Fiction Focus- Sarcastic Characters
“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit” said someone once, and I sincerely hope they said it sarcastically.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not a hero fan. Not many people are. Our favourites are often the sidekicks, the mentors, and quite commonly, the ones who can make a good sarcastic joke.
In the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin, there are very few heroes, but there are even fewer characters whom we actually like. Jon Snow, the illegitimate son sent away to the savage North may come under the heading “heroic”, but he (and possibly his brother Robb) are really it. And Jon Snow’s popularity probably stems from the fact that his actor in the TV adaptation is gorgeous, rather than people actually liking Jon Snow. The person that people like in the series is Tyrion Lannister, a dwarf with few morals, who relies on gold and who is basically rude to everyone. And essentially everybody who reads the books loves him. He’s got charisma- both on and offstage. It’s quite a skill, really, charming people who are watching you from a distant, different world and see you as nothing but words on a page or a face on a screen.
Similarly, the eponymous demon of The Bartimaeus Trilogy stands heads and shoulders above his human counterpart when it comes to popularity, and it’s probably for the same reasons. He’s sarcastic, his sense of humour is acerbic and as far as we can tell, he tells it like it is. It’s easy to read a story through his eyes as an age-old, world-weary demon, strangely far easier than reading it through the eyes of Nathaniel, a human boy on the cusp of puberty.
But does it always have the same effect? Sometimes, sarcasm can come off as an author being a little too in love with the character themselves. In my opinion, Jace Wayland from The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare had that issue. While his jokes were funny, one on every page began to get a little wearing. It’s possible that it’s all about framing. We accept characters like Tyrion Lannister and Bartimaeus because they rely so much on it, they don’t have a lot going for them. I found in Jace Wayland that he was just too good looking and strong and talented to also have such a quick sense of humour. But then, many people found it extremely attractive, and I guess it worked out.
So what’s the winning formula? Is it about balance, between being light hearted and giving the character a good personality and also showing a deeper emotional side?
Also, how about a sarcastic first person, such as Bartimaeus? I find that whenever I write in first person they come out that way, and it annoys me. What do you guys think?