Celebrating East African Writing!

Writing Funny

The day you chose to become a writer, you have very few options with regards to selling your work. So from the very beginning you need to learn skills that will make your writing shine so much brighter than all your competition that your editors and audience really do not have to think much before they approve or buy your work.  Anyone watching Castle – The TV Series?

Alright fine, you are not a TV junkie. So let’s try this: Everything you need to know is encapsulated in the following sentence. Learn to write a mystery so gripping, or a rambling so funny, or at last resort, get a PhD in something and write as a highly skilled expert.

I know, writing is so much more than fiction and comedy or any of the other tech stuff that you only get through because there is a CAT or EXAM coming up. But think about it. What in the world makes a person read through Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and then go back and buy the sequels? No. The person bought the 7 Habits because they wanted to be highly effective in their lives and careers. But the reason they went back and bought the sequels, is because they actually enjoyed reading the first book. What’s the secret?

Humour, anecdotes, the humanization of life’s lessons, that’s what. Humour can sell a lot. Oh yeah, have you seen the Safaricom ads lately on TV? All the classical music in the world touched a Kenyan none, but the silly geeky animations do. Not that that is the real reason anyone buys Safaricom. But it makes you giggle, right?

Okay, so how do you do it? As a writer. That depends on whether your work is fiction, real life experience, inspirational or technical. Let’s work on fiction for now.

Aye, walk! You be going 'ta Davy Jones Locker now!

Humour, like the Pirate Code, doesn’t really have binding laws. Except for: “Be funny.” Or walk the plank. Other than that, any rules of humour you hear about are more of a set of guidelines that are mostly helpful to follow.

Yes, there are some definite challenges when it comes to writing humour. The first of which is that it is painfully difficult to do. At least if you want to do it well.

Every tool of comedy is denied to the writer. In stand up, live comedy, comedy films, and even in conversation much of the humorous effect of any exchange is delivered by facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, and sounds; all of which team up for an interlocking assault on the audience’s collective funny bone.

As a humble writer of prose, your humour rests almost exclusively on the power of your words. Which is why you must pick them with care and arrange them for maximum impact.

William Zinsser, in his well respected reference manual, On Writing Well, which has been in existence longer than many of the people reading this article, states that humour is the one type of writing where using a thesaurus is actually beneficial.

No, a thesaurus is not a type of dinosaur that got extinct some time in the ice-age.

A thesaurus is a book that lists words grouped together according to similarity of meaning (containing synonyms and sometimes antonyms), in contrast to a dictionary, which contains definitions and pronunciations.

Exploring the range of connotations and shades of meaning accessible through careful word selection. It allows you to assume many different voices or tones in your writing and use them to sneak up on your readers while carefully concealing your punch line until the last possible minute.

With regards to the actual arrangement of words, much has been written. Dave Barry (a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author and columnist, who wrote a nationally syndicated humour column for The Miami Herald from 1983 to 2005. He has also written numerous books of humour and parody, as well as comedic novels) is famous for saying that he puts the funniest word at the end of a sentence and the funniest sentence at the end of a paragraph.

Try it, it works. Once you get comfortable with that rule, try breaking it. Mix up the order of your sentences and even your phrases within each sentence until they smoothly lead the reader from one gag to the next.

So, let’s go see the Kenyan Conversations. The Stories below were entered into the Storymoja/Generation Kenya – Kenyan Conversations Contest last week. Please read them, and vote on them to choose the story that will be entered into the Kenyan Conversations Final Judging Round.

Destiny Unfulfilled – “People don’t come to these sorts of places to think, let alone in brackets!” he mutters under his breath.

Kawaida Thieves – I went to a supermarket today to buy buns. My sister had bought the very same buns a week before for forty bob but the sticker on the shelf is now reading forty three shillings.

If they want war… – “Boss,” Santos calls as he leads the pack of three through the rough slum street. “I think we shall be there before the chants begin. I wouldn’t want us to miss the motorcade.”

Love – “Not to burst your bubble love, but I’m here because people like you do not fulfill their end of the bargain.”

The Dregs!“Si hako kamzee ni kale ka former M.P, sijui Starehe ama Makadara, kwani kalisota?” Totti the shrill voiced one was now speaking.

1963 Plus – ‘Yes sir.’ 1963 is the year when salary did not matter to members of parliament but the hysteria of freedom kept men on toes.

Remember, when you see the photos up, you can comment on the blog under the picture on the Storymoja Blog or Send in a story or dialogue that is not more than 500 words long to Clearly mark in the subject Contemporary/Kenyan Conversations (Insert Number indicated)

The prize details are as follows:

1st Prize: 2000/-, 2 Storymoja books and 1 complimentary day pass to the Storymoja Hay Festival

2nd Prize: 1500/-, 1 Storymoja book, and 1 Complimentary day pass to the Storymoja Hay Festival

3rd Prize: 1000/-, and 1 complimentary Day Pass to the Storymoja Hay Festival

3 complimentary day passes for best comments on the pictures.

Be Part of the Kenyan Conversation! For more details, write to

Click on this banner to visit the Generation Kenya Website


2 comments on “Writing Funny

  1. Kiiru
    August 1, 2010

    Up untill now, i never actualy thought that facebook had any other use other than ramble and make a fool of myself. But as a “writter” or as is a budding one, stumbling upon story moja was perhaps the best thing that could happen to my creative juices. Thank you for all the usefull info, perhaps in the not so distant future you could be reading me…


  2. Mheshimiwa
    August 2, 2010

    Hey is like you read my mind. I have not read all those books/writers you quote though i have been a writer for some years and i like using humor to make a point. Today 2nd Aug i’m uploading a politically tinged humor story on my wall about the referendum. my fb page is Mheshimiwa Munene Kilongi (or use munene kilongi). I’d like to hear your feedback. My style … i dont follow the rules. Hope to hear from u when u wake up kesho.


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This entry was posted on August 1, 2010 by in Writing.
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