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What kind of humor do you find appropriate for your sci-fi stories?

I realize that the question might seem so broad, but I think the target group for most sci-fi stories has a sense of humor that could be specified to some extent. For example do you use dark humor, spicy humor, situational humor, etc. and at what level?

My question has been provoked by the fact that I have a very spicy joke for a specific situation in a sci-fi story and I'm not sure how readers would react to that.

  • Welcome to Writing.SE Javor. Please check out our tour and help center. – Cyn says make Monica whole Jul 5 '19 at 17:21
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    Science Fiction isn't a genre - it's a broad swathe of genres. The humor appropriate for a book like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will be vastly different than the humor appropriate for Alien. You should describe in more detail what kind of story you are writing. – Arcanist Lupus Jul 5 '19 at 17:21
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There's a long history of humour in sci-fi, ranging from wry observation and irony through parody to blue humour and even slapstick. Authors such as Philip K. Dick, Alfred Bester, Michael Moorcock, John T Sladek spring to mind, but the king is undoubtedly Douglas Adams with his Hitch Hiker's Guide series.

Think also of film scripts such as Dark Star (sustained black humour), or the "comic relief" scenes in Star Wars (C3P0, etc), or the humorous banter in Star Trek (including Spock's dry Vulcan humour when saying goodbye to himself: "Since my customary farewell would appear oddly self-serving...").

See also this interesting web page that provides a good summary of humour in sci-fi.

Regarding the joke you want to include in your story, first ask yourself:

  • is my story merely a vehicle for my stupendous joke, or do I have a strong story and this joke is simply an additional element?
  • if my joke is the inspiration for the story, am I building a strong story around it?
  • given the sci-fi sub-genre I've chosen, does my joke suit the intended audience? (E.g. a blue joke is the wrong choice for teenage other-world fantasy but might be ok for adult space adventure)
  • how does my joke suit the storyline and characters? Is it credible in the context?
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  • thank you for your answer. Definitely a questions I need to think about. – Javor Jul 5 '19 at 2:21
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    @Javor if you like my answer, click on the "up" arrow to vote for it, as this provides one way of helping other users know if it's useful or not. I'm glad it was helpful for you - see also the link I added. Also, allow (say) 48 hours for other answers, then be sure to click on the "tick" (check mark) to accept the answer you found most helpful. This too is a useful guide to other visitors to your question. :-) – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Jul 5 '19 at 2:29
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    I just got enough reputation to do that and I voted. – Javor Jul 5 '19 at 2:49
  • The Golden Age of the Solar Clipper also has its fair share of humorous moments. Mostly because its a travelog from the point of view of a very normal person interacting with other very normal people, it just so happens that it takes place in space on a space ship while doing space trucking. – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jul 5 '19 at 15:27
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There isn't a general answer to your question. Humor in story stories and novels, regardless of genre, is a function of the author's sense of humor, and the traits of the characters in their stories.

By the function of the author's sense of humor, I mean that an author can only write humorously in the vain of their own sense of humor. An individual whose sense of humor is making puns, will probably only be adept at incorporating puns in their writing.

If a character needs to be ribald, then the author will include jokes of a sexual nature. They might range from crude to clever double entendres, again depending on character and situation.

Then there is the author's voice. The narrative may include jokes and witty allusions. These might leave some readers flat, and make others laugh every time they remember it. Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett are authors that bring that type of voice to their stories. I am sure there are many others, those are just two I thought off. For me, I can remember Douglas Adams witticisms decades after I read them and still laugh.

So, for your story. You have to decide if you are including the spicy joke just because you like it and want to share it, or if it moves your story forward, or helps develop character.

If it fits the story, then the majority of people will take it for what it is. They may or may not like the joke, but its presence alone won't matter since its important to the story itself.

If on the other hand, you just want to write a naughty joke in your story, then it's hard to tell how people will react. They'll probably react stronger to a badly written story -- with or without the joke -- than to a well-written story.

But, intrinsically, there is nothing wrong with including blue humor in your stories -- short of limitations asserted by genre. Like YA typically doesn't read like Fifty Shades of Teenagers.

