Genre & Theme
3 min read

A short guide to absurdism in story-telling

An absurd, dali-esque landscape.

Absurdism in storytelling involves crafting narratives that focus on the irrationality and meaninglessness of life. This subgenre within the reality genre often employs unconventional narrative structures and dark humor to challenge readers' expectations. By pushing the boundaries of traditional storytelling, absurdism allows writers to explore existential themes and the human condition.

This article provides an overview of the reality genre and examines the history and critical elements of absurdism. It also offers techniques for compelling absurdist storytelling and guides writers in choosing absurdism as their reality genre of choice.

Understanding the reality genre

The reality genre comprises a range of storytelling styles that emphasize realistic, true-to-life narratives. This genre includes various subgenres, such as factualism, realism, and absurdism, each with its own unique characteristics that appeal to different reader preferences. Choosing the appropriate reality genre depends on the writer's interests, the story's focus, and the intended audience.

When to choose absurdism as your reality genre

Absurdism is an ideal choice for writers who:

  • Are interested in exploring existential themes and the human condition
  • Seek to challenge conventional narrative structures and expectations
  • Aim to create stories that provoke thought and introspection

The origins of absurdism

Absurdism is a literary and philosophical movement that emerged in the mid-20th century. It was influenced by existentialist philosophers such as Søren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre. Since then, it has expanded to include various forms of storytelling, including theatre, film, and television.

Notable early absurdist authors and works:

  • Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot"
  • Albert Camus' "The Stranger"
  • Eugène Ionesco's "The Bald Soprano"

Key elements of absurdism

Absurdist stories often explore the inherent chaos and absurdity of human existence, frequently defying traditional storytelling conventions by employing fragmented or nonlinear structures. Humor is often used in absurdist stories to highlight the ridiculousness of the human condition, with satire serving as a tool for critiquing societal norms and expectations. These narratives delve into existentialism, alienation, and the search for meaning in a seemingly meaningless world.

The key elements of absurdism:

  • Focus on the irrationality and meaninglessness of life
  • Disjointed, nonlinear narrative structures
  • Dark humour and satire
  • Existential themes and the human condition

Techniques for compelling absurdist storytelling

  • Embracing unconventional narrative structures and storytelling devices: Experiment with fragmented or nonlinear storytelling techniques to challenge reader expectations and create a unique narrative experience.
  • Balancing humour with existential themes: Use humour and satire to engage readers while addressing complex existential themes and ideas.
  • Crafting memorable, unique characters: Develop intriguing characters that embody the absurdist worldview and grapple with the challenges of the human condition.
  • Challenging reader expectations and encouraging introspection: Craft stories inviting readers to question their beliefs and assumptions about the nature of existence and the human experience.

Examples of absurdism in contemporary storytelling

Notable authors and works:

  • Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" - A tragicomedy that explores the fates of two minor characters from Shakespeare's "Hamlet" as they grapple with questions of existence and identity.
  • Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five" - A satirical novel that blends elements of science fiction, war, and philosophy, centring on the life of protagonist Billy Pilgrim and his experiences during the bombing of Dresden.
  • Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" - A novella that tells the story of Gregor Samsa, a man who inexplicably wakes up one morning transformed into a giant insect, examining themes of alienation and dehumanization.

Popular films and television series:

  • "Being John Malkovich" - A surreal dark comedy about a puppeteer who discovers a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich, raising questions about identity and consciousness.
  • "The Lobster" - A dystopian satire where single people are given 45 days to find a partner or be turned into an animal, exploring societal expectations and the absurdity of conformity.
  • "Monty Python's Flying Circus" - A British sketch comedy show known for its irreverent humour, absurd situations, and innovative approach to comedy.
  • "The Mighty Boosh" - A surreal British comedy series that combines live-action and animation, following the bizarre adventures of two friends in a surreal world.

Challenges and criticisms of absurdism

  • Striking a balance between absurdity and coherence: Absurdist writers must find a delicate balance between conveying the irrational nature of existence and maintaining a coherent narrative that keeps readers engaged.
  • Navigating the line between absurdism and other reality genres: Absurdism is closely related to other reality genres, and writers must be mindful of their chosen genre's specific conventions and expectations.
  • Addressing the potential for alienating readers with unconventional narrative techniques: Absurdist storytelling can be challenging for some readers. Writers should consider how best to make their work accessible while staying true to the absurdist ethos.

Absurdism in storytelling provides a unique and powerful means of exploring the complexities of the human condition, challenging traditional narrative structures, and provoking thought and introspection in readers. By understanding the history and key elements of absurdism, and mastering the techniques of effective absurdist storytelling, writers can create compelling works that push the boundaries of storytelling and contribute to the rich tradition of absurdist narratives. Exploring absurdism as a genre of reality allows writers to delve into existential themes, engage with societal norms, and craft stories that resonate with readers on a profound level.



  1. Coyne, Shawn. 2015. The Story Grid. New York, NY: Black Irish Entertainment.