Four Ways To Add Humour To Interactive Fiction

2016 Artwork Interactive fiction humour sketch

Well, after writing yesterday’s article, I was in the mood for writing some “Fighting Fantasy“/”Choose Your Own Adventure“-style interactive fiction.

(Edit: If you’re interested in my interactive story, it can be read here. And, yes, I write these articles fairly far in advance of when they’re posted.)

As you might have guessed, it’s a horror story – or at least it was going to be a horror story. Of course, it seems to be some unwritten rule that whenever I try to write horror fiction, comedy quickly emerges instead.

Still, there’s something awesome about writing comedy in interactive fiction that you don’t really get if you write comedy in “ordinary” fiction. This is mainly because there are a few comedy techniques that only really work well in interactive fiction. So, I thought that I’d give you a few quick tips about how to make your own interactive fiction funnier.

1) Player dissonance: Interactive fiction is typically written in the present tense and from a second-person perspective (eg: “you open the door”), since the reader is meant to be the main character. A good “serious” interactive fiction story will try to make the main character an “everyman” and/or “everywoman” kind of character. They’ll make the main character into a generic, reasonable person that the reader can easily superimpose themselves onto.

However, if you want to add some humour to your interactive fiction, then you can make the main character a little bit more eccentric. You can make them do slightly silly things or even act in a downright bizarre way. Yes, this breaks player immersion in the story slightly, but if it’s handled well, then it’ll amuse your readers to no end. Good comedy comes from the difference between your readers’ expectations and what you actually show them.

For example, most horror-themed interactive stories (like this excellent one by Steve Jackson) involve an “ordinary” character exploring somewhere scary. My story begins with the player enthusiastically preparing to join an evil secret society that lives in a creepy old mansion. No real explanation for this is given, but it’s the last thing that you’d expect in an interactive fiction story.

2) Silly options: This one is pretty self-explanatory, but when it comes to adding options at the end of a page or paragraph, feel free to throw in a slightly silly or random one too.

If you’re feeling really evil, you can make the silly option the one that the player needs to choose in order to succeed. If you’re feeling slightly less evil, you can make this option result in the main character’s death.

If you’re feeling even less evil, then choosing this option could possibly just make the reader loop round to the previous options page or something like that.

3) Death scenes: In most interactive fiction stories, the player’s chances of winning aren’t 100%. If the player makes the wrong decision, then the main character can end up dying or being trapped somewhere or something like that. Like in all games, winning is more enjoyable when there’s a very real chance of failure.

However, these scenes can be kind of annoying to read for obvious reasons. So, they are the perfect place to add humour. If you can make your readers laugh during one of these scenes, then they’re less likely to stop reading. So, be sure to make your death scenes hilariously inventive or make sure that they’re narrated in a humourous way.

For example, in my interactive fiction story, choosing one option can leave you stranded in the middle of a field filled with undead skeletons. The scene in question ends with these lines:

Fun fact: Skeletons are nowhere near as evil or fierce as horror movies often make them out to be. In fact, they’re actually rather hospitable to anyone who happens to stray upon their ancient ground. But, well, what kind of host would leave their guest standing on the roof in the middle of a thunderstorm, when there’s warm tea and crumpets waiting in the coffins below?

In fact, skeletal hospitality is so well renowned that one hundred percent of their guests quickly end up becoming skeletons themselves. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I guess.

4) Narration: Traditionally, the narrator in an interactive fiction story should be as “neutral” and descriptive as possible.

If you’re telling a serious interactive story, then you want to put as little distance between the story and the reader as possible. This is why the narration in many interactive stories can sometimes be a bit “functional” and “matter of fact”. *Yawn*.

Of course, if you actually want to add some humour to your interactive story, then just give the narrator a bit more personality. Let your narrator make sarcastic comments occasionally, or even “break the fourth wall” every once in a while.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Four Reasons Why The Horror Genre Contains So Much Dark Comedy

2015 Artwork Horror and Dark Comedy article sketch

For a genre that is supposed to frighten people – the horror genre can often be, well, hilariously funny.

