Although others may disagree, I personally find that humour is important in many writing genres and particularly comes into its own during a horror scene.

I remember when first reading Stephen King, how I was impressed that his main characters tended towards an ironic sense of humour even in times of utter chaos and dire threats to their lives. To me, it seemed such a natural way to think. It is like the survival instinct which kicks in needs something alongside it to make us feel human when a part of us knows that we are acting like animals.

Perhaps it is because I am British by birth and we are known for our sense of irony. We are also known for our often dark way of looking at the World as participants in our fate (the “it was bound to happen to me, so I’ll just make a joke about it” type of thing). But I think that the need to laugh when things are going badly wrong is actually part of all human nature. And I’m not thinking here of hysterical laughter and a complete loss of the ability to reason in the face of horror (although this does, of course, exist), but of actually making a joke to oneself, while focusing very hard on how to prevent what is going to happen next.

I come from a large family where our continued history of accidents and traumas would make a good plot for a soap opera. But we all laugh about these things. It is not that we accept them without feeling sorrow and anger, but it is that we accept them with a sense of inevitability (“It was bound to happen to us…”). I am no psychologist, but it seems to me that humour is the defense mechanism that keeps us sane and allows us to get on with our lives despite these events.

So, when I encounter a main character in a horror story who, on being backed into a corner by a monstrous, axe-wielding maniac, has a humourous ‘thought flash’ as he springs into action to save his life, I can totally empathise with his feelings.

He is, after all, trying to remain human and sane in an inhuman and insane situation. 🙂