As a pre-teen, I became a Shakespeare fan after watching “MacBeth” on educational television. I’ll never forget the part when MacDuff gets his revenge. Another favorite was “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” It took days to stop laughing the first time I saw it. This comparison brings in the “Comedy vs. Tragedy” theme used to describe plays for centuries. These days, these definitions live on in modern plays, films, and books.
When I think about timeless classic books, films and plays, which message stays with us the longest? To me, drama, in the most general sense, creates the eternally lingering message. For example, Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” is considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, is a tragedy. “Moby Dick” is obviously is a tragedy. With comedies, though the Shakespearean play, “Much Ado About Nothing” is brilliant, if one were to ask me my favorite, I’d say “MacBeth” without a second thought. “Henry V” is also on my short list (like there can be a short list of Shakespeare?)
Let’s not discount comedies. As the saying goes, “Tragedy is easy, comedy is hard.” My favorite “A Confederacy of Dunces” by William K. Toole, is a true masterpiece. Any time I pick it up, I’m howling with laughter every time. To take a collection of offbeat characters and have them converge in a bar in New Orleans was a stroke of genius by Toole, who unfortunately committed suicide, never seeing the appreciation of his work. (See the preface written by Walker Percy). Successful comedy requires the audience to laugh, which is a spontaneous response not easy to induce, just ask any stand-up comedians. Comedic actors make a almost effortless transcendence into drama; for example, Mary Tyler Moore in “Ordinary People” and Robin Williams in “Awakenings.”
To bring us back to new authors, how can we craft successful comedy or tragedy? Sadness, though it strikes the reader’s soft spot, is easier to predict. (Don’t get me started on “Where the Red Fern Grows”). For comedy, it may/may not hit, so it poses greater challenge to write, but speaks much of the author’s ability to create laughter out of words. My own preference as a new author is to create a dramatic story with comedic elements; for example, in “Act of Redemption” Shevata and Zermon’s banter gives readers a bit of comic relief to an otherwise dramatic story. (Shevata and Zermon’s dialogue is based upon conversations with my older brother.) I don’t expect the audience to roll in the floor laughing, but the comedic dialogue gives a little release in the tension of a dark fantasy action story.
So new authors, as always, go forth and write. Experiment with comedy and tragedy and see what works for you. Whether it’s all comedy, all tragedy, or a bit of both, remember that it’s up to the author to deliver the message. It is up to the audience to decide the duration of the message.