A Lack of Laughs: Why There’s Little Humor in my Horror, and Why You Shouldn’t Want it Anyway

Posted: May 9, 2017 in Living and Life, Reflections, Writing
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If you’ve been following this blog for a while, if you know me in real life, or you read the things I post on my personal Facebook page, you know that I can be a funny guy. I love a good pun, a funny story, or a well-done prank. Or all three, if it can be done. And I try to insert humor into many facets of my life, much to the enjoyment of some and the exasperation of most others. Where do I get this reverence for humor? I’ll tell you: when a mommy and a daddy really like each other, they–

I’m sorry, but my lawyers tell me I’m not supposed to go into that. Let’s just say it might be a family trait, and leave it at that.

But guess what aspect of my life doesn’t see that many laughs? Surprisingly, not my writing. I actually don’t tell a lot of jokes in my stories. Yeah, imagine that! I don’t put jokes in my horror stories. In fact, my funniest story so far may be Video Rage: it’s got protagonist Zahara making a jab at male lead Rip’s manhood, and at a later point, main cast member Kevlar makes some bondage jokes when speaking to a Native American healer. That’s it.

Okay, now some of you non-horror fans may be reading this and be like, “Isn’t that par for the course? It’s horror.” But that’s the thing: just like how not all horror authors are dark, pessimistic creeps, neither are all horror stories devoid of humor. Stephen King, one of my biggest influences, often finds way to insert humor into his work. Ever read his novel Needful Things? That book is chock-full of comedy! There’s even a plot thread where two housewives buy objects from the antagonist that they believe are connected to Elvis Presley, and they start having hallucinations that the objects let them have a sexual/romantic relationship with Elvis! It’s freaking hilarious! And that’s just one example out of many.

But not just King: a lot of other horror stories make use of humor. One of my favorite Dean Koontz novels makes use of witty observations and funny turns of dialogue to great effect, adding a bit of levity to a very dark thriller. Buffy the Vampire Slayer often has tons of jokes and funny lines. Many slasher films from the 80’s and 90’s have funny moments (hell, Nightmare on Elm Street is often as funny as it is dark). And there are so many more examples of horror stories which sprinkle comedy in to alleviate tension and fear for a few seconds before starting it up again.

So why doesn’t my work have more laughs? Well, there may be a couple of reasons for that. One, in almost Freudian fashion, may stem from a childhood incident. And by childhood, I mean high school, but at this point in my life, the only difference to me is height and hormones. Back before Twilight poisoned the vampire genre, I tried my hands at several vampire stories. One of them was an epic, multidimensional vampire story, which for a while I was getting help with from an English grad at OSU my dad put me in contact with. During one email session, he noted that the story had a lot of humor in it. Every other line was a joke, and he said as a wishful horror writer, it should be more serious. I took that to mean no jokes, and cut the humor from that story in a snap. You may be thinking, “That doesn’t sound like that big a deal!” But to me, it may have been a huge deal. In fact, that memory is what I keep coming to when I think of where humor stopped showing up so much in my writing. You could say it forever scarred me (cue dramatic music!).

Another reason why I might not write that much humor into my stories is because of the type of humor I excel at. You see, my humor tends to be at its best when it’s situational. It’s like I’m living in a sitcom, and every word spoken has the opportunity for a funny line if I know where to look. That’s my mindset. My favorite jokes to pull on people usually reflect that. You’d be surprised how many times people have asked me how I’m doing, and I tell them, “I’m pregnant.” The reactions! They look something like this:


That being said, being a situational humor guy doesn’t always translate well to my fiction. I’m a plotter, which means I plan out the entire story from beginning to end. Keeping such dark stories in mind, from beginning to end, you don’t have much room to think of funny moments to add. You’re more likely thinking of the sad past of the protagonist and the arc they’re going through with this horrifying story.

Or it could just be the old adage, “Tragedy is easy, comedy is hard,” and all the stuff in the last couple paragraphs is a bunch of bullshit. That’s always possible.

Whatever the reason, it’s not that big a deal. Every author is comfortable with different amounts of humor in their work, and I’m comfortable with minimal amounts in mine (though if I ever write for Doctor Who, that might change). Besides, there’s a good chance if I tried to force more humor into my work, it would suck. In fact, I’m sure it would suck. Last night, I tried writing a horror-comedy short story about a tour of hell. The first paragraph was kind of funny, and then everything after that…not so much. Hence why I’m writing this post.

In any case, I think I’ll stick to what I’m good at. That’s what people like, and that’s what I like, so no problem. I’m sure I can fulfill all my writing dreams by not forcing jokes into my serial killer stories.

Or I could just stay at my job for the rest of my life and never make a thousand bucks off my work, but I don’t like to think like that.

If you write, how much humor do you put in your stories? What do you even think of humor in non-comedy fiction, anyway?

  1. Let me think… In my romances, humor is easy to slip in, and most of it is situational humor. I love that kind of humor. My fantasy has some, though not nearly as much. My thrillers have pretty much none at all. Humor can be effective in horror, but it doesn’t fit every author, nor does it fit every storyline. I prefer horror that isn’t funny, to be honest, and I think that mentor was speaking from his own personal preferences, not necessarily what will sell.

    Honestly, we all have our own styles, and I think it’s important to stick with the style you’re comfortable with. I think readers prefer a story that they think we authentically enjoyed writing than one we forced ourselves to write in order to please a certain group of people.

    And as a side note, in real life, I am probably one of the least romantic people you’ll ever meet. I don’t care for flowers or love notes or anything like that. I’m not touchy feely. Hugging is awkward for me, and so is talking about my feelings. But in a book, I can do all of those things easily because it all feels natural on paper. Just because we write one way, it doesn’t mean we’re like that in real life. I can see why you’re able to write serious horror while having a great sense of humor in real life. We are more than our stories. 🙂

  2. dellanioakes says:

    My stories all contain some humor, most of it is sarcastic – sometimes scathing – but funny. My characters often have an interesting dynamic where they poke fun at one another and there tend to be on-going jokes that carry throughout. For example, in my historical romance, Indian Summer, an old lady makes the comment about the hero that he has “well appointed pants”. It becomes a point of humor between Gabriella and Manuel.
    My sci-fi – lots of humor, but not silly funny like Douglas Adams. It’s usually in dialogue because, as I said, the characters have a strange way of expressing their feelings. Wil, the hero, isn’t a real touchy feely guy, and he is more likely to punch a heavy bag than show his anger or frustration. His wife is the opposite.
    My romance and romantic suspense are full of laughs, again in dialogue. I don’t intend to be funny, it just happens. If I try to be funny, it falls flat and lies there. Being consciously funny isn’t easy. Just cutting loose and letting my characters communicate is easy.
    Ruth Ann, I’m the same way. I don’t hug (I have bad allergies) and I detest cuddling. However, my romantic couples enjoy a cuddle after tangling the sheets.

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