Thursday, September 16, 2010

Star Wars Lesson - Adding Humor When Writing Life or Death Stories

Just a reminder-right after this post is one announcing the winner of IVY'S EVER AFTER, Dawn Lairamore's fantasy adventure.

I’m a huge movie fan, and movies both influence and inspire my writing. Since I’m writing adventure stories where bad things happen, people and animals get hurt, and not everyone may make it out alive, I needed to find a way to keep readers from getting so depressed, they put the book down. I don’t like depressing books myself, and I’m sure most middle grade readers don’t either.
One of my main inspirations for WILDFIRE RUN are the original three Star Wars movies. I've watched them many times (what can I say, I’ve always been a geek), and I’ve tried to figure out all the reasons they worked so well. To me, one of the reasons comes from the bits of humor thrown in. The movies are just basically fun to watch. I saw another sci fi movie recently, called SERENITY, and while interesting, it was almost unrelentingly grim. I enjoyed, but I’m not going to watch it again.

The humor in STAR WARS comes partly from the secondary characters and partly from the dialogue of some of the main characters. The droid, C3PO, with his absurd British butler aspects instantly adds fun, but since it’s difficult to work an over-the-top sidekick character into most stories, I looked at other aspects.
One of those is not making the characters perfect heroes. I’ve heard the original draft of the Star Wars screenplay had the Han Solo character as a very serious, humorless man. I can’t even imagine that. Here’s just one example of how a touch of light-heartedness makes a scene memorable, and gets the viewer to root for the characters.
The scene is where Luke and Han Solo are trying to rescue Princess Leia on the Death Star. They’re in the control room. Han’s confusion over what to do adds some humor as he talks on the intercom trying to pretend he is an officer.
HAN(sounding official): Everything is under control. Situation normal.

INTERCOM VOICE: What happened?
HAN (getting nervous):Uh... had a slight weapons malfunction. But, uh, everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here, now, thank you. How are you?
INTERCOM VOICE: We're sending a squad up.
HAN: Uh, uh, negative. We had a reactor leak here now. Give us a few minutes to lock it down. Large leak... very dangerous.

INTERCOM VOICE: Who is this? What's your operating number?

Han blasts the comlink and it explodes.

That scene could have been written to showcase the heroes, with Han been in complete control and able to sound like a perfect military man. It is a life or death situation, so it would make sense to write it that way, but if it had been, it probably wouldn’t be something that remained in anyone’s memory. The little addition of, “We're fine. We're all fine here, now, thank you. How are you?” is funny and makes the scene.

So adding in bits of lighter dialogue will keep a story something a reader may want to go back to or recommend to their friends. Adding in too much will dilute the tension and make the characters too unbelievable, but a little goes a long way. In WILDFIRE RUN I tried to incorporate some humor in a serious adventure. For example, there’s one scene where Luke, the President’s son, is trying to figure out how to capture a snake that’s blocking a door they need to open. He’s got a LEGO MIndstorms robot he’s planning to use. Callie, his always practical friend, is fed up with some of his crazier ideas. So instead of them just having a serious discussion of whether or not the plan will work, here’s how the dialogue goes:

Luke put the robot down about five feet from the snake. “Everyone back up in case the snake gets mad.”
“You can bet he’s going to get mad. If you had a plastic pincher toy making beeping noises and coming at you, you’d be mad too,” Callie said.

It’s just a very small addition to the story, but to me it lightens it up enough to keep the scene fun.

In honor of Star Wars, I’m giving away a choice of either the Yoda at the top of the post, or this odd R2D2 pepper grinder. You know you’ve always wanted one of these. All you have to do is leave a comment by September 21st. I’d love to hear about movies you all enjoy.
And because I love my book trailer, my own version of a mini-movie, I’m including it again.


  1. Mary Typhani9/16/10, 10:47 AM

    I am such a Star Wars geek! Awesome post!


  2. This was brilliant, Dee! I love the R2D2 pepper grinder! LOL!!

  3. Awesome! The whole family loves Star Wars (from the 4 year old to the 18 year old to us adults, lol). Awesome post and love the trailer! :D

  4. OMG! WILDFIRE RUN has Mindstorms? It just moved up five places on my TBR pile.

  5. Love your post -- although I disagree with one tiny point. I loved Serenity -- it's based on the tv series Firefly by Joss Whedon - - and although the movie is darker than the show, I still found parts of it amusing. (But I'm a die-hard Joss fan, so that explains a lot!)

  6. Thanks all. Jacqueline, I had my kids 'help' build a model because I wanted to make sure it might possibly work. Actually they mostly built it after it became clear I was taking hours to do it.

    I did like some of the characters in Serenity. I'm going to have to watch Firefly. I know many writer friends who are big fans of it.

  7. Great post, Dee! If I win, I'm donating the Yoda to your kids. :)

  8. Great post! I definitely love humor as a way to supplement tension.

    Yoda is so cute! :D

  9. The trail IS awesome. And I'm an embarassingly huge Star Wars fan. I really want the R2 pepper grinder, but I'm not sure I could live it down! Then again, I would gain huge Mommy-points from my 3 boys. :)

  10. Ah the original three. Well said. This is an excellent post and an important aspect of storytelling, regardless of the type of tale. This is also a great point about what was so much better in the original trilogy. The second three weren't terrible but the comedy was stilted, awkward and contrived.

  11. Another Star Wars (original trilogy only!) geek here. Great post. I'm a big believer in adding humor to keep things interesting, especially in grim situations. For a lot of people, it's a natural reaction.

    Gotta encourage you to watch Firefly though. :-) The movie was much grimmer than the show, which was frequently hilarious.

  12. What I want to know is how you acquired said R2D2 pepper grinder. Ha! I agree that mixing humor into tense moments can also make the characters themselves more accessible. Great thoughts about bringing on the funny. Thanks, Dee!

  13. I NEED THE PEPPER GRINDER!! Ha, ha!! My son has been into Star Wars ever since I can remember! We were going to make him Yoda for Halloween 2 years back when he was 5, but he rufused to wear the green face makeup--too itchy! ;) That's actually what got him reading--the young reader Star Wars books...whatever works!!! ;)

    Great post, Dee!!!

  14. Excellent. Loved the post. Writers can make their heavy scenes so much more engaging with a touch of humor.

  15. Had to link to this post. It was perfect for what I had to say this week.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!