Writing Excuses Season 3 Episode 27: Mixing Humor with Drama and Horror

A Monday without Writing Excuses is kind of like a Tuesday without Writing Excuses, only far less aggravating.

With Brandon once again by our side(s), we venture once more into the realm of humor: this time, specifically considering how to blend humor with decidedly unhumorous elements such as drama and horror. Why do humor and horror go so well together? How can you make something funny without losing the powerful character drama? And how did we possibly get through this episode without mentioning “Shaun of the Dead,” which combines humor and horror and drama more brilliantly than anything in recent memory?

Writing Prompt: Make the most inappropriate joke you can, but make it appropriate.

Once again, Writing Excuses is brought to you by Audible.com, and this week we’re trying something new: homework! Sometime in January we’ll spend an episode examining “The Hero with A Thousand Faces,” by Joseph Campbell, so this is your warning to study up. You can read your own copy, borrow one from the library, or sign up for a free trial Audible membership and get, through our special deal, an audio copy for free: http://AudiblePodcast.com/excuse.


33 thoughts on “Writing Excuses Season 3 Episode 27: Mixing Humor with Drama and Horror”

  1. A Tuesday with writing excuses is like blasphemy.

    You know it really isn’t that big a deal, but you try to avoid it anyway (or not).

  2. Good show guys, perfect timing on the subject. I have just started writing humorous horror novel so thanks for the useful tips.

  3. Without my Monday Writing Excuses, yesterday at work was unbearable. Now, I’m at work and can’t get the new episode yet. I am thinking this was all on purpose to mix our horror and your humor over the late release. Well played you three evil geniuses.

  4. And no mention of Pterry? I would have liked to hear how you gentlemen thought he fitted into all this. (“Night Watch” for instance.)

    But – fun as always! 🙂

  5. Yay, new Writing Excuses!

    I’ll be listening to this as soon as I get home. I’m intrigued by this homework concept.

    By the way, this is my first comment; Hi everyone!

  6. Ahh, at last. No more podcast withdrawal.

    Good podcast, I think it can be all summed up in that you need to have good pacing and stay true to your characters. Too much funny, weepy, or scary make for a blah book. We like variety and to experience the rise and fall of emotions.

    Sidenote: finished The Gathering Storm. Excellent read for anybody that hasn’t read it yet or for those that aren’t fans of the series — get on that Wheel of Time bandwagon and hit the road! YeeHaw!

  7. I must admit, a return to normalcy is nice. As much as I love your guest artists, I just don’t think the chemistry is right when one of the three main players is missing.

    Maybe next week’s podcast should be about character chemistry.

  8. do you have any tips for how to deepen the drama? also tips for how to strengthen a character?
    thank you guys by the way, I’ve really enjoyed these podcasts, I’m definitely learning a lot about writing do’s and don’ts

  9. Thanks for the episode, guys. I’m pretty sure you just set a new record: the number of pop culture references in one ‘cast.

    Annnnyway. On the subject of drama and humour, I’d like to point you all to Jonathan Coulton’s song “Shop Vac” (which is conveniently available on his website). It’s a fantastic example of blending humour and drama, I think.

    A lot of the humour in this case comes from the way he phrases things (also, he has an attention to those slightly-off-the-wall character details which make it funny). It helps that the song is upbeat and just pure fun to listen to. I giggled my way through it the first few times I listened to it.

    In this case the combination works so well because the same funny character details and turns of phrase are the same things make it the tragic story that it is.

    Actually, another good example (also Coulton) is his “I Feel Fantastic”. It’s not quite as … well, I don’t want to say it’s not as poignant, but (I don’t think, anyway) it’s not as hard-hitting. It’s a little more biased towards humour and “Shop Vac” is a little more biased towards drama.

    Hmm. Between mentions of Dr Horrible, Buffy the Musical, and now Coulton, I think I’d better go listen to some geek music…

  10. Off-topic, but…

    I have my first fiction sale! (Eeek!) A short story of mine is going to be in the horror anthology, Dark Faith (Apex Books, May, 2010). I owe a lot to the advice of WE for making that possible. Thank you, guys!

  11. Hi CID Farwin! This is my third post, but the first where I’m feeling mostly sane.

    Thank you for the transcript, Mike! I didn’t have time to listen today, but reading’s faster.

    As I’m the father of a three year old, Winnie The Pooh immediately comes to mind as an example of mixing humor, drama, and horror–specifically the “Boo To You!” Halloween video.

    Somewhat tangential to topic… unfortunately, I googled “I Google You” and was HORRIFIED to read in the comments of one of the youtube videos that Neil Gaiman is a Scientologist. If so, he seems to have come by his belief “honestly,” the way most of us do–through parental indoctrination. (Wiki David Gaiman).

    I always react to Scientologists with a mixture of humor, drama, and horror… but right now mostly horror. Hopefully someone has something dismissive and amusing to say about Scientologists so I can get a warm side order of comic relief to go with this cold dish of horror.

    Am I being dramatic enough?

  12. Scientologists aren’t all as well-balanced and stable as the sofa-jumper-in-chief, who has – NEVER – agreed with psychiatry, even before he became a Scientologist, based on his extensive medical qualifications and research.

  13. By the way, top right of the page, image of Brandon. Nice new ‘tache. DID YOU THINK WE WOULDN’T NOTICE, AND CHORTLE?

  14. I’ll settle for the sarcasm and the quick subject change, Ed.

    For weeks now, every time I see it, I’ve been thinking how I don’t like Brandon’s new photo as well as the old one–he looks so tired! But I have to admit… not bad! Maybe all it needed was a mustache! It has such droll whimsy now.

  15. Nah, not nearly bushy enough for a BR stache. Almost a Himmler look to the whole photo; how appropriate with a Humor/Drama/Horror podcast.

  16. I thought it was interesting that when Brandon wanted to know how you got the right balance, Howard mentioned going too far, Dan also recounted a story about overdoing the humor and then excising it, and even Brandon mentioned having a big discussion with his editor about humor that pushes the fourth wall. It seems as if there is a common thread of adding a bit too much humor and having to pull back a little bit, sometimes after the editor or the writing group points out that you’ve gone over the edge. So it’s a bit like adding salt to the soup, you add a little and taste it, then add a little more and taste again. At some point, you realize it’s too salty. With soup, you can’t do very much about it, but as long as you have the luxury, you can revise your writing to get it sweet again.

    Incidentally, I know I’m not an artist, but Brandon’s picture just needed something — so I tried a mustache. I don’t think I could draw a handlebar, but after three attempts, this one looked pretty good. And it makes me laugh. I’m not sure if it makes Brandon scowl, though. 🙂

  17. Hey guys, good timing. This is also my first comment ( I think ).
    I’m currently working on a horror short story and ran into this problem. I had the characters joke around in a ‘real’ conversation and found all the tension gone.

    Have you guys ever written scripts ? Maybe you could do a podcast about adaptations ? What works in books but doesn’t work in movies or the other way around.

  18. A note on the homework: Having read the reviews on Audible it sounds like the audio version isn’t that great. Apparently the narration is rushed and, more importantly, the book is abridged. I’m going with the library option on this one and I thought I’d warn those of you who were thinking of using your free trial for this book.

  19. If you guys are going to do a podcast on Joseph Campbell, I would suggest that you take a look at some of David Brin’s articles on Campbell, Star Wars, and the difference between science fiction and fantasy. Just for an opposing view. Brin is not at all flattering on Campbell.

  20. @ Olin: “I would suggest that you take a look at some of David Brin’s articles on Campbell, Star Wars, and the difference between science fiction and fantasy.”

    Are these available online? If not, where could I find them?

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