Make ‘Em Laugh…Or At Least Smile

When my wife’s brother was getting married, those in charge came around and asked for words of advice from many of us who knew him well. My advice? “Don’t take life too seriously.”

And I was serious when I said it. It’s too much of a temptation to get overly dramatic about each and every challenge in life, only to realize that if you just laughed about it and tolerated the momentary pain, you, too, can survive.

Humor makes many things more easy to endure. And that’s my philosophy in writing too. I don’t write comedy–I do wish I had the chops to write it consistently, but I really don’t–but when I write a suspense novel, I like to include at least one character who is there for comic relief. That’s not to say they need to be goofy or a buffoon. But I find when you have an intense story, the reader can only endure that intensity for so long before it becomes either intolerable or loses its intensity. Dropping some levity into the story gives the characters some humanity and allows the reader to take a breath before plunging back into the action. Let me give you an example from Elijah, the third book in my series entitled, The Champion. The segment is with a band of Christian street workers being pursued late at night on a Los Angeles street by men with guns:

elijah front only“No sign of them behind us,” Bobby said, and Ruth looked back to see that indeed, the alleyway was clear.

“Just a sec and we will be out on Alameda,” Rojo said. “Smooth sailing from there on.” A moment later, Ruth felt the old van lurch and Rojo turned right onto a major boulevard. “And here we are, safe and sound,” Rojo said, immediately slowing down to the speed limit.

“And there they are,” Bobby said. Ruth looked back again and saw two pairs of headlights rushing toward them. One rammed their back bumper, and the second disappeared into the left lane. A second later, the sound of machine gun fire erupted, and holes instantly appeared in the left, unwindowed side of the utility van.

“Rojo! Do something!” shouted Ruth, and Rojo, now grim faced, nodded.  Ruth watched as he suddenly twisted the steering wheel left. She heard a crunch and felt a hit as the van ran into the Charger in the left lane. A second later, she heard a horn honk and a screech as the black car smashed into oncoming traffic.

“One down,” Rojo said.

“The other one’s not going to make the same mistake,” Josh said. “He can do us in from back there.”

Bobby nodded grimly. “Time to prove my worth.”

Ruth’s eyebrows went up, and Josh frowned.

“How do you know this contraption is going to work?” Josh said as Bobby reached into the back and pulled the boards aside. Ruth could see that the machine inside looked like a large, fat telescope with several thick metal bars wrapped around the barrel. Bobby flipped several levers and lights began to flash on the top.

“Now, I want to warn you that this has never been field tested,” said Bobby. “But this seems like the best time to try it out. And as I said, I hope to make it a lot more portable someday.”

“Whatever, just do it,” Josh said.

“Do it, Bobby!” Ruth watched as the Charger hugged the bumper again and the barrel of another automatic rifle appeared out the passenger window. “Do it now!”

“Just a second,” Bobby said. “I gotta say it. Say ‘ello to my little friend.”

Bobby closed his eyes and flipped a yellow switch on the top. The hum from the machine disappeared and there was a faint pop.

As Ruth watched, the headlights on the Charger behind them went black. It fell behind them rapidly, apparently without power.


The one-liner that Bobby inserts at the peak of the action does a little to lighten the intensity, yet also says a lot about Bobby’s personality. It’s not a huge entry, yet I think it adds to the scene. And unless you’re actually writing comedy, remember that a little goes a long way. But there’s no reason why you have to be heavy handed with the suspense, on the other hand.

Overall, have fun while you’re writing your book. This can make this possible as well.