all is. I know I need to incorporate some comic relief, but none of my characters are really set up to provide it.

My question is, should I create a new character to provide comic relief, or do I change the nature of the ones I have to fulfill that role?

Obviously this is just a question about opinions, but I'd like to hear yours.

Have you written the entire novel yet, or are you still at the early plotting stages? It may simply be that the plot reads grim on the confined space of a few A4 pages. Once you've written the entire book it may not be so, as the reader is led to the grim points in a way that makes sense (if I'm making sense). But if you think it's too grim then tust your instincts.

Is it comic relief that you need? Or would a breather do? An existing character might be able to provide a breather. Or little successes that gets a character closer to a goal and hence lift the mood and push the plot forward.
I've first drafted about a third of the novel and plotted all of it (at least until, or if, I change my mind about about some details).
I did a read through of the first 80 pages and it was a general trajectory from grim to more grim, but as you say about a breather, there are two characters with scenes which are rather beautiful. Not comical, but at least relieving.

I guess that leads me to question, is comic relief a must have for dark stories or does the inclusion of hope and beauty work just as well?
Comedy is really hard to write. I don't have characters that lend themself to comedy either, so I try to sprinkle in bits and I've watched heaps of stuff on writing comedy and find reading Terry Pratchett helpful. I have this website always open on my desktop: Writing Funny

BUT, I want to learn this stuff. That doesn't have to be your path. To give you a sense of what you want to do, I recommend you list 10 of your favourite dark books (or you can do 5 movies, 5 books). What do they do? What do you like about what they do? Do they use comedy or do they use something else? Is that what you like?

(This idea is not mine, it's from here: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors (and Screenwriters!): STEALING HOLLYWOOD: Story Structure Secrets for Writing Your BEST Book eBook : Sokoloff, Alexandra: Kindle Store. @Leonora put me onto it, and it's awesome at teaching you to recognise your voice)
Comedy is really hard to write.
I agree. I think I have got a comedy gene, however my 'comedy' is gritty and at times offensive. And I'm the type of person who comes up with 'that witty remark' a full day later when it's lost its relevance.

My favourite comic relief of all time has got be Tyrion Lannister. I love that blend of humour and courage. A lot of his quips could get him in serious trouble, but he serves them with such defiance that you can't help but admire the guy.

Thanks for the links, I'll check those out and see what I can find. I like the suggestion you made about making a list. I'll try that too.
I guess that leads me to question, is comic relief a must have for dark stories or does the inclusion of hope and beauty work just as well?
I don't think comic relief is a must as such. Hope and beauty can work just as well, even a combo of all three. Hard to tell without knowing more about it.

however my 'comedy' is gritty
Gritty comedy is good. There's space for light inside the dark. They deepen each other and create a duality. I love dark stories that also make you laugh. Life is like that. We can find laughter in the saddest moments. It makes a story more real. A friend of mine lost her father and when she organised his funeral, she ended up having a hilarious conversation with the funeral director about burying him (her dad, that is, not the funeral director). There is space for stuff like that, for laughter, for beauty in the darkest places. But I think you need to be mindful of how you write it to make sure it doesn't come across as an easy plot devise to lighten to mood. It needs to come organically.

is comic relief a must
Personally, I'm not into rules per se, so I don't think adding anything is a must. If a story works a story works. Yes, study rules etc, but in the end I think we need to write what feels right for the story even if it's not in the "rulebook". If you're drawn to write a comedic scene(s) in your dark book go with the flow. Listen to what your story wants you to do and how it wants you to tell it. And play about see what works. All grim grim grim might not work and get too heavy, so maybe think of creating some highs of any kind, not just comedy. Add something light, something peaceful, something different. A fresh character even. And find the shades.

I love a bit of gallows' humour. I write dark funny. And love it.
Okydoky just PM me. I have some time during the week. Or if you'd like input from several people you could make a thread in the writing groups, call for helpers then make it private and invite us all. Whichever you prefer.
Had mad crush on Tyrion, particularly for the wry, dark humour (plus, best actor in the show).
When I went to Dubrovnik, I went on a guided tour with the guy who turned out to be Peter Dinklage’s driver when they were filming. He said he’s exactly the same as Tyrion in real life.
And as regards your question: just what everyone else said. Sounds great advice to me.
One way to lighten the grim darkness is to have the motifs of whatever the theme might be and float them around throughout the scenes. A good example of such motifs is The Shawshank Redemption (movie, not novella). Look for all the places where light shines into that darkness in the form of birds (from in the nest/pocket), flying, soaring, music, even insects half flying to indicate the lift, then ending on wide open spaces and free-flying birds. Sure, there's friendships and good interactions in the story, but the motifs make the underlying sense of the story shine with hope (the big theme word, played out at all the major plot points for Red).
@Brayati You make a good point here. Funnily enough there is a bird motif in my story. It is used to indicate the relationships that various individuals and cultures have with the world around them. Thanks for bringing this up. I can already think of a handful of scenes where I can really lean into this.
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