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The story I'm writing have its epicness and drama, but I also want it to be funny, with jokes, puns, etc., made by a character (mostly) or the narrator himself; funny situations, and so on.

But I fear that the plot would be ruined by such comicalness, kind of breaking the immersion or emotion, or making the readers to start to expect every scene to be humorous and not take them seriously.

Am I right? Should I limit to one or two funny scenes, or decrease the level of "funnyty", like slight jokes? Or is it possible to a story to be epic/dramatic and funny at the same time?

  • 1
    Just watch Life is Beautiful. – SF. Jun 28 '16 at 8:31
  • Here's an interesting review of the movie The Guardians of the Galaxy. This critic is of the opinion that the movie's story can be taken seriously precisely because of its humor. The jokes are written in a way that develops the characters and flushes out their motivations, making the humor an integral part of the storytelling. birthmoviesdeath.com/2014/08/12/… – Kevin Jun 28 '16 at 19:40
  • Discworld books have constant jokes, sarcasm and immersion-and-4th-wall-breaking jokes. Yet I always take their plot pretty seriously. They are good plots that make sense (Discworld sense) and are well thought out. On a more "serious/epic" tone, the very own Lord of the rings has its good share of puns, jokes, humorous arguments and comical/silly situations. I just finished FoTR and I recall 4 or 5 big ones, at the very least. – xDaizu Jan 15 '18 at 15:48
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In a novel-length work, there is almost always room for some humour. I'd say the trick is to choose the right type, and in the right places.


Be the right kind of funny

If you've seen it, think of the TV show Breaking Bad. Its subject matter was bleak and often gruesome; its emotional content was utterly brutal; but the writers sprinkled in plenty of humour. If they'd had Jessie Pinkman cracking hilarious puns while [spoiler for season one]...

liquidizing the corpse of a rival drug dealer

...or going off into wacky flights of fancy à la Family Guy, it would have sucked away the impact of the story. Instead, In that scene, the writers inserted no laughs, and when they wrote them into other scenes, the comedy was black. Gallows humour and irony. The laughs were bleak, just like the story. That meant they didn't detract from the story's impact. And in fact, they probably increased it, because (segue alert)...


Be funny in the right places

In a novel-length story, you need to vary your tone, your pace, your level of action and tension. You might open with a high-intensity horseback chase — great! — but if, thirty chapters later, the characters have spent every moment locked in high-octane action, then the impact will be lost.

Think of a piece of music — the power of the loud parts comes from the quiet parts. It's the contrast that makes them meaningful.

If you want your readers to feel it when you crank up the tension, then you need to give them moments of lower tension. That categorically does not mean bore them! But it means that if your story goes battle scene — gunfight — bandit attack, you can increase the impact of the final bandit attack by replacing the gunfight with something like campfire scene, worrying about medicine for a wounded character.

Tension is one of the things you, as the author, want to fine-tune from scene to scene, and from moment to moment. Humour, of the right type, is one of your tools to do that. You probably know lots of ways to build tension. Laughter, whether joyous, nervous, or otherwise, is a release of tension.

A belly laugh in the middle of a climactic action scene would probably release too much tension — your instincts are good, here, this is the immersion-breaking, emotion-breaking effect you want to avoid — but at the end of a completely different scene, you might want exactly that in order to let your readers feel relief. On the other hand, in a different moment, you might want a smaller release — picture your characters clustered around the door to the castle's throne room, near-certain death awaiting on the other side. They've battled to get this far and there's no turning back. Somebody's fingers hover an inch from the iron handle, when he stops and turns to the others, and says, 'I've just realised something...' A droplet of gallows humour here could be the set-up you want for your climax, releasing a whisper of tension in the last second before you pull your readers into the dramatic final showdown.

This is hard, I'm no better at it! But if you're worried, don't be. Nobody writes a perfect first draft. Try it, and when your story's ready, get some feedback. Your readers will be able to tell you if the humour isn't working right.

Short answer: It's definitely possible for a story that contains humour to be epic and dramatic. Humour is one of your tools. Like you've worked out, it can hurt the plot, if used badly. But if used well, it can make it better.

Hope that helps a bit!

  • My mistake, of course. Thank you for spotting it! – Cakebox Jun 28 '16 at 23:27
  • In a novel-length work, there is almost always room for some humour. +1. I'd say a whole novel with no humour whatsoever, is not a novel, it's a punishment. – xDaizu Jan 15 '18 at 15:49
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"Humor" should be taken in context of the whole story.

If your story is basically humorous, then "humor" is what one would expect, and would help, not hurt the story.

If your story is basically serious, you may have one or two humorous scenes for "comic relief," but "too much humor would detract from the story.

From the sound of the question, your story is of the first kind, and a lot of humor would be OK.

  • Well, it's actually closer to the second. It's a fantasy adventure. Then I think I'll have to lessen the amount of funny scenes and scatter them throughout the plot. – Yuuza Jun 28 '16 at 4:39
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One of the saddest stories I know, "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried," by Amy Hempel, is full of humor. (Interesting - it's available online.)

The humor is used there like a magician uses misdirection. The narrator and the main character are both funny, and they joke around through the whole piece until the end when things go bad, then the story breaks your heart.

Read it, and read lots of other things too. Tons of authors write serious stories full of humor. Lorrie Moore is famous for humor in her stories, even "People Like That Are the Only People Here," the one about an infant with cancer. (It's in Birds of America.)

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"Sarcasm", "Logical Comedy" completely fits this genre. You know, sometimes when plot gets too serious, you can make a joke or two about how one got saved. Let the characters induce the comedy.

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Anything "epochal" requires the full range of emotion. "Humor as tragedy" or a farce works very well in such idioms...or as a prelude to something horrific. Nothing like a good joke before one of your characters is suddenly deceased.

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'Two Weeks with the Queen' by Morris Glitzman is a very funny book, but it is about death and grieving. (It doesn't use black humour.) It is sometimes used to help children and teenagers who have suffered a bereavement. The right type of humour in the right position always has a place in a novel.

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