Types of Silly Stories: I’m Shirley Not an Expert Here

Top Secret

So, I’ve been sitting here trying to think of different types of ‘silly’ stories and I keep coming up with movies.  That being the only thing I can think of, I don’t know if I’m going to have a really good list.  Still, I’ll work with what I have because I think it would be useful to people who are curious.  Feel free to add others in the comments since I’m sure I’ll have missed some.

Full Blown Insanity

Let’s get the most challenging one out of the way.  The reason this is the hardest is because you can easily lose the plot and all coherency.  Rapid fire zaniness can be fun for a short cartoon like the Dodo in Looney Tunes, but you can create exhaustion in your audience if you go on for too long.  A full novel might not work at all unless you find a way to maintain the story.  One anime series that I think could fall into this is Excel Saga, but that is a tough one to get through.  The overall plot of world domination is barely touched while each episode is some ridiculous scheme that goes haywire within minutes.  As I said, this one is hard to pull off.

Protagonist Causes the Silliness

This is more doable because you really only have one character that’s acting silly while everyone else is able to ground the story.  There are different degrees with the hero being capable while silly in some stories and more hazard than help in others.  I’m thinking of the BBC series Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency where the main character is a source of comedy while able to carry the plot.  You can run into a problem here if people get too annoyed at your protagonist who will be in more scenes than other characters.  So you need to add in some positive traits to counter the craziness.

Antagonist Causes the Silliness

Unsurprisingly, this type of story isn’t too hard to pull off.  You have an agent of chaos who needs to be stopped.  It’s usually done with more maliciousness though.  Sure, the Joker makes some good jokes, but he’s still a psychopath.  To get a real comedy out of such a villain, you need to find a balance between silliness and serious threat.  Much of this can boil down to goals.  If you make them simply mischievous like the Gremlins then you can get away with killing and destruction while adding comedy.  You still end up with an action or horror movie.  A better example could be Mister Mxyzptlk from Superman.  He is a powerful imp from the 5th dimension who enjoys messing with Superman.  This can be destructive, but there isn’t as much evil behind the comedy, which will be a big part of the story.

Calm Among the Insanity

I’ve seen this pretty often as I was growing up.  A lot of movies had the main character be serious while strange things happened around them.  Even if they said something ridiculous, they did it deadpan.  Frank Drebin of ‘Naked Gun’ is a prime example of this where even if he’s the source of the comedy, he doesn’t react.  Authors and audiences might find this fairly easy to work with because the protagonist acts as an anchor.  You can see the comedy happen and laugh since it’s through the eyes of someone who isn’t going along with the crazy flow.  In a simpler way, this is the reason why so many comedies require a straight man.  That person who doesn’t get the joke or acts as the wall for the joke to bounce off of.  They give a sense of normalcy to compare the silliness too.

So, can you think of any other types of silly stories?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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13 Responses to Types of Silly Stories: I’m Shirley Not an Expert Here

  1. You’ve done a good job of categorizing these. I’m having a hard time coming up with something too different. I always like a bit of comedy, even in a serious story. I purposely kept Hat to the novella length, because while they are entertaining, I thought maybe too much of them would not be a good thing.

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    • I can see the Hat needing to be short. Personally, I would have liked to see a bit more, but you’re right that too much could make them lose their appeal. I found that doing short story style chapters help my Bedlam characters remain fresh throughout an entire novel.

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  2. L. Marie says:

    Great post! Speaking of British humor, with stories like the Jeeves & Wooster series and Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

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  3. As far as written “silly stories,” you can’t go wrong with Terry Pratchett. Silly stuff happens in his Discworld stories (a suitcase with feet kicking down doors to find its master??), mixed with ironic comments on hypocritical bureaucrats and such, but I’d point out that each story has at its heart a genuine problem and characters who care about that problem. Readers laugh at the bizarre stuff, nod knowingly at the ironic stuff, and cheer along as the characters confront the problem.

    I’m not as familiar with Jeeves and Wooster or Adams, so I couldn’t say whether they have that core element of conflict and resolution.

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    • Could have used that suitcase long ago when mine ended up in Athens and I was in Israel. The core element you’re talking about is really important and humor is more of a vehicle or setting piece. For example, Douglas Adams wrote ‘Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, which was really bizarre and funny. Yet, the core conflict was that Earth had been demolished and the last two humans were with a bunch of aliens getting into adventures that would connect to that initial event. Hard to really explain without spoilers.

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  4. Great post! “Calm Among the Insanity” is probably the most-used one–indeed, a classic. I can think of early examples like Chaplin or later ones like Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau.

    Even in Top Secret – my all-time favorite movie – you have that classic scene where they break into the prison cell and discover that the Professor has dug up a 2-lane escape tunnel with nothing but a teaspoon. Kilmer’s reaction is a simple, “Nice work.” 😀

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