Well, at the time of writing, I was busy preparing last year’s Halloween stories. To my surprise, these stories ended up including a lot more cynical dark comedy than I’d initially expected. Perhaps it was a result of their rushed production schedule or a way to lessen the bleak theme of cold nihilism that seemed to creep into many of them. Whatever it was, it certainly added something to the stories.
So, how can you include dark comedy in your horror stories? Here are a few quick tips:
1) Observations: Chances are, if you’re a fan of horror and dark comedy, you’re a little bit on the cynical side of things. Well, this is the perfect time to use all of your many observations about how annoying the modern world can be. But, how do you use them?
Simply put, the easiest way to turn cynical observations into dark comedy is describe them in a coldly emotionless way, whilst also exaggerating them slightly for comedic effect.
For example, this Halloween story is set in a large modern bookshop. A lot of the story is filled with cynical observations about modern trends in literature that I’ve exaggerated slightly for comedic effect: “A grey cliff face of gritty crime thrillers stared back at him. The crushing uniformity of it was only broken up by the occasional moody blue rectangle.”
So, using a slightly detached and dispassionate tone, whilst also including a few subtle exaggerations can be an easy way to turn your observations into cynical dark comedy.
2) Implied horror: One piece of traditional wisdom in the horror genre is that the worst horrors usually take place within the audience’s imaginations. In other words, what you don’t show can often be more horrifying than what you do. This also works for dark comedy too.
Simply put, if you show the build-up to a horrific event and then pull away at the last second, the audience is going to expect a horrifying aftermath. They are going to expect a list of macabre clues that will tell them what you, the fearless horror writer, were too afraid to show. And, when done in a serious way, this can be really chilling.
So, by using an irreverent tone or focusing on something unexpected when hinting at the grisly aftermath of the horrific events you dared not show, you can catch the reader by surprise and make them laugh. If the reader gets the sense that you’re deliberately glossing over or ignoring a repulsive horror in order to crack a joke, this lends the joke a “should we really be laughing about this?” quality, which is essential to good dark comedy.
3) Knowledge: Simply put, dropping a cynical fact into your story at the right moment can be the perfect way to add a bit of dark comedy to your horror story. Yes, this will require a bit of research, but there’s a good chance that you’ve already watched way too many online videos and/or read too many online articles about “things that [insert company/profession/organisation here] don’t want you to know“.
Well, this is the perfect time to use those cynical factoids. For example, this Halloween story about a mysterious mobile phone app begins with the lines: “Nestled amongst row upon row of icons, the little grey square with the smiley face on it didn’t stand out. Beside it, a crimson chameleon and a maroon camera jostled for Laura’s attention. They had the advantage. Warm colours get people’s attention. Every app designer knew that.”
By showing the reader that you know all of the sneaky tricks etc… that people use in real life and know lots of eerie facts about everyday things, you immediately add a slightly knowing and irreverent tone to your story, which is perfect for dark comedy.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