Properly Subverting Expectations
Today, I’m going to offer up a little wisdom for ensuring you keep your tension appropriate for your genre, be it for the reader or player. There are nuances to be found beyond these basics, but these basics can provide more than enough for any beginning to intermediate writer and those more advanced can always benefit from revisiting the fundamentals.
Three simple rules.
- If you’re writing horror, add a touch of humor.
- If you’re writing humor, add a touch of of drama.
- If you’re writing drama, add a touch of horror.
- A touch of humor added to horror can release tension and drop the audience’s guard. It can often be portrayed as humorous without being cloying. Something as simple as describing a janitor as having a crooked step, buckteeth, and a bowl cut who is constantly shifting up his overlarge, stained overalls drops one’s guard. After the laughter subsides, it can be revealed he’s wearing the cracked watch of the missing person and those stains on his overalls seem awfully fresh.
- Adding a bit of drama into humor enriches the characters and, therefore, the setting and milieu. It turns a parody into a person. The best humor has a splash of drama, because drama lends stakes which are needed, even in something centering on comedy.
- Adding horror to drama doesn’t mean a blood-stained knife, there are more personal horrors. Imagine someone on the way to a meeting suddenly unable to control their bowels from a bad meal ingested earlier. They are in the middle of nowhere and are forced to whip over to the side of the ride and run into the ditch. This creates sympathy for the character. Yes, you can make it more horrific if they find they are defecating upon a decaying body, and suddenly notice a squad car pulling over.
Keep in mind, these are general rules. You can certainly mix and match the differing bits, but I’d suggest mastering the suggested tips for maximum return with the least effort. They say you can judge a good cook by how well they can cook an egg. This is true. Simple does not mean easy.
You should never use these to betray the thematic thrust of your narrative. Your comedy should not transmute into a horror. Your horror should not become a comedy. If you are preparing a blend of the two, then you need to decide if it’s a comedy horror (like Ghostbusters) or a horror comedy (like Scream). Set the priority and color within the lines you set for yourself. Discipline is necessary and required to produce anything of worth.
Think wisely. Write well.
Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu.
P.S. Keep in mind that they say the other differing elements between tragedy and comedy and horror can depend upon when the story ends. If the prince gets the girl, it is a comedy (e.g. a happy ending) If she dies soon after the wedding, it becomes a tragedy (e.g.a sad ending). Horror would be her returning from the dead and visiting the prince and his next bride upon their wedding night.