Whether it’s a cheesy zombie movie, whether it’s something from a Clive Barker novel, whether it’s Freddy Krueger, whether it’s the sarcastic dialogue in a TV show like “Supernatural” (yes, I’m still watching it) or whether it’s one of Ellis’ Keith stories from “Left 4 Dead 2”– horror and dark comedy are often firmly intertwined with each other.

At first glance, this might seem like a strange thing. After all, the horror genre is supposed to be dark and depressing, it’s supposed to fill you with feelings of bleakness and terror. It’s supposed to be a serious and dramatic genre.

And, yet, many things in the horror genre also include a lot of dark humour – why is this?

Well, I can think of at least four reasons….

1) The obvious reason: When we watch a movie, play a computer game or read a novel – we want to be entertained. We want something that makes life more interesting for us for a couple of hours. We want to be frightened, but we don’t want to be miserable.

So, adding dark comedy to a horror story is a way to make sure that, although your story might frighten your audience, it won’t make them feel depressed. It’ll give them at least a short break from the horrifyingly bleak events of your story.

Plus, this also applies to writers too. Although it’s been a long time since I last wrote any proper horror fiction, I’d often find that I was either too frightened or too miserable to write any more after spending a while writing “serious” horror fiction. So, adding some comedy can be a way to keep writing when your own story starts to scare or depress you.

2) Similarities: Structurally speaking, the horror and comedy genres are a lot more similar than you might think. Both genres rely on clever pacing, expert timing, exaggerations, detailed narration, clever dialogue and absurdly strange situations in order to elicit an emotional response in the audience. In comedies, this response is laughter. In horror stories, this response is terror.

In other words, many of the techniques that you can use to make people laugh are very similar to the techniques you can use to terrify people. So, if you’re using these techniques anyway, then it isn’t too difficult to use them in a different way every once in a while.

3) Scottish showers: Back in 2009, I was lucky enough to see a re-creation of a 19th century/ early 20th century grand guignol performance (at the Abertoir festival).

In case you haven’t heard of it before, grand guignol plays were basically the theatrical equivalent of horror movies. Anyway, they would often use a very clever technique called “The Scottish Shower” in order to make their plays more frightening.

Basically, a grand guignol performance would consist of several short plays (the one I saw had three) and these plays would alternate between horror and comedy. If I remember rightly, the first play was about an evil doctor who experiments on his patients, the second play was a bawdy comedy about men with stiff… legs and the third play was about a vengeful wronged lover.

Switching between horror and comedy on a regular basis meant that the horror plays were even more frightening by comparison. So, dark comedy can add emotional contrast to your story – which will also make the frightening parts of your story seem even more frightening.

4) You: If you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance that you either are a horror writer, have been a horror writer or want to be a horror writer. In other words, you probably possess the kind of morbidly inventive and unremittingly cynical imagination that you need in order to write good horror fiction.

The fact is that working in the horror genre requires a lot more imagination than most people think. After all, you’ve got to come up with ways to shock, disturb and frighten even the most jaded fans of the genre. In fact, you probably are one of those jaded fans.

And, well, the kind of highly inventive creative thought that goes into writing good horror fiction isn’t too different from the kind of highly inventive creative thought that goes into writing good comedy.

This is about the best way I can describe it, but the state of mind you need to be in to write good horror is very similar to the state of mind you need to be in to write good comedy.

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Anyway, I hope this was interesting 🙂

Seven Useless Sources Of Artistic Inspiration (Comic)

Well, I had this hilariously cynical idea for a comic a while ago and, since it’s been about a month or so since I made a comic-based blog post, I thought that I’d make a comic about seven useless sources of artistic inspiration for today.

Normal daily articles will resume tomorrow (with a review of this absolutely terrifying Mod for “Doom”). Plus, there will – of course- be the usual daily art post later tonight too.

(And, yes, I know that I posted this comic on DeviantART about a month ago – back then, I feared for the future of this blog and wanted to get this comic out there in some way or another. So, apologies to anyone who also looks at my DeviantART gallery regularly).

Enjoy 🙂

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Seven Useless Sources Of Artistic Inspiration" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE]
“Seven Useless Sources Of Artistic Inspiration” By C. A. Brown

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