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  • I agree somewhat. +1 Death of the author should also be considered if it's not too "next level". Ps. Hey Javor (Don Qualm here). – Bitter dreggs. Jul 5 '19 at 0:50
  • @EDL Thanks for the comprehensive answer. That made me realize that I really want to include that joke only because it perfectly fits in that situation, but it doesn't develop the story in any way. Perhaps it only emphasizes the nature of a character, which may be a good thing after all. I have something to think of. – Javor Jul 5 '19 at 2:20
  • @Duckisaduckisaduck nice to meet you on the other side :) – Javor Jul 5 '19 at 2:20
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    @Javor, developing character is a perfectly legitimate reason. Both how they tell the joke, how they react to everyone else's reaction and etc and so on. – EDL Jul 5 '19 at 2:50
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My question has been provoked by the fact that I have a very spicy joke for a specific situation in a sci-fi story and I'm not sure how readers would react to that.

I'll stick to this specific situation. A discussion about what is funny, and how humor works is way too broad.

"No movie is worth a scene, no scene is worth a line."

In other words, this joke can't be the payoff to the situation. The scene has to stand on its own. It can't appear to be working towards this punchline.

An inappropriate joke might slip at an inappropriate time. It's funnier, and probably more believable if it's completely out of left field.

Text and Subtext

It's unclear whether the spicy joke is something said by a character, or by the narrator/author.

Either way there is the text of the joke itself, and the subtext that gives it meaning in the situation. Subtext isn't a hidden meaning, it's the context and tone in the moment that changes how we interpret the literal text.

A sarcastic comment that breaks tension reads differently from a sarcastic comment after a defeat – same line, but very different effect. That's the subtext.

I'm assuming "spicy" joke is something sexual. There is one character (or narrator) saying the line at another character's expense, or maybe a demographic in general. Someone is the butt of this sexual joke – present or not. Jokes that "punch up" feel less hateful than jokes that "punch down". There are narrative aspects about the status of the people involved. Maybe an uptight character needs to be taken down a peg. Maybe a little old lady suddenly has a potty mouth. Maybe one character is pushing another character's boundaries, or sex is actually all they really think about and it indicates they are becoming more comfortable (if inappropriate).

All of this context will bleed onto your subtext to change the reading of the joke. It won't just be an encapsulated off-color moment, it will be shaded by everything else in the scene and authorial intent. Construction workers sharing a rude joke at the expense of a "rich bitch" has character implications (judging her authenticity? Sour grapes? Boundary-testing?), verses high school teachers making sexual jokes at the expense of students, or corporate executives preying on the interns, which will never stop being gross and creepy.

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I have a very spicy joke for a specific situation in a sci-fi story and I'm not sure how readers would react to that.

There's always your good friend the scapegoat. If you want to make a joke that readers may not appreciate, let the joke be told by someone who is known to be crass or rude.

If the joke is ill-received, then it's good character exposition. If the joke is well-received, then your crass scapegoat becomes more likeable (to your reader, if not your other characters).

It's not sci-fi, but a really good example here is Sandor Clegane in Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire. He perpetually insults people, concepts and institutions. If the writer himself denounced the validity of kingship as a whole, you'd start to wonder why you're interested in the battle for the Iron Throne. But when a callous and short-tempered antihero known for foulmouthing says it, it merely reflects on his character, not the story in general.


That being said, it really depends on the joke though. If the joke feels forced, disproportionate and out of place, then no trick is going to absolve you from the fallout. Since you didn't elaborate on the joke, I can't really evaluate that.

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Humor in fiction, sci-fi or not, needs to feel organic and natural occurring, like something that might actually happen or be said spontaneously in real life. If it is a joke, it must fit the character telling the joke. If it is just a humorous situation, it needs to seem likely or probable that the character might get into that situation.

We have all heard straight up jokes, in stand up comedy, or children's interactive jokes or riddles, knock-knock jokes, "What do you call ..." jokes, etc.

The place for those in fiction is with characters playing those roles: A stand-up comedian, a night-show host, or kids interacting with adults or each other.

Humor in fiction is wonderful if you can make people laugh (besides yourself). It IS part of the experience of life that once in a while someone will spontaneously say something so funny you double over laughing.

But as always, you don't want to break the reader's story immersion by having somebody say something entirely out of character, or referring to some current real-life phenomenon outside their time line. If your reader laughs, you want it to be because they felt like they were there when a person they know said something hilarious.

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