Ask GV: Breaking the Plucky Comic Relief

A continuation of my response to satyre’s question about how one goes about subtly messing with the mind of the plucky comic relief. Last time, I discussed whispering, a communication technique usable to get points across to protagonists (or anyone else) without making them snap their opposition barriers up quite as reflexively; now I’m going to talk about the actual process of messing with the plucky comic relief.

The thing about the plucky comic relief is that just talking to him is going to be difficult; he’s likely to make a joke out of everything you say, and that assumes you can even get near him with all the other heroic interference. So what that means is that you’re going to need to focus on the circumstance phase—getting him well and truly primed, if you will. Now, what makes the plucky comic relief more powerful, above and beyond everything else, is his faith. Faith in himself and his ability to survive, faith in his friends, faith in the innate goodness of human nature (sure, some of them try to deny it, but faith seems to be what sets apart the plucky comic relief.) So what we need to focus on, before we make our first overt move, is undermining this faith of his.

So we start with human nature. People are, after all, rather screwed up entities; the fact that we’re so common is only the beginning of the evidence for this fact. What we need to do, then, is make sure that people are acting according to the parts that make Plucky there wonder about this whole “Innately wanting to do the right thing” bit. Set things up so that the general tenor of the world makes it hard to get ahead without taking advantage of someone—but not too hard, it just has to be an easier path. The more he sees the average person taking the easy route rather than the “right” route, the more he’s got to wonder about what it all means.

And his friends? That’s where it gets fun. At best, we just show that the bad things may not happen to him so much, but they’ll happen to those around him, though that’s more messing with his faith in himself. If we want to have some serious impact, though, we start in on making him wonder about th friends themselves. This is where we start putting together lesser-of-two-evils problems and chucking them in their path. If we’re really good, and we’ve done our homework first, we can even choose lesser-of-two-evils problems where their moral codes would actually conflict on the subject of the answer. It’s hard to look at someone the same way after you’ve seen him do something you’d never even consider, now, isn’t it? But we have to be careful; heroes are known for their third option thinking. We can semi-mitigate that, though, by trying to think like them, coming up with third options… and making them worse. Extra credit if the third option that backfires horribly is something the comic relief himself would think of, because…

….one of the most important parts is getting to him himself. Good is always right in the end, or so he thinks, and as a result he may mess up, but it’s not going to be in a way that hurts anyone. Or so he thinks. But what if he, too, makes one of those mistakes? What if the blood is on his hands? It’s very, very hard to joke about that without being one of us, and when he misses that joke, that’s when we step in.

And then we whisper. Perhaps we’re finding the absurdity in the unfairness of it all—who knows it better than us? But our humor isn’t their humor. Ours isn’t “laugh at it and it heals”. Ours is “Laugh at it because we know something they don’t.” It’s knowing how the heroic mindset led to such misfortune, and making that the punchline—we’ve seen it all, we know why it doesn’t work. This joke isn’t funny because the squirrel is dead. The joke is funny because if the squirrel had known what we knew, it could have lived. And when the poor little guy is desperate enough for a laugh, it may be the only thing he can get. He knows, better than anyone else, that there is truth in jokes. Tell him a few, then sit back and let him find the truth for himself.

Or perhaps we just remind him of his failures, and offer him a way to keep them from happening again. The offer of power is an old standby, but it reels in those who now see themselves as powerless like nothing else. Particularly since, as there is no character development for the comic relief, part of where he gets his immunity, there’s no redemption arc either. If he makes a mistake, the best he’s going to get is warm hero forgiveness, and then if the hero’s been just as prone to slipping, we whisper then of pots and kettles trying to tell each other they’re not that soot-stained, of whether forgiveness means as much from someone who’s doing the same thing, how sure, everyone’s going to forgive the hero, but he’s not the hero. He’s a side note. But us? We know talent. We know how to get the power to make sure it never happens again, whatever it is. He can prevent it. (Sure, it might not be prevented quite the way he intended, but we don’t have to mention that, now, do we?) Wouldn’t it be better that way?

In sum: Manipulate the circumstances to separate him from his worldview and reinforce his image of his own helplessness. Then, and only then, step in, and make sure you’re speaking something approximating his language, particularly humor or wanting to make things right. Don’t overdo it; suggest, don’t declare. Give him most of the hints, then let him come to his own conclusions, and when he’s got the right answer, he’ll come right back to you.

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