As a writer, I’m fascinated by other writer’s work. In particular, I’m a science fiction writer, so when a new science-fiction series airs I usually try to check it out, even if it’s bad.
“Resident Alien” over on the SyFy network is anything but bad. It is brilliant. It is also a master class in how to write engaging comedy into a science-fiction plot.
It has a team of writers, but is created by Chris Sheridan of Family Guy fame. It is based on a fan-loved Dark Horse comic by the same name, and so far has kept with the feel of that wonderful comic book by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse.
First of all, the show’s premise is something of a trope: alien comes to earth to destroy us because we either annoy them, they want our resources, or a multitude of other reasons. So far the series has not explained our alien’s reasoning as to why his race wants to decimate our race. That being said, the serious nature of that plot device (however trite) is made enjoyable because of the writer’s ability to inject raucous comedy into every frame and most of the dialogue.
Starring Alan Tudyk, (the beloved Wash from Firefly fame) each episode is an awkward romp through the brain of this alien as he tries to fit in and survive long enough to find his “device” which he will then use to kill all of the humans. From his plotting to kill the only little boy in town who can see him in his true form (their schoolyard insult battle is epic), to his scanning the internet to learn how to be a doctor, Alan’s performance sells the humor, but the writing is what makes the show worth our while.
A few years ago I wrote a science fiction trilogy, the first book entitled The Terminarch Plot. It is the story of the last human in existence who instead of being benevolent like you’d think he’d be, is the biggest jerk in human history and is also very self-serving. He is awkward, quirky, and takes the events of three books to finally do something selfless and become what we all feel should be the best of what humans have to offer the universe. Throughout the novel series I inserted quirky humor simply to unbalance characters and give them life, something I learned from authors like Douglass Adams and Terry Pratchett.
“Resident Alien” is a master class in working humor into an otherwise bleak science-fiction story. Sure, there is much real-world conflict in the narrative (a woman who had to give up her child and a thirty-something woman looking for romance in all the wrong places) and the unapologetic disdain that the alien has for humanity would be, in any other show, frightening. The humor does not detract from the peril of the alien’s plot to destroy us, but is a fun buffer to the rising dread of his eventual success.
If you are writing a science-fiction story right now and you find it to be too glum or dry, study “Resident Alien” for a few pointers on how to spice up your narrative with humor. Comedy writing is difficult, but as I have stated many times before: writing is hard work. Design your characters with odd quirks that others might find strange or hilarious. Have them speak unexpected and out-of-character dialogue. Learn how to write ironically.
If you do, you’ll be adding that one layer of brightness to your science-fiction story that might help that reader nudge their friend and get those grass roots growing. Otherwise, just watch “Resident Alien” or read Douglass Adams and Terry Pratchett.