Hi, Thriller Lovers.


I have a bit of a philosophical question for you.

Do you think comedy has a place in an otherwise hard-bitten thriller?  Not necessarily laugh out loud punch line comedy - more like the sort of comic elements that surface in real life.  For instance, Nicolai Ceausescu, the late Romanian dictator, was cruel and unfeeling towards his own people and had no problem letting them starve, but was fanatical about his lap dogs, insisting upon a luxury limo for their exclusive use. 



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I don't associate humor with a "hardbitten thriller".  I do think it has an important place in any mystery/crime novel where character is important.

We must be having a difference of opinion about what a hardbitten thriller is. Never mind, the word is applied to just about everything these days, even cozies.  By all means, have humor.


I agree. I don't see a place for humor in a "hardbitten thriller" either but I think it has a place - and can lighten the mood a tad - in other mystery/crime novels.

In Mixed Messages and the sequel, Unfinished Business, which will be published in November, I use the main character's two young children to inject a little humor into an otherwise "serious" story.

Victoria, I think a bit of humor, well-done and well-placed, is absolutely essential in good hard-bitten thrillers as you call it. The humor serves to humanize your characters, it relieves tension, and it creates a fictional world that feels real and believable.

The key of course is to do it well. ;)

Absolutely. I have a hard time finishing a book completely devoid of humor. It's a part of life, and, as David says above, if you want to ground your hard-bitten thriller in some measure of reality, humor has to enter into it.  It can be humorous comments of people under extreme pressure, whether whistling through the graveyard, or unintentionally funny. Judiciously used humor can also make a serious or tragic event more effective, as it allows you to catch the reader off guard.


Victoria, it depends where you place the humor and how you handle it as a writer.  As a general rule, the reader needs a break in intensity.  In most thrillers, though, the action takes over and it's just a ride to the end.  A writer would have to be really careful about use of humor or comedy there.  It could break the action and the thrill.  Before the action takes over, though, a little humor or comedy relieves the reader from intensity and that helps the reader from getting burned out.  Dana King's Worst Enemies is a pretty dark police procedural.  He does a very good job of interweaving breaks in the narrative that are appropriate and makes the reader grin.  So, I'd pay attention to what he says here.  He's right.

The check is in the mail.

Remember to add the zeroes this time.  It's a little embarrassing to go to the bank to cash a check for fifty cents.

Actually, the humor in your book felt natural, never forced.  That was why it was so effective.  

Seriously.  About the book.

About the check.  Add the zeroes.

Elmore Leonard uses small bursts of humour to great effect. And I just finished The Cut, by George Pelecanos: lots of brief humour in observation. Maybe the rule is to keep it short to highlight the darkness?

I think a hard-bitten thriller needs hard-bitten humor. But then I think no writing is complete without humor. Although it's hard to spot the humor in a James Ellroy novel...

I wrote about child pornography, including scenes from the child's POV. To temper these serious scenes,  wrote humorous scenes with the main character.


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