Why Humour Is Important In Every Genre Of Story

Although this is an article about writing, I’m going to have to start by talking about computer games (of all things). As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later. However, I should warn you that this article will contain some SPOILERS for the earlier parts of “Dreamfall Chapters” and for Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting Of Hill House” too.

Anyway, the day before writing this article, I finally started playing a sci-fi/fantasy adventure game from 2014-2017 called “Dreamfall Chapters” that I’ve wanted to play for almost half a decade (but didn’t have a computer that was capable of running it until relatively recently). Anyway, the game begins with lots of serious drama (and… a lot… of cutscenes too) and I was initially worried that it was basically just a vaguely interactive version of something like a modern HBO-style TV series. Then, after about an hour of playing it, the game did something really amazing that reminded me of why I loved this series of games so much.

In addition to actually allowing the player to explore a really cool-looking cyberpunk city, the game’s occasional moments of subtle humour also gave way to an extremely funny gameplay segment. The player character, Zoe, is asked by a theatrically stressed-out character called Mira to test out a second-hand robot that she has bought. From the moment you mouse-over the robot, you get a hint that this isn’t going to be a serious mission:

This is a screenshot from “Dreamfall Chapters” (2014-17). And, yes, the robot is quite literally called “Shitbot”.

Needless to say, what follows is genuinely laugh out loud funny. Whether it is the combination of advanced robotics and advanced stupidity, the subtle homage to “Beneath A Steel Sky“, some brilliant interactive moments of slapstick comedy (including a clever parody of a typical adventure game puzzle) or just lots of hilarious dialogue, this segment literally made me crease up with laughter and it restored my enthusiasm for the game.

But, what does any of this computer game stuff have to do with writing?

Well, it is a good example of why humour is such an essential ingredient of pretty much every type of story. Yes, even serious stories need moments of humour. Even if it is fairly brief or subtle, then it still needs to be there.

But, why? Well, there are several reasons for this. The first has to do with emotional contrast – in short, your story’s “serious” moments will seem more dramatic when they are contrasted with moments of comedy.

A great literary example of this is Shirley Jackson’s 1959 horror novel “The Haunting Of Hill House“. Although this novel starts out in an ominous way, this quickly gives way to a plethora of different types of humour (eg: amusing dialogue, quirky characters, dark comedy, irreverent literary references etc..) which lull the reader into a false sense of security. This means that the creepier later parts of the story are even more unsettling than they would be if the whole story had stuck with the serious, ominous tone of the opening chapters.

Another reason why humour is a vital part of every genre of story is that it adds personality and creativity to a story. After all, humour requires both of these things. It is also an essentially human quality that can’t be replicated by technology. So, including humour in your story shows your reader that – yes, it was written by a real person who put actual creative thought into it.

Not only that, since humour is a social thing, it also means that – if the reader finds your humour funny – they’ll probably want to spend more time with your writing. Or, to put it in bland corporate-speak, it increases reader engagement with your narrative.

Humour also adds realism to your story too. Not only do people make jokes in real life, but the world itself is filled with absurd, silly and amusing stuff. So, adding humour to your story gives it an extra level of realism. Whether it is a sarcastic description of a stupid part of modern life (and there’s a lot of source material for this) or, like in “Dreamfall Chapters”, a fictional world that contains amusingly realistic problems (eg: badly-made technology), humour adds realism to stories of every genre.

In addition to all of this, humour also makes your story more memorable too. If you give your reader a sudden, unexpected moment of strong emotion, then they are going to remember this. This is especially true if comedy is only a small or infrequent part of a more “serious” story. This is why, for example, although I probably can’t remember every single plot detail of the episodes of the sci-fi TV show “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” that I watched on DVD nearly a decade ago, it took me seconds to both remember and find a clip of this amusing moment. So, humour is a way to keep your story memorable.

Finally, humour is entertaining. One of the reasons why people read stories is to be entertained, to escape from the world for a while and then return to it feeling enriched. So, including moments of humour – even in more serious stories – reassures the reader that they are reading something entertaining (and that they should keep reading). The humour can be very subtle and it should also fit in with the general tone and atmosphere of your story too, but even a small amount of humour can help to keep the reader interested.
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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “Doom: The Golden Souls 2 Portable” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel (“Idoru” by William Gibson) and playing the next full-length game (“Dex”) that I plan to review, I thought that I’d take a very quick look at an absolutely awesome joke WAD (well, technically a “.pk3” file) for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” that was released on April Fools’ Day in 2016, but which I somehow only discovered recently. I am, of course talking about “Doom: The Golden Souls 2 Portable“.

