Three Basic Tips For Making “Silly” Stories Compelling

Well, I thought that I’d talk about “silly” stories today. This is mostly because, due to hot weather at the time of writing, I’ve found myself gravitating more towards these types of things – whether it is novels like Dan Brown’s “Inferno“, Natasha Rhodes’ “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” or the “Star Trek: Voyager” spin-off novel I’m reading at the moment, most of my recent reading material seems to be highly stylised, contrived and/or fantastical in some way or another.

I’ve also noticed the same trend with what few TV shows and computer games I’ve been enjoying recently. Whether it is watching occasional episodes of a gloriously silly, highly contrived and heavily stylised late 1990s/early 2000s adventure thriller TV show called “Relic Hunter” or re-playing a few levels of a gloriously mindless sci-fi action game called “Alien Shooter“.

As such, I thought that I’d look at three basic ways to make “silly” stories compelling:

1) Continuity and reliability: In essence, the “silly” elements of your story have to follow some kind of rules that the audience can easily learn and rely upon. This helps to add a bit more certainty and reliability to the story, which helps to immerse the audience and make them suspend their disbelief slightly.

A good example of this is the TV show “Relic Hunter”. It is set in a stylised version of the real world, where “Relic Hunters” will go out and search for ancient artefacts. Most of them do it for profit but, of course, the main character does it for more benevolent reasons. Even so, the concept of “Relic Hunters” is as well-known and unremarkable within the show as, say, professional photographers are in the real world. As such, this gives the show a level of reliability (eg: the main character is going to look for a relic in every episode, and will often have to compete with other relic hunters) which helps to immerse the viewer into the somewhat “silly” premise of the series.

All of the various versions of “Star Trek” are the classic example of this sort of thing. On the surface, this is a TV series filled with characters in silly uniforms, lots of meaningless technical jargon etc…. Yet, if you watch the show for a while, you’ll start to learn a lot of the underlying “rules” behind all of this. As such, it becomes easier to suspend your disbelief and immerse yourself into the show.

So, yes, having a reliable set of “rules” that the audience can learn is one of the best ways to make a “silly” story seem a bit more compelling and immersive. It also gives the audience something to rely on too, which also makes these types of stories quite reassuring to read too (since the audience partially know what to expect).

2) Mechanics and focus: This is more of a videogame-based thing than a writing-based thing, but it is worth mentioning nonetheless. One of the main reasons why “silly” or “mindless” games are so compelling is because they will often focus on just one or two things. For example, the “Alien Shooter” game that I mentioned earlier mostly just involves fighting hordes of dinosaur-like monsters:

This is a screenshot from “Alien Shooter” (2003)

This limited focus allows the player to devote more attention to the game, since they only have to focus on one or two types of task. As such, these games become relaxing and compelling despite any “silly” elements (eg: dinosaur monsters from outer space!) that they might contain. But, how does this translate into fiction?

Well, a good example of this can be found in Dan Brown’s “Robert Langdon” novels. These are extremely contrived thriller novels with some very silly storylines. Yet, they’re incredibly gripping because of the fact that they focus on just one or two things. Most of the time, the main character will be solving a series of puzzles within a time limit. That’s it.

Yet, it is this limited focus (eg: solving puzzles) that makes these novels so gripping. Because they only focus on one thing, this grabs the audience’s attention and makes it easier for them to ignore any “silly” elements surrounding this one core thing.

3) Personality: This is a really obvious one, but the best way to make a “silly” story really compelling is to give your story a bit of a personality. In other words, it should have a unique atmosphere, distinctive settings, an interesting cast of characters, a distinctive narrative voice, maybe a bit of humour and stuff like that.

The thing to remember here is that, when your audience first discovers your story, they might be confused or amused by the “silly” elements of your story. And, if you want to keep them reading, your story needs personality. Your readers need to feel that they’re hanging out with someone interesting, exploring somewhere fascinating etc…

A great example of this is Jodi Taylor’s awesome “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” novels. These are an extremely eccentric series of sci-fi thrillers about a secret department in a university who have the ability to travel through time. Despite the gloriously silly premise, these novels are incredibly fun, compelling and just generally enjoyable because they have a lot of personality. The narrator has a unique narrative voice, there are lots of intriguingly quirky plot elements and the series has a wonderfully cynical and eccentric sense of humour too.

So, if you give your story a bit of personality, then the audience will gleefully ignore any of the more “silly” elements of your story.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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