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C.C. Hogan

Don't forget to let your characters be Silly

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Even the hardest nut in the box can get a fit of the giggles

See Also:  Do you cuddle up to your characters?

Many years ago I read the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson. It was a wonderful read, I seem to remember (more than twenty years ago now) and I thoroughly enjoyed the books. Though I liked the story very much,  I was a little less certain with the main character himself. Part of the idea behind the plot and development of the character was that he was depressed and generally angry with the hand life had dealt him. That was absolutely fine, except it began to get too much after a while; the man simply never had a good day, or a good hour or even a good second. Within the boundaries of the fantasy this became somewhat unbelievable after a while.

#Fantasy and it's bedfellow Science Fiction have a bit of a reputation for what is called "being dark." It is often seen as a bit of a badge of honour with certain authors and certain reviewers; "Well, it is certainly a bit dark in places ... cool!" Well, life, even real life, can be pretty damn "dark" at times, so it makes sense to reproduce that in a story and can be very attractive, especially to those who may have not experienced as much "dark" in their lives as they think they should have done.

Trouble is, life is not like that. Not really.

Over the years I have had some pretty odd jobs and some of those have led me to meet strange people in strange places, with the benefit of not actually having to be strange myself - quite a relief since dark make-up can be a lot of hard work every morning! At one time, when working as a sound operator, I met a group of prostitutes, or more to the point, homeless young men and women (boys and girls really) who were earning pennies through prostitution. I had been told that some of their stories were going to be very upsetting and these kids were in a pretty bad way. The warning was well judged. Much of the recording was harrowing; enough so that a lot of it couldn't be used. But despite that, part way through the recording, one of the girls stood up and hit her head on the microphone boom. That sort of thing happens all the time and to be honest it can be silly, embarrassing and a mood killer. And it was here, too. The girl looked up at this big, fluffy object on the end of the boom and just burst into a fit of giggles - not some guttural laugh, or humourless cackle or pain racked guffaw, but a fit of very girly giggles. So did one or two of the others. 

From that point on, every time she caught sight of this fluffy microphone, she started giggling again; at one point so badly that tears were running down her face. This young girl who had had the most terrible life was in a genuinely very, very silly mood. In fact, the only person who had no sense of humour was the producer. I hadn't intended to cheer her up, I was all of nineteen years of age and completely out of my depth, but looking back, I doubt that it was the only thing she ever found funny. Compared to my life, she was in hell, but she could still laugh at silly stuff; she was still human beneath the pain.

When it comes to our #characters in our #books, I believe we owe them the same courtesy of letting them be "human" where appropriate. Now, obviously, that may never be possible within the confines of a plot and story, but with main characters in particular who we hope to get to know very well indeed, is there really no time that they do not react in a recognisably silly way? Does the mass murderer never sit down, turn on the telly and watch Disney cartoons while scoffing a pot of ice cream then curse when he gets ice-head? Does the policeman locked in a dystopian world never start giggling because he just saw someone trip over a curb?

Even baddies have bad days and heroes have off days; life, even in a fantasy world, is like that!

In #fantasy and sci-fi in particular, there is a more important, structural reason for silliness. Authors ask their readers to suspend belief and to accept that this world they are creating might actually exist. But in asking that of the reader, we must also allow them to feel that it could exist on a human level, that it makes sense that it could exist. Silliness is part of intelligence and part of survival. It is what allows neighbours to put up with each other, families to want to create more families and for people to survive disaster and catastrophe; a world without silliness would not just die, it would never have existed in the first place.  We need silliness and though if you are writing something based in the pit of despair, you may quite understandably not wish it to turn into a comedy on every page, occasionally just letting your characters show that they have another side, a more complex, less dark side, might just make them that little more real.

It is one of the things that made the late Terry Pratchett such a wonderful writer; his comic creations, though comic in their essence, were not comic to their core. Inside, they had feelings and difficult moments and sometimes they were not comic, they were just lovely and silly.

However dramatic and dark you may wish your strange world to be, you might have to put up with the idea that somewhere in that big final battle a dragon will fart and someone will pull a face!


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