This WAD is, as you may have guessed, from the creator of the excellent “Doom: The Golden Souls 2” – and, it is well worth playing that WAD before playing this one.

Like with some of my recent WAD reviews, I used the GZDoom 3.4.1 source port whilst playing this WAD since the original “Golden Souls 2” requires a relatively modern version of GZDoom and the forum post for this WAD suggests something similar. However, there is no accompanying text file for this WAD (since it is downloadable from Mediafire rather than the traditional /IDgames Archive download you’d expect).

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Doom: The Golden Souls 2 Portable”. Needless to say, this review will contain some joke SPOILERS.

Oh my god, the nostalgia 🙂

This is a single-level joke WAD that shows what “Doom: The Golden Souls 2” (a “Doom II” WAD inspired by the classic SNES game “Super Mario World), would look like if it was ported to the original Game Boy. In keeping with this theme, the level’s music and menu are based on the classic “Super Mario Land 2” Game Boy game. And, if you ever played this game back in the day, then it is a nostalgia overload.

Once again, oh my god the nostalgia 🙂

During my childhood, I sometimes used to wonder what a FPS game would look like on the original Game Boy and when I found the closest thing to this that was available in the local second-hand shop (a submarine/battleship-themed game that used a side-scrolling first person perspective), I thought that it was really cool. Almost as cool as when I first saw that the Game Boy version of “Chessmaster” had a spoken intro.

What I’m trying to say is that, if you grew up in the 1990s, then this WAD is like a cool Game Boy cartridge that you heard rumours (actual traditional rumours, none of this modern internet nonsense) about, but could never find anywhere.

Seriously, if only this actually existed in 1996….

Anyway, the WAD itself is a Game Boy style version of the first level of “Golden Souls 2”. However, in addition to new graphics, sound effects and music, there are also a couple of interesting gameplay changes too. The most notable of these is that both the pistol and shotgun now fire projectiles (which make them better long-range weapons, albeit balanced out slightly by the spread of the shotgun’s projectiles) and thanks to the slight scarcity of ammo in this version of the level, the Doomguy’s fists are also slightly more powerful too.

Plus, like in “Doom II”, the shotgun only seems to fire both barrels at once. This is also a really cool nod to the limitations of the original Game Boy too.

Another cool thing about this WAD is the fact that the background music is similar to “Super Mario Land 2” (seriously, so much nostalgia!) and the monster sprites have also been redesigned in order to look like actual Game Boy sprites too. Seriously, this is so cool.

Seriously, it’s so cool to see low-res versions of all the familiar monsters 🙂

In terms of the actual gameplay, the level is a mildly challenging one that involves a decent amount of rather forgiving first-person platforming. If you’ve played “Golden Souls 2”, then it will be very familiar. However, in a really hilarious touch, the game actually “runs out of battery” just before you finish the level. If you ever played an original Game Boy back in the day, this will both make you roll your eyes and laugh at the same time.

I’m not going to spoil the rest of the ending, but this alone should bring back lots of nostalgia.

All in all, this WAD is a really fun, creative and funny piece of modern 1990s nostalgia. If you grew up in the 90s, then you’ll have a lot of fun with it. But, as well as being an awesome joke, it’s also a fascinating glimpse into what could have been if someone had somehow managed to make a FPS game for the Game Boy in the 1990s. Yes, it’s short and silly, but it is also one of the best joke WADs I’ve ever seen 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

The Complete “Damania – A Sketchy Christmas (2019)” – All Four Episodes Of The New Webcomic Mini Series By C. A. Brown

Well, in case you missed any of it, here is my recent “Damania – A Sketchy Christmas (2019)” webcomic mini series in one easy-to-read post. You can find lots of other comics featuring these characters here and you can also check out the previous three Christmas mini series here, here and here.

And, yes, this mini-series ended up being a bit more minimalist than I’d expected. Basically, since I make these comics quite far in advance, I was preparing it around last Christmas/New Year and didn’t really have the time to plan and make a full mini series. Still, I wanted to make sure there was something posted here before Christmas and, to my surprise, most of these unplanned single-panel comics actually turned out better than I’d expected 🙂

Anyway, stay tuned for a more detailed single-panel comic on Christmas day 🙂

As usual, all four comic updates are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Damania – A Sketchy Christmas (2019) – Charts” By C. A. Brown

“Damania – A Sketchy Christmas (2019) – Life” By C. A. Brown

“Damania – A Sketchy Christmas (2019) – Butter” By C. A. Brown

“Damania – A Sketchy Christmas (2019) – Eve” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (23rd December 2019)

Woo hoo! Here’s the third comic in “Damania – A Sketchy Christmas (2019)” a festive four-comic webcomic mini series. Due to time reasons, this mini series will consist of single-panel monochrome comics but, if you want to see more sophisticated Christmas comics from past years then they can be found here, here and here.

