“There doesn’t NEED to be a sarcasm font, you just have to actually read with discernment and in context.” So says the lavishly beautiful Helena Hann-Basquait. I agree. As I told her, I don’t just need a sarcasm font, I need a sarcasm light over my head, because I find people often miss the sarcasm when I speak, not just when I type.
But tone of voice is definitely more difficult to convey in writing than in person. How many of us haven’t misunderstood an email, text message or letter, because we didn’t see the tone it was written in?
In fiction, there are two kinds of sarcasm – authorial sarcasm and character sarcasm. If a character is speaking, it’s usually possibly to indicate their tone of voice through the attributions. They can get cumbersome – we haven’t got enough words or universal expressions to mix things up as much as I’d like – but it’s still possible to make things relatively clear.
In narrative, though, there are no such props, and we can hardly take the modern technology-driven shortcut and finish the sentence with a winking emoticon. I think at that point we have to trust our readers, and also accept that some will be left behind. As long as I get a mixture between those who say ‘huh?’ at the end and those who saw it all coming from the first clue, I tend to reckon I’m pitching it about right. Layered writing will leave some people behind; twists and tones of voice are never going to work for all possible readers.
Should we have a sarcasm font? If so, we need a few other fonts as well – an angry font, a surprised font and a flirty font would all help writers avoid needing to think about the words we use and the ways we portray our characters; they would save readers from thinking too. And perhaps that’s the problem, we are so used to having everything handed to us by actors presenting the tones of voice, body language and emotions of a story and by directors and cameramen pointing our attention in the right direction at the right time, that we don’t need to imagine anything any more.
But where’s the fun in that? Isn’t it a bit like saying the easiest puzzle is the one someone else already completed?