#2 Post of 2021: 7 Tips to Balancing the Humor and the Heavy

(Post originally published on April 5, 2021.  Still in the colder part of that year.)

Yahoo Image Search

I like to included humor in my stories.  Yet, I don’t want them to be seen as comedies.  I like to touch on heavy topics in my stories.  Yet, I don’t want them to be seen as serious dramas.  That means I need to have both and keep things balanced.  That isn’t nearly as easy as some people believe.  You can’t throw the two around whenever you feel like it in the hopes of creating an equilibrium.  Humor and heavy can clash like battling titans instead of uniting like pieces of a puzzle.  So, what are some ways to handle this?

  1. Whichever one is going to be the main tone of the story should be introduced from the beginning.  If you want to have a serious story with humorous sections and conversations then you need to set the heavy stage.  If it’s supposed to be a comedic tale that moves into serious territory then start with the funny.  You do have a runway to work with since the opening is more character and world introduction, so the tone may be neutral first.  Eventually, you need to decide on who gets the bigger slice of pizza.
  2. Heavy topics can overshadow everything.  The moment you go heavy or dark, the harder it is to add humor or even casual pieces.  This is because heavy is designed to touch on the darker emotions such as anger and sadness.  You want to stir these in the audience to get them into the tone.  Humor is lighter and aims to get people to laugh, which might not be easy to do if they’re already provoked by whatever topic you’ve picked to get them serious.  So, hold off on the heavy if that’s not the main tone of the book or try not to go too deep into the void to maintain some humor.
  3. Humor doesn’t always break tension in a good way.  If the scene is supposed to be serious to get a point across then throwing humor in could destroy that.  Think about having a deep or serious conversation only for it to be derailed by somebody cracking jokes every few minutes.  Readers will think that the author doesn’t really want to talk about this subject or that they are mocking it.  Read the room you’ve created before you insert humor.
  4. Heavy and humor are not universal.  A way to maintain balance between the two is understanding that every person handles things differently.  For example, some people grieve in solitude while others search out another person to talk to.  Others may become self-destructive and another group will be logical about the loss to prevent any emotions.  With humor, you have some who will crack jokes and others who won’t find much funny.  Try to vary these reactions among your characters to help the audience see them as individuals instead of emotional copies of each other.
  5. Dark humor could be a useful tool in adding comedy to heavy stories.  You have to be careful in how you use it.  Some people can perceive it as mocking the subject matter if it hasn’t been used prior to the event.  Establish that characters have this kind of sense of humor first, so that the audience isn’t surprised when it happens.  In fact, they might just expect it.  Also, make sure that the other characters would be okay with it or have them voice their displeasure or anger over the joking around.
  6. In general, research the heavy topics that you want to introduce.  This way, you don’t inadvertently turn them into a joke.  Plenty of misconceptions out there about things such as addiction and mental illness.  Yes, those can be heavy topics.
  7. Don’t toss away the idea that humor can be done to get a character out of a darker tone of story.  This might sound like it contradicts what I said earlier, but I mean to do it gradually here.  While heavy can be all-consuming in a story, humor can chip away at it if done strategically.  Of course, you may need to establish senses of humor of characters first.  I’m a broken record there.  The point is that you can shift the tone to a lighter, but not pure comedy, story by doing this.  In fact, you can see a lot of more modern comedies do this while hilarity at the start, a heavy topic strikes, and then a gradual rise into a humor/heavy balance.

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.
This entry was posted in Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to #2 Post of 2021: 7 Tips to Balancing the Humor and the Heavy

  1. L. Marie says:

    Such a great topic! Humor and pathos are a delicate balance as you mentioned. Great tips. I especially appreciate #3. I recently had to read an acquired manuscript for a publisher. Without fail every time a moment of supposed tension would arise, a character would make a joke, which always completely dissolved the tension for me. I couldn’t take those moments seriously. But yet the characters would tell me how earth shattering those moments were. .(They would literally say words to that effect to each other.)


    • Thanks. There is a trend of using jokes in every tense scene. It’s like authors don’t have the patience or desire to let the heaviness linger for more than a second. Part of this is due to the popularity of certain stories that overuse the humor side to the point where it’s difficult to maintain seriousness of heavy scenes for more than the scene itself if that. It’s a ‘tell instead of show’ thing too because these stories will tell you to be sad or angry regardless of the comedy. It’s so strange.


  2. Great points, Charles. I almost can’t stop injecting humor when the heavy gets a little too much. You are right it has to be appropriate or it comes off as a satire of sorts.


  3. Good tips. Reading the room is paramount. Sometimes, the heavy needs time to sink in and establish stakes.


  4. Great post, Charles! This is all very helpful as I struggle with balancing humor and drama in my WIP 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s