And, yes, I just had to make a comic about the best Christmas food ever invented.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania – A Sketchy Christmas (2019) – Butter” By C. A. Brown

Why Movie Novelisations Exist

Well, I thought that I’d talk about movie novelisations again, since I happen to be reading one at the time of writing. I am, of course, talking about Neal Barrett Jr’s 1996 novelisation of a gloriously cheesy late-night B-movie called “Barb Wire”. Although I’ll probably review the novel tomorrow (when I’ve finished reading it), what I’ve read so far is better than I’d expected. And this made me think about why movie novelisations exist.

Of course, the original reason for movie novelisations was that they allowed people to enjoy a film at home before VHS, DVD etc… were invented. After all, up until about the 1980s or so, once a film left the cinemas, it was pretty much gone (unless it was re-released, shown in a cinema club, shown on TV etc..). So, movie novelisations were what existed before home video did. Yet, although they unfortunately aren’t as common as they were in the past, they still exist these days. Why?

Well, there are probably several reasons. The first is, as shown by the novelisation of “Barb Wire”, they can be better than the film. Although I only have vague memories of watching the film on TV during the early-mid 2000s, it was a rather cheesy – and somewhat sleazy – “so bad that it’s good” mid-budget action movie. Of course, since the novelisation can’t rely on special effects or celebrity (after all, it just uses words), it actually has to focus more on the characters and the story.

In other words, film novelisations have to rely on substance rather than style. The characters have to be good characters, everything has to be described well, the story has to be an actual story etc… In other words, film novelisations tend to feel a lot more well-made and consistent than films can sometimes do. After all, a good film novelisation still has to work as a novel. It has to be something that, theoretically, someone who has never seen the film can still enjoy.

Secondly, film novelisations tend to have more depth than their source material – which is good for fans of the film. Since films are a visual medium that can only show time in a linear fashion (eg: one second of film takes exactly one second), they can often only show the surface of a story. The written word, on the other hand, can do things like showing people’s thoughts, showing backstory, describing things in detail etc… Which result in a deeper and richer story when films are adapted to the page.

Not only that, the events of a 90-120 minute film probably won’t fill that many pages when translated directly to the page. So, an author will usually have to add extra stuff in order to write something longer than a novella. Although this can sometimes just result in filler content, it usually means that stuff from the film is more well-explained, there are interesting extra scenes, there’s more detailed backstory, there’s more characterisation etc… Which all result in a much deeper and more satisfying experience when compared to the film. So, fans of a film will usually get even more out of it by reading the novelisation.

Thirdly, film novelisations are a safe bet. Although books are unfortunately less popular than they were even two decades ago (thanks to smartphones, social media etc..), publishers and readers alike choose film novelisations for one simple reason. You know what you are getting. If a publisher wants a book that will sell, then choosing a popular film will make people interested. If a reader just wants to relax with a book or choose one quickly, then one based on a familiar film is usually a fairly good choice.

Fourthly, novelisations can be great for authors too. I mean, I can think of a few authors (eg: S.D.Perry, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Diane Carey etc..) who specialise in writing novelisations and spin-off novels. They usually have a fairly prolific body of work, regular publication etc… And they are good at writing these types of stories. So, if an author knows what they are doing, then they can have a fairly good writing career with novelisations.

Fifthly, they are good for reading and literature in general. Yes, they might not be the kind of “high brow” or “literary” fiction that people talk about when they lament the fact that people don’t read as much these days as they used to. But, they are a brilliant gateway into reading for people who might not otherwise choose to pick up a book. Because they tell a familiar story and are written to be entertaining, they’re more likely to tempt someone into reading a book (and, if they like it, maybe reading others) than a traditional novel.

Likewise, spin-off novels can do this too. When I was going through one of my “not reading much” phases in 2011/12, I ended up binge-watching various series of “Star Trek” on DVD. When I ran out of episodes, I vaguely remembered that there were spin-off novels. I ended up reading a few of these and really enjoyed them. In fact, when I got back into reading regularly a year or so ago, I was initially reluctant to read any “Star Trek” books because I considered them to be “what I read when I’m not reading”. Yet, I still ended up reading them occasionally again for the simple reason that they are just enjoyable, relaxing books.

