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 🙂

Three Very Basic Ways To Add Subtle Humour To Your Comic Or Story

[Sorry about replacing the title graphic for this article. I mainly changed it because I both wasn't quite happy with part of the illustration and because I also didn't think that the original text would juxtapose well with the somewhat more sombre art post that will be posted later tonight. Sorry about this change.]

[Sorry about replacing the title graphic for this article. I mainly changed it because I both wasn’t quite happy with part of the illustration and because I also didn’t think that the original text would juxtapose well with the somewhat more sombre art post that will be posted later tonight. Sorry about this change.]

Although “laugh out loud” humour is one of the best types of comedy around, don’t underestimate the power of subtle humour when you’re writing a story or making a comic. Subtle humour is useful for a vast number of reasons – it can make parts of your story more memorable, it can make funny jokes even funnier and it can also keep your audience interested during slightly less amusing parts of your story or comic.

But, how do you add subtle humour to your story or comic? Here are a three very basic ways to do it:

1) Alliterative names: Although this works best in prose fiction, one way to add a little bit of humour to your story or comic is to come up with alliterative names for some of the things that you are describing. If you’ve never heard of alliteration, all it means is a series of words that all begin with the same letter (eg: comedic comic, terrible television, stupid smartphone etc…).

This can take a bit of creative thought, but using alliteration occasionally can add a certain light-hearted playfulness and/or sarcastic cynicism to your story or comic that can help to keep your audience amused between major jokes.

To see a good example of this, check out a computer game called “Deponia“. At the beginning of the game, the main character is in his ex-girlfriend’s house and she has left a series of instructional post-it notes around the house.

On their own, these notes are pretty funny – but what makes them especially memorable is the fact that most of them have alliterative names too- there’s a nagging note, a severe slip and a chiding chit. This is a brilliant example of subtle humour.

2) Background details: This is probably fairly self-explanatory, but a good way to add subtle humour to a comic is through amusing background details. You can put silly or surreal things in the background, you can replace adverts/movie posters etc… in the background with parodies, you add a silly background character in a crowded room etc… I’m sure you get the idea.

These kinds of jokes are especially good because they reward the audience for reading your comic closely and/or for re-reading it. In other words, if done well enough, amusing background details can add a second layer of humour to your comic.

For a good example of this, it might be worth looking at Warren Ellis’s “Transmetropolitan” comics. Because of the highly detailed artwork used in many of these comics and because of the information-dense cyberpunk setting that the comic uses, there are all sorts of silly/surreal things in the background that you might miss if you read these comics too quickly.

3) Explanations: Sometimes, a good way to add a subtle joke to a story or a comic is to include a vaguely amusing explanation for something in the story.

This works best if you’re writing in a more imaginative genre like sci-fi or fantasy (where there will be lots of strange things that your audience will probably be curious about), but you can still do this in more realistic stories if you’re clever about it.

After all, we all have strange things in our lives that have a funny story behind them, or we have “ordinary” parts of our lives that have a vaguely amusing explanation. So, yes, this kind of thing can be done in more “realistic” stories too.

Examples of using explanations for subtle humour can be found in pretty much anything by Terry Pratchett. I’ve only read a couple of his comedic fantasy novels, but they’re often crammed with amusing “explanatory” footnotes about many of the stranger things that appear in his stories.

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Sorry about such a basic article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Humour As A Perspective

2014 Artwork humour as a perspective

Although this is a short article (because I’ve got to watch something on TV in about fifty minutes) that is meant to help you write comedy fiction, make funny comics etc… I’ll probably be spending a fair amount of it talking about my own writing and art.

No, I’m not – to use one of Rowan Atkinson’s brilliant rhymes– being a “trucking banker” here, it’s just that this is the best way to explain what I mean by “humour as a perspective”.

Anyway, I haven’t written any comedy fiction in quite a while and I haven’t even made a regular humourous webcomic since last year, it isn’t like I haven’t made anything funny. It’s just that the comedy in my work tends to be a bit more subtle and spontaneous. Even when I don’t really think about writing comedy, it just kind of appears.

It’s in the sarcastic comments I make below the screenshots in my computer game reviews, it’s in some of the little sketches at the beginnings of these articles, it appears occasionally when I try to write something “serious” and it can sometimes appear when I’m practicing my art by trying to copy an old painting:

Stay tuned for the colour version of this picture tomorrow evening....

Stay tuned for the colour version of this picture tomorrow evening….

And, well, all of this has made me see writing comedy in a slightly different way to how I used to. In many ways, I’ve come to see humour (or subtle humour at least) as a perspective more than anything else.

Although laugh-out-loud comedy usually has to be carefully planned in advance, subtle comedy is an entirely different beast altogether. You can’t really “plan” subtle comedy in advance, it’s just something that emerges from you if you have a cynical enough mind and/or a strange enough perspective on the world.

So, if you want to add a bit of humour to something, then just look at your own opinions about everything. Chances are, if you’re the kind of person who is dissatisfied enough with the world to want to create something better with words and/or pictures on a regular basis, then you’re probably going to have some interesting opinions about things.

And, let’s face it, some of those cynical opinions are probably going to be at least slightly funny. Of course, some of them probably aren’t (eg: they might come across as depressing, miserable controversial and/or just bitter) – so be careful. In fact, if you want to keep your cynicism funny then mostly restrict it to more trivial topics, like this:

"Why Do Musicians Do This?" By C. A. Brown

“Why Do Musicians Do This?” By C. A. Brown

Even if you just create things purely for the fun of it and you aren’t a bitter and twisted cynic like myself, then you still have a slightly different perspective on the world to non-creative people.

No, I’m not being a pompous elitist here, I’m just stating a fact. If you re-create the world on paper and/or on a computer screen on a regular basis, then you’ll have to think about it a lot more and/or observe it a lot more.

As such, you’re more likely to notice funny things, inconsistencies, little hypocrisies, strange things etc… than most people probably won’t. And, yes, you can get a lot of good comedy out of these things.

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Sorry for such a short article (what? I’m writing this two months in the past and the first episode of the new series of “Doctor Who” is about to begin), but I hope that it was useful 🙂