Snark. Sarcasm. Banter. Call it what you will, but it’s been called one of my writing signatures for a good reason. ‘Snark’ runs through nearly every novel I’ve ever written, because witty dialogue and fun banter have always been some of my favorite elements in fiction. I enjoy reading entertaining dialogue, especially if the surrounding story tends to be dark or gritty. I love that balance. I’ve been asked a surprising amount of times how I write sarcastic dialogue, so I thought, why not write a whole blog post about it? I can use my upcoming novel Dark is the Night as an example, since it’s probably the best example I have of frequent banter in an otherwise serious book. So without further ado, here are my Rules for Writing Snark.
DON’T OVERDO IT. I learned this from experience. There’s a fine line between ‘frequent banter’ and ‘is there anything on this menu not swimming in gravy??’ You can’t have ever single line be sarcastic, and you can’t have every single conversation wind up as banter. You need real, tense, heartfelt, emotional moments as well. So even if you have a hilarious line you adore with all your heart, you might want to remove it from the intense argument your characters are having and put it somewhere else. Cutting great dialogue is painful, but you have to decide where it fits and where it doesn’t. Now, one of the main characters in Dark is the Night uses sarcasm and insincerity as a reflex, so he’ll be sarcastic during inappropriate moments. If things get too emotional or heartfelt, he’ll try to wriggle out of them by saying something either funny or downright nasty. Know your character, and you’ll know their dialogue.
BALANCE IT OUT. If you have several characters who are sarcastic by nature, as I do in Dark is the Night, then you should also have a character (or two) who doesn’t appreciate the levity at all times, and says so. It’s like cutting the taste of alcohol by putting sugar on the rim of a glass; it doesn’t lessen the humor, but it keeps the book from becoming an accidental comedy. After all, not everyone’s default is to crack a joke or say something scathing. Some people have no sense of humor at all, others have senses of humor but it isn’t their default. Not everyone should sound like a reflection of you as an author.
VARY YOUR STYLES. Angel the vampire has a very slick, deflective sense of sarcasm. Skata has a straightforward, blunt kind of sarcasm, and Colton—well, he tends to be fed up with everyone and everything. This can create an interesting, entertaining variety of voices during a three-way banter and keeps everyone from sounding the same.
EVEN THE MOST SARCASTIC PERSON IS NOT SARCASTIC 100% OF THE TIME. I’m a highly sarcastic individual myself, but not everything I say is sarcastic. Also, sarcasm doesn’t always go over well. A character may choose to be sarcastic and someone else will simply not have it. It doesn’t land well. Remember that if you want your character to come across as a well-rounded person (or creature) with depth, they need to have more traits than ‘mouthy.’