So, in this age where books are less popular than they once were, novelisations and spin-off novels are absolutely great for showing people how much fun reading can be and for getting people to actually pick up a book.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Old Fiction Vs Historical Fiction

Well, I ended up thinking about the differences between old fiction (written decades or centuries ago) and historical fiction (written in the present day, but set in the past) after both reading an interesting horror novel from the 1950s and finding this intriguing Youtube channel filled with old film footage from the 19th and early-mid 20th century.

One of the advantages of old fiction is immersion. Simply put, it is quite literally a direct window into the past and this can be quite surprising. For example, the “realistic” settings of a 1980s horror novel like Shaun Hutson’s “Breeding Ground” are a lot more understated and, well, believable than the stylised depictions of the 1980s you might see in a more modern historical novel, film etc…

Because writers in the past didn’t need to create a “historical” setting (because everyone back then already knew what the world looked like), you can get a much more vivid, detailed and unvarnished glimpse into the past when you read old novels. Not only that, you also get to see how people back then really thought about the world and how they saw the world.

Reading fiction from the past allows you to quite literally step back in time and see the past in a totally different way. After all, people back then read these novels for entertainment in the way that we watch TV shows, play computer games etc… these days. So, you are quite literally enjoying yourself in exactly the same way as someone many decades ago did. After all, although older novels might be reprinted, the basic technology behind them (eg: words on paper) hasn’t changed since they were first printed.

On the other hand, whilst the technology hasn’t changed, the English language has. This is one of the main advantages of modern historical fiction. In short, historical fiction is aimed at a mainstream contemporary audience, so it’ll be written in a way that is more accessible to modern readers. Usually the writing style will keep some historical flavour, but the narration will be a bit more streamlined and a bit less formal than older novels.

Yes, old-school formal narration adds atmosphere to a story but, if you’re just looking for a book to relax with, then modern historical fiction tends to be more readable. But, although older novels might sound “highbrow” these days, it’s important to remember that novels are usually written for the average reader at the time they were published. They were designed for ordinary people (who read more back then and were also used to slightly more formal language, slower pacing etc..) to enjoy. So, don’t let a novel’s age put you off. Older novels can sometimes be more readable than you might think.

Plus, modern historical fiction will often be more realistic than older fiction in some ways. Whilst older fiction gives the reader a direct glimpse into the past, it also had to contend with things like censorship (for example, most of the “grittiness” in Dashiell Hammett’s excellent 1929/30 novel “The Maltese Falcon” is implied rather than shown). So, modern historical fiction can often show things that may not have been considered “publishable” in the past.

Modern historical fiction also looks at the past from a more modern perspective too. Whilst this can result in a much more interesting variety of characters, more gripping drama and stuff like that, it can also suffer from the author underestimating the reader’s intelligence. In other words, some modern historical novels can have a tendency to lecture the reader about social ills that the reader already knows are bad. Then again, older novels can sometimes (but not always) include awkward or narrow-minded moments that haven’t aged well and are a bit cringe-worthy to read today. So, both things can be annoying in different ways.

On the other hand, older novels often tend to have more interesting cover art. Since many older novels were published before the internet was popular, having an eye-catching and dramatic cover that would stand out on bookshop shelves was even more important than ever. Likewise, before photo editing became something that people could do easily with computer programs, there was more incentive for publishers to use traditional paintings for their cover art. So, older novels just generally look better. Here are some examples of 1980s sci-fi/fantasy/horror novel cover art to show you what I mean:

Here are some examples of painted cover art from the 1980s. I wish this type of cover art was still standard these days.

Another advantage of older novels is their brevity. Because longer books were more difficult or expensive to publish in the past, older novels often tend to be a bit shorter and to the point. Yes, the formal writing styles used in the past mean that older novels will often take longer to read, but it is so refreshing to see novels that can tell a full, detailed story in just 200-300 pages 🙂 On the downside, this brevity is sometimes achieved by just reducing the size of the print.

On the other hand, one cool thing about modern historical fiction (and TV shows etc..) is that they can give vividness and life to the past in a way that older things might struggle with. After all, when watching the grainy greyscale footage on the Youtube channel I mentioned earlier, my mind instantly started “filling in the gaps” with things that I remembered from modern historical novels, TV shows etc… So, modern historical fiction can make the past seem a lot more vivid and alive.

Of course, the most interesting type of history-based fiction is historical fiction that was written in the past. This is often an interesting middle-ground between the two things and not only does it give us a glimpse of how people used to think about the past but, due to it’s historical setting, it bizarrely tends to age better than older fiction set in the “present day” of when it was written.

