On Levity

Hey there. Angi needed a little more time to compose her thoughts, so you get me, John, instead! …hey, come back here! She’ll be back next Wednesday with further thoughts. Until then, here’s some words from my head.

I am  a firm believer in the power of humor as a literary tool. I read a good bit (I know, a writer who reads, what are the odds), and if there’s one thing I’m not a big fan of, it’s relentlessly bleak fiction. You know the sorts. Every victory is Pyrrhic, the world is always doomed and our heroes’ actions only forestall the inevitable, and if there’s any humor to be found, it’s gallows humor.

I like levity in my fiction, especially speculative fiction. Because people are people, even if those people live on Mars or are dragons or merfolk or sapient mold spores from Planet Z. And people, more often than not, use humor to cope with tough situations.

I like drama and serious stories as much as the next guy, but without a little lightness, too much darkness is overwhelming. Internet personality Jim Sterling once did a piece on this subject comparing the protagonist of Final Fantasy VII (Squall) with the one of Final Fantasy (IX) Zidane. To paraphrase Jim, Squall spends the whole game a sulky mess, responding to everything the game throws at him with a sullen “Whatever.” And when terrible things happen to him, then it’s business as usual. Zidane, on the other hand, is playful, roguish, a bit cheeky at times. He knows the meaning of the word “fun”. And when his world comes crashing down around him, you can feel his pain.

This is the approach I like to use when writing. Characters I write will face overwhelming odds and incomprehensible horrors, but even with that looming over their heads, they’ll always be people. And people smile and laugh and make quips at inappropriate moments, because sometimes that’s just what people need to hear in those moments.



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