Friday, 18 March 2011


By Richard Jay Parker

It's Red Nose Day today (you can make a donation HERE) and appropriately comic relief is my subject.

Before I started writing books I wrote, edited and produced a lot of TV comedy scripts for myriad performers. HERE's a brief one of mine. I'm the one covered in blood. The most amusing part of this for me is that I still have hair. Anyway, last week somebody asked me if there was any crossover into the thriller writing I do now.

It was an interesting question. My sense of humour has always been pretty twisted. Of course humour is very subjective and I've often found that what makes me laugh has a very different effect on other people.

To me the Bookwalter character in STOP ME was grimly amusing and his whole motivation darkly satirical. Others find him repugnant but that's why nobody will ever write a gag that makes everybody laugh.

After briefly analysing the two disciplines it didn't take long to see how much they have in common. Like comedy, much of what I write now is still about setting up and paying off. In comedy it's something you have to condense but in a thriller you're still building to a (hopefully) killer punch.

My favourite thrillers are littered with red herrings and subtle hints at the eventual conclusion. In comedy you nail a topic by exploring it in a variety of ways - the classic escalation being the favourite. The punch (if you're a traditionalist) will hopefully be unexpected but you have to enlist your audience en route. Get them on side to share your journey to it, however surreal. In a thriller the main difference is you try to throw your reader along the way. Obfuscation is the key (good title for a book). You still give them an unexpected conclusion but one which makes perfect sense when you highlight the route at the end.

But what about employing comic relief? A lot of writers use it to ease tension before they start building the suspense again. It lurks in most thrillers to varying degrees from wisecracking cops and PIs to a single detail or line that serves the same purpose.

Comedy and drama are often difficult to separate in fiction and reality. And, let's face it, we could all do with a bit more comic relief lately.

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