J is for Jester (comic relief in your novel)
In middle grade, it's the stinky guy. In YA, it can be anything from a cowardly best friend to a snarky main character.
No matter where it comes from, comic relief is essential to an enjoyable read.
Yep, even if you've written something dark. ESPECIALLY if you've written something dark.
The Hunger Games, which I think we can all agree has a fair degree of darkness (kids forced to kill each other to survive), is pocked with comic relief. I said pocked, not packed. It only takes a teaspoon of sugar to help the medicine go down.
As many of you know, I was afraid to read Hunger Games. It took about a dozen recommendations before I decided to jump in. And that was only after I was able to confirm that there is some comic relief in it. If not, well that would have been a deal breaker.
A few pages into The Hunger Games, I laughed.
In the midst of some tragic scene-setting, Katniss has an exchange with a cat she once tried to drown so she wouldn't have another mouth to feed. This doesn't sound funny at all, but the banter-like relationship really is.
Then there are the names, especially the names of people from the Capitol and people from the fancier districts, like Glimmer from District 1 (even though the character herself is horrible).
And my favorite bits of comic relief...
Haymitch Abernathy and Effie Trinket.
Haymitch has a tragic story, and you wouldn't think he'd be funny at all, but between his drinking, his uninhibited language, and his obvious intelligence, he's a bright spot in the series. When he chides Katniss in Book 3 for trying to take down the Capitol with a syringe, I fell even more deeply in love with his character, as well as hers. (Brilliant, really, creating a reluctant mentor rather than a reluctant hero - or rather in addition to a reluctant heroine.)
Effie Trinket. The name speaks for itself, right? This is a comic relief character, but she's also a symbol of the ridiculousness of the Capitol, the apathy, the image-obsession, the cluelessness. In a tense moment when Katniss puts a knife into a table right next to Haymitch's hand, Effie cries, "That is mahogany!"
Already we've got an acceptable amount of comic relief to go with our dark and twisted premise. And I haven't even gotten to the beauticians at the Capitol, but you get the idea.
A book without comic relief (or without enough comic relief) is called horror. It seems to be rising in popularity, even in the YA genre. *shudders* As you can see I have no love for this genre.
Comic relief is a theme all by itself. It says that even in the darkest times, light can be found if one only remembers to turn on the light. I think Dumbledore said that.
For a quick study in comic relief, watch Knight and Day with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.