CRAFT: The Art of Mixing Humor and Suspense

Be Mine valentine short stories of loveWelcome to the another article in the Craft series, this one by Bobbye Terry, a frequent guest columnist at the Writer’s Fun Zone.


“Mixing humor with suspense?” you ask. “Surely you jest.”

No, I don’t. For one of the few times in print, I’m completely serious. In order to explain this one, I have to be straight and to the point or you won’t take what I’m saying as valuable.

How do you write the two together? You don’t exactly. They dance in time to each other. Pacing, it’s all about pacing, my friend.

For instance, you begin building the tension. As it builds, occasionally something happens, something funny or darkly humorous, that makes you chuckle and eases the tension a bit, but not enough for the character to completely relax—or you, for that matter. The character continues on his or her merry way. The tension builds some more. This continues, possibly with more humorous interruptions, until the writer is convinced the reader is now hanging on by a thread ready to tear her fingernails from their beds.

For lack of a better word, let’s call this use of humor the place holder. The writer uses it to bookmark the reader’s interest. Too much tension building without a slight release could mean your reader puts the book down or, in case of a movie, turns it off or walks out of the theatre for popcorn.

At some point, you reach the pinnacle of the tension where all hell breaks loose and you grip your book (or e-reader) in a death hold as the shock of the terror travels through your body.

Do you feel the need for a bathroom break, a snack or a glass of wine to calm down?

Here comes humor again, the great tension reducer. Works like a charm.

Why do you think most negotiators use it sporadically? Same reason.

Humor can also act as a diversion right before a huge suspense scene. You’re sitting there thinking, how silly this is. The characters are hamming it up and then, wham-bam, you’re back to digging foam from the shredded cushions of your chair out of those same nails you almost bit off a few minutes ago.

The final use of humor and suspense in “the book of Bobbye” is the elephant in the room style.

You know it’s there.

It’s evident because the character is just plain zany, acting in outlandish and over-the-top ways, bungling everything in front of the main suspects, looking like a complete buffoon.

Think Peter Falk as Columbo.

Aha, you think.

This character is really the smartest person in the scene, and you’d be right, because he or she makes everyone, even you sometimes, think they can’t possibly pull off solving a crime. But when all is said and done it’s because of the crazy approach, the zany hero/ine pulled off the solution.

Okay, you think, I get it. But you haven’t told me how I write it.

No, I can’t. You now know where to use it. Now it takes study and practice to make it work.

Where do you start? Watch Hitchcock, all of his films. He was a genius at this.

That’s right, speaking of Hitchcock, I forgot to mention the cameo, when Hitchcock showed up in his own films, often carrying a musical instrument.

Didn’t that always make you chuckle?

Happy writing!


For Bobbye’s other articles in the series go here.


About the Guest Columnist: Bobbye Terry is the muti-published writer of romantic comedy, suspense and fantasy. She also writes under the pseudonyms Daryn Cross and Terry Campbell and has books out or slated for publication through Black Opal Books, Crescent Moon Press, Eternal Press, L&L Dreamspell and Turquoise Morning Press. Her next novel release will be as Terry Campbell in the novel, Craigs’ Legacy on February 11th through Black Opal Books. She also has a short story, “The Legend of the True Love Angel” in Turquoise Morning Press’ Be Mine, Valentine anthology available now at most distributors both in electronic format and in print. Her first mystery novella will release in March. For more information, check out her online headquarters:

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  • Great post, Bobbye: I agree completely…and wish I were one who could combine humor and suspense as well as you.

  • Bobbye Terry says:

    Thanks, Suzanne. Glad to see you here.

  • Excellent post, Bobbye! I love tossing a little humor into a tense scene. I think it adds to the anticipation, rather than detracts. One of my favorite television shows is Castle. The writers on this show are so adept at throwing those bits of humor into suspenseful scenes!

  • Bobbye Terry says:

    I agree with you–love Castle, BTW.

  • therese gilardi says:

    humor and suspense – what a duo!

  • Stephanie St.Clair says:

    Great post, Bobbye. Now I could only learn how to intertwine the two. 🙂

  • Bobbye Terry says:

    I’m hoping I do it right–feel free to read Buried in Briny Bay coming up March 14th–just a novella. For a lot deeper suspense and less humor, Coming to Climax comes out on September 5th.

    Check out TV, it happens all the time in series. 😉


  • Christal Murphy says:

    Hey Bobbye, great post. I love the mix of humor and suspense – it adds that extra dimension to both the book and characters that make it feel so much more real. And I know from reading some of your writing that you do it well.

  • Beth Barany says:

    Thanks for your post Bobbye! I love your insight on this topic. I think the TV show BONES does a good job mixing humor with suspense too.

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