I’m wary of promoting creative writing ‘rules’. I’m wary of telling you how to write your book (if you’re writing one). I’m sure there are many wonderful sad books out there which aren’t funny. But if you are writing a sad book for children, please at least think about what I’m about to say.
Sad books should make you laugh.
Sad books should make you laugh. Macbeth and Hamlet have comedy scenes. Lolita is heartbreakingly bleak and incredibly funny. Even Michael Rosen’s Sad Book has jokes about his cat. Real life is generally hilarious. Why should fiction – realistic fiction – be any different?
People in bad fiction respond to tragedy by wailing and crying. People in real life respond by laughing at it. You have to. You’d go mad otherwise. Laughing at something reduces the terrifying into something containable. It says to fear and death, ‘You aren’t so hard. I can beat you.’
Reading Marjane Satrapi’s wonderful Persepolis with a book group, we all agreed that the humour made the book – if anything – more moving. We felt as though we were reading about real people, living in a real world. People like our parents and grandparents, who were just trying to live an ordinary life in the middle of unimaginable suffering. We cared for these sparky, quirky people in a way that it’s hard to do for someone with a VICTIM sign pinned to their head. And when sad things happened to them, we minded.