A Humour-Infused Narrative: A Subtle Technique – by India Roberts
Picture by Andrey Kuzmin
A Humour-Infused Narrative: A Subtle Technique
One of my most recent reads was a dark one. It was clouded with characters wielding weapons and creatures lurking in the murky waters. At times, though, I found myself laughing. It felt against the rules, like sneaking a strip of gum into your mouth at school. I’m not against the merging of genres, with words from different fields tangling together on the page. It can be refreshing when used in the right way and a book can feel stabilising, making you smile and crinkle your forehead in the same short chapter. The benefits of using humour in a narrative, other than making us laugh, are plentiful, but when done wrong it can fall as flat as day-old lemonade.
Injecting comedy into a narrative can provide boundless amounts of character development. A character’s humour – dry or sickening, cringy or sly – can tell the readers everything they need to know about them. Much like real life, humour is frequently used as a coping mechanism. If a character’s humour is self-deprecating, it could be indicative of something we’ll find out later. It could seem contradictory to use humour as a foreboding technique, but this juxtaposition is one of the most subtle ways of hinting the future to a reader.
Humour can easily tighten the bond between characters, twining them together like strings of DNA. This technique is commonly seen in romance novels, with the banter between characters depicting their blooming relationship and binding them together. Whether the humour is dry or light-hearted, it can run parallel to the relationship and expresses insider information.
While humour can be essential in these fictional relationships (as in real ones) the absence of it can tell us a gloomier tale. While not imperative – many authors omit humour – the vacancy of comedy or banter in some form can highlight cracks starting to invade the foundations of the relationship. In romance especially, it all boils down to chemistry. Humour and chemistry go hand in hand, so you can see how without humour, a fictional relationship can be destined to be doomed.
When genres percolate together like coffee swirling in water, the result can be incredible. Some of the most satisfying reads for me are the ones that make me experience a pattering in my chest because of the range it encompasses. Intertwining comedy with a genre like historical fiction or a memoir can elevate the narrative from being one-dimensional or dense, as those genres can sometimes tend to be. The marriage between genres in these cases can be tantalising for readers, but what happens when it goes wrong?
This takes us back to the book I was reading earlier. In the twisted plot with gruesome adjectives and grisly battles, the humour felt alien. At times I was wondering if it was deliberate, which isn’t a question a reader should have to ask. When comedy and darker genres are too far removed from each other, it can be difficult to get them to mesh and the writing ends up being confusing and disjointed. As I was reading, though, I could imagine how the mixture of humour and catastrophe could make a wonderful movie with the effects giving us instant gratification, which is harder to visualise in the imagination of readers. This goes to emphasise how different the tones of voice films and books need to have, and they aren’t always translatable.
It’s not rare for readers to take humour in a novel for granted if it doesn’t belong in the comedic genre. It’s something we see in our everyday lives, something we almost expect. As with everything, the comedy – or lack of – is a technique used by the authors. They’re always in control, as much as readers love to think they’ve thwarted them at times. If you remember a book that made you laugh, recommend it to us in the comments.
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