Oftentimes, you’ll come across a character who is, to quote Chris Evans, “not a funny guy.” At the same time, they clearly do have a sense of humor. And if you’re in an action story, most of the humor won’t be jokes, of the verbal or practical variety. Nine times out of ten, in an action/adventure flick, your hero won’t be the kind to tell or play jokes. Aside from a wry quip, you won’t hear anything “funny” from them.
What’s an author to do?
Humor is a vital tool, not only in keeping a story from getting too dark and intense, but also as a coping mechanism for the characters. Every story needs humor.
However, these not-so-funny characters often exercise their sense of humor in another way. Patricia C. Wrede, the author of the Phantom Menace young reader novelization, referred to it as “battle humor.”
You were right about one thing, Master. The negotiations were short. ~~Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Phantom Menace
A more commonly used word is “sarcasm.”
And what is sarcasm?
Basically, it’s poking fun at a situation. It’s a coping tool.
If they’re shooting at you they’re bad! ~~Steve Rogers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Oftentimes, this sort of snark will take a reader off-guard, but take them off-guard in a good way. Let’s use an example from my work-in-progress “Colorblind”: Connor and Nathaniel are pinned down by the bad guys, in a field. There’s practically no cover, and they will be entirely exposed when the sun comes up. The bad guys are taking pot-shots over their heads in an attempt to get them to jump out early. They are in very deep Trouble, with a capital “T.”
And then, Connor says, “I’m starting to think they just like shooting at dirt.” Nat gives him a rather odd look, to which Connor shrugs and says, “On the other hand, they could be just trying to use up excess ammunition.”
I don’t think it will get a lot of laughs, but that’s Connor for you. His sense of humor is a little off-target.
Nine times out of ten, an action hero won’t crack a joke. He will quip, however. His humor depends on the situation; his humor is really about telling the universe that he doesn’t care what sort of nonsense it drops on his head, he’ll deal with it and own it.
Like a boss.
So, situational humor.
Horatio Hornblower is well-known for this. I can’t think of one particular example at the moment, but a wry aside is something that just happens from time to time.
“Why are they still coming at us?” one grunt shouts in the zombie apocalypse. “I thought they were looking for brains!” (Yeah, this is only the second time I’ve mentioned zombies on this blog. Don’t get used to it.)
Also, if Indiana Jones does differently, please do not notify me. I’d rather not get any spoilers before I’ve seen the movie.
Oh, and late Happy Star Wars day. May the Force be with you–you’re gonna need it.
Thanks for reading, and God Bless!