On Comedy in IF

@Entracte I moved our conversation here so as not to derail the interest thread. Plus, I think it’s an interesting conversation which deserves its own thread, and others might like to participate.

Here is the conversational backlog ported from the Interest Check thread.

Thanks for your kind words. I’ve written comedy before, but IF is a new form for me. Writing it, anyway.

To your question: what form serves IF best? Dunno. My instinct is: whatever works. I dig humor because it entertains, yeah, but it also disarms and ingratiates. You can make people like characters, so they care about what happens. Or enjoy themselves so much they don’t see the next thing coming.

A CoG author w strong comedy elements is @Gower. It’s pretty consistently of a kind. “British humor” often seems like a vestige of the class system to me, so lots of subverting or playing on social expectation and etiquette. Plus a dry-ish wit. I also thought the narration in Night Road was snarky on the regular–lot of pop culture references. I think a lot of “American humor” is sourced in irreverence, rebel spirit and such. Choice of the Dragon is pretty funny too, and a lot of that comes from the narration rather than the characters. Like a film with commentary or something. Cheers!

Here are some things I've been learning if you think they will help.

-It’s hard to make people funny in distinct ways consistently. You shouldn’t force-feed your characters random funny lines but make their comedy fall out of their character and circumstances. This is what makes it sustainable, I think. To oversimplify, since you brought up my work, I try to contrast Trudy with Saz via cheery overstatement versus matter-of-fact understatement and keep them in those lanes. Some works, the narrator is just hopping between bodies. I find when everyone has their own unique pattern, dialogue writes itself.

-The juice has to be worth the squeeze. Or, the longer a joke is, the bigger the laugh has to be to justify the length. I’ve had to abandon many of my favorites bc they take too much lead up with not enough pay off. Things have to move forward as well. In all writing, every sentence has to develop plot and character. For comedy, add intermittent laughter to the multi-tasking. Nice segue to–

-There’s a rhythm you have to feel out. How long between laughs? How big are those laughs? Set up. Pay off. Set up. Pay off.

-Variety is either a thing or it isn’t. Haven’t figured that out yet. I try to put different stuff in there for different people, but maybe someone reading is looking for one thing from you?


This also really depends on how much you like shaggy dog stories.

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Good call on the new thread. I am prepared to completely run away with this topic ^^

Complete honesty is probably the best foot forward, to start with - the only CoG I’ve actually played through is Gower’s Cakes and Ale. I must say the dry nature of its comedy is something I absolutely adore, but from my current perspective something I’d find very difficult to pull off without substantial thought and planning beforehand. Needless to say, one of the reasons it works so well is because the MC’s thoughts and the narrative are one entity - in CoGs where the narrative is phrased differently, or even in a contradictory manner, to the player’s POV, I doubt it would work nearly as well. In such a case, the reader might simply become frustrated with their narrator’s lack of considerate behaviour. I would, at least.

I definitely agree with the idea that forced comedy is - long story short - bad. More often than not, forced comedy is obvious, and jarring, and ruins immersion completely, because you hear the author speaking through a character, not a character full of life themselves. I’ve found myself falling into a similar trap when coming up with character concepts - I’ll get so fixated with one or two ideas for scenes that I’ll build the rest of the character around them when that could lead them to becoming a total dead end. If I may ask, do you find you have similar problems at times? Usually, my method to overcome this is to just delete the scene from my mind temporarily and go back to it once I’ve developed the character further. If it still works, or could work slightly altered, I’ll keep it. If it’s not funny/productive anymore, it’s gone.

Personally, when it comes to writing humour, I stick to literal narrative slapstick - ie “They shake their head at you, consequently losing their focus, missing a step, and tumbling down the rest of the stairs in a rather unsightly fashion.” - specifically because, well, I don’t have the patience to plan jokes that are any brainier. Pacing is something I find difficult, so, you know. I avoid it. Despite that, though, of course it’s necessary in order to write jokes that really gel with a story, especially more serious ones. It’s hard to get anyone to take your writing seriously as a whole if you stick to :)))))) the whole way through. Even lighthearted tales like Gower’s require the occasional pull (or total, merciles decimation) of the heartstrings.

As for variety, and gauging what readers want - argh.
To be honest, I don’t really know how to deal with this sort of thought. One should write what they enjoy for as long as they can help it, but… what happens if they expect completely different things to their audience? A character they find hopelessly endearing might be an endless annoyance to 90% of their readers, and so forth. There’s probably a simple (or at least existent) way to go about addressing this, but I’ve no clue what it is.


I hate quoting “murder your darlings” because everyone under the sun does, so it annoys the bejeebees out of me. However, I have done so. My addition is this: those are just words until you’re holding the limp cold body of your brainchild in your hands. Editing yourself can be like watching the ending of Old Yeller on repeat–“He’s my dog, daddy. I’ll do it.” Bring tissue.

I know for sure that slapstick won’t sustain on its own. It works for short-form visual like The 3 Stooges, but how many consecutive episodes can you watch without knowing everything that’s going to happen? In screenwriting, there’s a dichotomy called the 4 quadrants: young, old, male, and female. Who’s watching you show? Young men only? Old women? One of the reasons family films do best in box offices is because they sell to all quadrants. That said, I think of mom, dad, brother, and sister on the couch and try to put at least a little something in there for everyone. Sure, there’s also non-binary step-uncle and the transgender second-cousin, but I think you get them too, if you’re able, between getting the others. Don’t know if that’s helpful, but it helps me.

You have good points, especially about how plot humor has to be carefully calibrated. The “situational” that forms the “sit” of “sitcom” must be calculated even, and especially, when the character’s reactions feel organic and happenstance. My writing strength, I think, is that I can make ridiculous commentary about any situation. So, I find I plot without consideration of those big laughs, trusting that I’ll come up with something when I get there. This helps because (flip-side) my weakness if go so far off road as to leave country. I need to build guard rails. Today, I was writing about a land eel. You hunt it to because it’s killing livestock. When you do, you find it was a mother preparing food for her clutch of eggs. You have to decide what to do with them. If your character has the power of prophecy, one of their futures sees them becoming sentient, dominant, and then developing language and interplanetary travel. That kind of off the road. :sweat: Cheers! @Entracte


I hate that you’re right, but you probably are. Although I find this is less of an issue if you find a better joke - or in less specific circumstances, a better event, thread, or character - to replace what you had to cut.

Unfortunately I don’t think I have that much more to offer in the vein of comedy and my thoughts on the subject ^^; As aforementioned I’m only really a beginner with IF and CoG, and although I’ve the barest bones of an idea for my own little pet project, I’m definitely going to hold back from trying to cater to every kind of audience at once. For now, I’m choosing to stick to what I know, and explore carefully what I don’t, to gear myself up for potentially bigger projects in the future. In the end, I don’t want to have stories that fall flat on their face because I thought a joke out so carefully that it was executed like a rigid block of code. Slapstick most definitely isn’t something one can fall back upon 24/7 though, I see the sense in that. That’s primarily why I was seeking answers in the Interest Check thread.

Thanks for the advice and the food for thought. I’ll be lurking in the Not Your Mother’s Shire thread if you have anything else you’d like to add, of course!

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Cheers, then @Entracte ! Sorry if that was too morbid, or if anything I said was close-ended slash conversation-killing. I have a tendency to write stream of consciousness and so am sometimes careless.

Slapstick has been done to great effect. The word itself is funny. Feel free to DM me a WiP or demo when you get one together. Or to reach out if you need anyone to bounce things off of.

I talk like I know things sometimes, but we’re all just figuring out life together. If I can help, I’d like to.