LonCon3 #19: Where is the YA (and adult) humour?

Panellists: Gail Carriger, Suzanne McLeod, Frances Hardinge, Jack Campbell, Jody Lynn Nye

Much of what we see in the YA shelves is dour, grimy and deadly. Why is that? Where can we find the lighter side of young adult fiction? Which authors should we look to for a satisfying happy ending or a good belly laugh?

Amalgamating with:
So grim. Much serious. Wow. {adult humour}
Panellists: Ellen Klages, Tanya Huff, Mur Lafferty, Darren Nash, Connie Willis, Simon R Green

Science fiction and fantasy have a long history of both comic writing and essentially light-hearted adventures. However, more and more it seems authors want to take themselves seriously, focusing more on the darker elements of story telling. Is genre too po-faced outside the work of certain specifically ‘comedy’ writers? Why do so many writers steer clear of trying to be funny?

Books that are primarily humour are rare, Gail says. They tend to be contemporary and non-sci-fi/fantasy. However, there is affectionate humour in fandom. Galaxy Quest is a good example.

Humour doesn’t get respect, Jody says, as they’re seen as having less substance, but you can be subversive with humour. Satire, for example, like Animal Farm.

However, humour is subjective. What’s humorous to some is unfunny or offensive to others. Timing and context is everything. Live on stage you can gauge an audience’s reaction and obviously that’s not possible with books. You can build anticipation using the rule of three and produce an unexpected surprise, have a running joke, situational comedy or insert humour into social interaction.

Young adults don’t want to be coddled as the popularity of dystopian fiction has shown. They want the chance to handle serious situations beyond the stereotypical melodramatic tragedies of teen life. It’s the same with children and Grimm’s fairy tales – they’re gruesome but they also educate on the dangers of the world. There’s a palpable loss of selfishness as the protagonist ages and they age alongside the reader with the release of each book in a series.

A comment on one of Frances’s books: “The funniest book on genocide.”

Contrasting the comical and the disturbing highlights the surreal and the absurd. Darkness can enhance humour and vice versa. Comic relief can put tragic events into perspective. Getting the balance right can prevent monotony and sometimes it’s those little moments of humorous social interaction that endears readers.

Comedy = Tragedy + Time
Comedy = Tragedy + Distance*

*i.e. it’s happening to someone else

Gail makes her beta readers write LOLs in the margins of her manuscripts to ensure balance. Sex is hilarious so she loves writing funny sex scenes, and if she can make her copy editor laugh, she’s done well.

Twilight‘s not supposed to be humourous.” – Jack

Comedic elements can also get you past the gatekeepers – the schools, parents and librarians. Darker books get attention and earn a controversial reputation due to the age-appropriateness of violence.

“I like to play with the music of words.” – Frances

Gail says she’s an anti-George R.R. Martin because no one dies on stage. She was raised on audiobooks rather than television. She recommends Guardians of the Galaxy and other comic book movies because they balance humour well.

**A note on the adult panel: I left halfway through (it was 90 minutes long) with only a handful of few notes that I included in the third paragraph and some recommended reading. It was mostly just the authors cracking jokes that I didn’t think were funny but the audience laughed along with them. Many people were turned away when the room reached capacity.

Recommended Reading {YA}

Recommended Reading {Adult}

5 thoughts on “LonCon3 #19: Where is the YA (and adult) humour?

  1. I think with fantasy and sci fi there’s a risk with humour that your characters will look ridiculous. Think men in tights. But that’s the vein that Terry Pratchett exploits so well. I like the sardonic humou in Ben Aaoronivitch’s Rivers of London books.



    1. It seems Pratchett cornered the market in humorous SF&F. I think the main risk is to have characters do things that don’t fit with their personalities, but then everyone has hidden depths.

      I liked the humour in Rivers of London too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It seems like you’ve had a grand time at LonCon, and it’s so nice that you’re sharing with us 🙂
    It’s true that there’s not really that much humor in YA, I tried to think of stories I’ve read that were more humorous than not, and I couldn’t think of a single one :O
    Have a great week 🙂


    1. I’m glad you’re enjoying these posts. I’d not seen anyone write in any detail about what goes on at these fantasy conventions, and since I’d made notes, I thought it only fair to share.

      Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday is a hilarious contemporary murder mystery. It’s the only YA I can safely put into the humour category.

      Shelly Laurenston does humorous adult paranormal romances that don’t always have solid plots. I laugh until it hurts to breathe.


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