Curtain call – John G. Hartness provides a little light relief (of the comic kind)

Well, it’s that time again. Another week, another guest post on SMoD&L.

OK, so this one is a bit of a juxtapose (don’cha just love that word) given that John writes ‘snarky vampire’ novels and is attempting to see the funny side of it; but rather marvellously appropriate nonetheless.

Over to you, John (enters stage left)

Keeping it light – humor in dark situations

By John G. Hartness

I know, given the site I’m on it should be humour, but over on my side of the pond I get the red squiggly for spelling things that way, so you’ll have to live with my colonial colloquialisms for the time being. Saffina has graciously loaned me a little real estate here to talk about light and darkness, a couple of things I’m more familiar with than your average bear. Although perhaps in a different sense than many writers.

You see, I’ve spent the last twenty or so years working in a darkened theatre, fiddling with lights in one way or another. I’ve worked as an electrician, consultant and lighting designer on more than one hundred productions ranging from Hamlet to the newest of the new. So I know a little about light and shadow.

Yes, John, I can almost hear you asking, but what does that have to do with writing? Absolutely nothing, it’s just a wee anecdote to let you know a little about me. In my writing life, I write vampire novels, and currently have a work in progress that’s a serial killer novel. Now those are fairly dark topics, but I work very hard to keep my sense of humor. I feel like you have to lighten up even the darkest topics with a little humor, and that’s a tradition going back hundreds of years.

The concept of comic relief basically means that you use a comic scene to break up the repeated tension of a highly dramatic piece or scene. Classic examples include the gravedigger scene in Hamlet, a comic scene that gives us a breather right before the big confrontation between Hamlet and Laertes at Ophelia’s graveside. Then you’ve got the gatekeeper scene in Macbeth, a comic drunkard to let us relax a little right before Macbeth and his Lady murder the king.

Comic relief can be found all the time in contemporary entertainment as well. Look at Die Hard, for example. In the middle of all the tension, explosions and gunshots flying around that movie you’ve got the character of John McClain uttering his famous “yippee-ki-yay, motherf*#$@r” line. Will Smith in Bad Boys and Independence Day, Robert Downey, Jr. in Sherlock Holmes, the examples are endless.

But comic relief isn’t just to give the audience a break – it can also serve a darker purpose. The effective use of comic relief can also heighten the tension, by allowing a reader to relax, then hitting them even harder with something they didn’t expect. It’s the old horror movie cliché – the heroine hears something rustling behind a stack of boxes. The creepy music plays, the boxes rustle some more, and just as the music crescendos, a cat jumps out. The audience relaxes, the heroine lets out a relieved giggle, then the murderer comes out from behind another stack of boxes and stabs her! So there we’ve used comic relief to heighten the tension by first relieving it. It’s a dirty trick, but very effective.

So there’s a little bit about light in the darkness. I hope this little tip is helpful to the writers out there. And for you readers, be careful of what’s behind those boxes! Next time it won’t be a cat.

Thanks John!

John G. Hartness is the author of The Black Knight Chronicles, a series of snarky vampire novels where no one sparkles. His novels are far more light than dark, putting a humourous spin on the genre. You can find him online at


Book 1 – Hard Day’s Knight

Book 2 – Back in Black

Writer, dreamer, pantser.

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