So yes, older and historical fiction both have their fair share of advantages and disadvantages. In short, if you want something readable, gripping and vivid, then read modern historical fiction. But, if you want something a bit more complex that also gives you a direct window into the past, then take a look at older fiction.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Some Thoughts About Film Adaptations Of Novels – A Ramble

As regular readers of this site know, I tend to prepare these articles quite far in advance. So, very early this year, I was surprised to read that there is a modern US film adaptation of an “edgy” 1990s horror novel I’d reviewed quite a few months earlier called “Piercing” by Ryu Murakami.

Although I haven’t seen the full film at the time of writing, the trailer (which is probably “not safe for work”, hence the lack of a link) seems to have kept the disturbing premise of the novel and even seems to have kept a lot of the novel’s grim farce and unsettling psychological drama too. Yet, even though it looked like a good adaptation, I found myself reluctant to put the full film on my “to watch” list. This, of course, made me think about film adaptations of novels.

One of the strengths of the written word is that it makes the reader use their imagination. A novel is a personal experience. Every reader’s memory of a story – the compressed collection of images, moods and impressions that lingers long after the final page has been read – will be different. So, one of the problems that film adaptations can have is that they will inevitably be different from this. After all, cinema is a mass medium where everyone sees the one identical interpretation of a story.

This, incidientally, is why I refuse to watch some film adaptations – like “The Beach” or any of the “Jack Reacher” films – since I’m worried that they will overwrite my amazing memories of the novels they are based on. Yet, when I saw the film adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s excellent “Shutter Island” several months after reading the book, I found it to be a really good distillation of how I imagined the book – with the only problem being that I already knew the ending (which I won’t spoil here. You need to read or see it for yourself).

However, all of this also extends to everything surrounding a novel. Because novels are things that the reader has to co-create using their imagination, they are strongly linked to the time and place that they were read and to the imagination of the reader at that point in their life.

This is probably one of the reasons why I’m reluctant to watch the adaptation of “Piercing” since, although I only read the novel a few months earlier, I chose to read it as a way of feeling nostalgic for a time – about a decade earlier – when I read several other books by the author. Of course, even the best film can never quite capture that exact feeling of personal nostalgia.

On the flip side, reading a novel after seeing the film adaptation is actually a rather fun experience. In addition to being able to gain a deeper insight into the surface-level drama of what you’ve seen on screen, the fact that you will probably imagine the characters in the same way that you saw them on screen makes the process of reading feel a little bit more concrete. This is kind of hard to describe, but it’s strangely relaxing to read a story where you already know what the characters look like – it’s like part of your work as a reader has already been done for you.

Another difference between film adaptations and novels is how they are made. Novels are created by one author, the product of a single imagination given the freedom to be as unique, quirky and creative as possible. On the other hand, films are a team effort that cost millions to make. As such, there’s much more of an incentive for a film to have mass appeal or, at the very least, a wider appeal than the original novel. In principle, this is a good thing, but it can often end up losing or changing what made the original novel so interesting to read.

However, the best film adaptations actually use this to their advantage. For example, the 1980s cinematic masterpiece “Blade Runner” is both visually and stylistically different to the excellent novel that it is based on. These changes allow for a lot of amazing creativity that works really well on screen, whilst still keeping many of the core elements of the story.

And, this thing about the core elements of the story is probably one of the most important things about film adaptations. For example, although it would have been cool to see a cinematic version of the gritty late-night 1990s Toyko setting of Murakami’s “Piercing”, one of the surprising things about the trailer for the film adaptation is how well it seems to transplant the atmosphere, themes etc… of the story into what I presume is modern America. Yet, the trailer still seems to be very clearly based on the novel. If a story can jump from one time and place to another and still retain a lot of what made it so dramatic, then it is a good story.

So, in this sense, I can see why people often view a film adaptation of a novel as the ultimate form of praise. If a novel can survive the adaptation process and still result in a compelling film, then the underlying story is a good one. If all of the author’s uniqueness can be removed and lots of details changed, and it still results in something recognisable or compelling then this is a testament to the author’s skill.

But, at the same time, there’s something a little bit disturbing about seeing film adaptations as the ultimate literary award. Anyone who has read a lot of novels will probably find amazing ones that they feel deserve the full adaptation treatment and deserve to become a part of popular culture, yet never get adapted.

If adaptation was the ultimate award, then there would be a lot more novel adaptations in the cinemas. Yet, all of your favourite un-adapted novels still remain as brilliant as ever. They still remain things that linger in your imagination. Things that you judge all novels you read afterwards in comparison to. Things that make you want to write stories that are even half as good. Things that quite literally become part of your memories of a particular time in your life.

So, yes, film adaptations of books are complicated things.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