H1 Commentary: On Black Humor

You can probably guess what happens in H1: Faith is Struck By Lightning. This is the third time I’ve announced the death of a character in a section title, the others being A1: Dan is Immolated in a Furnace and C4: Beatrice is Hit By a Bus. Other writers might name these sections something else so the deaths are a surprise, but I don’t see the point. Reading is about the journey, not the destination. Besides, we’ve seen before that death isn’t really a handicap in Akayama DanJay.

More importantly, I think it’s funny. There’s a dark humor in knowing Faith is about to die, and waiting for it to happen. Let’s talk about dark humor, or black humor, and how I’m trying to make readers laugh as terrible things happen to characters they like.

The line between humor and horror is thin. The way we tell jokes is the same way horror directors get us to jump out of our seats. Careful maintenance of tension and expectation leads the reader on a mental journey. Just when the reader is most susceptible to emotional whiplash (either laughter or shock), the skilled artist relentlessly drops the punchline, or the scare.

So I knew I had to kill Faith at the end of the section, when the reader might have forgotten the section title. Letting her dodge a bus just before her death reminds readers of Faith’s impending doom mere moments before it happens, inducing a sense of hopelessness. In my best case scenario, the reader is filled with hope and then their hope is dashed.

Of course, someone just being struck by lightning isn’t black humor. If an orphan was adopted and then suddenly struck by lightning, that would be black humor. Such humor requires that the reader feels guilty just for hearing the story; then they can laugh to relieve those negative emotions. Before I let Beatrice get hit by a bus, I let the reader know she was a nurse who worked at a religious hospital, pumping up her purity.

Likewise, I made sure that Faith is extra friendly this section. Beatrice was her girlfriend, but Faith copes with Beatrice’s death by helping Dan cope with Beatrice’s death. Faith offers to buy breakfast for Dan and Jay. Jay notes how happy she looks, just in time for her to be blasted into ash.

Dan and Jay are just as important to wringing the most emotion from this situation. Dan and Jay must be attached to Faith so her death affects them. Dan’s last conversation with her shows how much he depends on her friendship. Jay isn’t dependent on Faith, but he bought souvenirs for her and wanted to tell her about Virgil Jango Skyy’s story.

Then I make them watch Faith dodge a bus. Dan must have had a flashback to Beatrice’s death, and he’d barely have enough time to catch his breath before Faith is struck by lightning.

Be cruel to your characters. Whether you’re writing horror or humor, forcing characters to overcome obstacles is the basis of storytelling. In this case the cruelty I show to the trio is, in my mind, comical. I hope you got a laugh out of it, even if it was a nervous one.

Anyway, I’ll see you next week. Keep eating your worms!

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