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Humour will make readers love your work

By Lucas Wafula | August 22nd 2015

NAIROBI: “What excuse do you have for coming home at six in the morning?” an angry Mrs Benda asks. “Breakfast ...” Bogi replies. If you were born before the computer, then you must know Bogi Benda and Whispers were more famous than James Tumusiime and Wahome Mutahi; the works were celebrated more than the creators. The common denominator between these two was the humour they infused in their work, causing us to laugh on and on. Oddly, this is lacking in many texts today. I always wonder why everyone is so serious! Could our writers be thinking no one wants to laugh anymore? Of course we all love a good laugh; watch any comedy show and you will see how parked the theatres always are.

Even though, you must know how to write and when to infuse humour in your writing. Recently, I came across a manuscript, which made me laugh at first but then the humour went on and on. Then I started wondering if the writer expected the reader to laugh endlessly. Well, that is impossible. Too much of humour becomes drab. Therefore, just like salt or sugar, you must add only enough – too much of it will make the consumer nauseous.

One of the reasons you should infuse humour in your work is that it helps you connect easily with the reader. Without doubt, humour is subjective, and you can’t just pin it down or point it out in writing. Even though, it is equally universal. I watched South African comedian Trevor Noah cracking jokes about British colonisation and his audience was in stitches – in London! I laughed too – in Nairobi. Therefore, just as universal themes sell, humour too sells a lot.

Further, humour lightens the mood. I have talked about pacing in fiction – dictating the speed of action in your writing – and said you must know when to hurry your reader but at the same time, when to slow down and allow them to breathe. Even if you are writing dark, gritty, ‘lurky’ things, you can still infuse humour to help ease the tension and allow you reader to reflect on your message. Francis Imbuga and Wahome Mutahi always told the truth laughingly while addressing weighty matters. Through their funny characters, readers would see a reflection of themselves.

Have you as a writer ever thought of how effective laughing at yourself can be at causing your reader to realise that you care? What many of us never realise is that our situations are in many ways almost always similar, especially on occasions when we have goofed. You think you are the only one who lied and were caught? Think again. The beauty of sharing those ‘silly little things’ that make you laugh when you are alone, is that it causes other people to remember their own experiences or remember people who have been through the same hence relate more easily to what you are saying. As a writer, you must remember that it is always harder to connect with a reader who doesn’t believe in you or one who thinks you are imagining things. So, open that treasure trove of goofs.

Moreover, I am yet to know any readers who like fiction without first identifying with and liking or hating characters within the same text. Certainly your reader will hate flat characters – those who do not develop and whom we know very little about. A good character must be ‘normal’. He or she must make mistakes just as all normal human beings do. Do not create a perfect character. A round character will have the strengths and flaws of any human being. Think about it; the most intelligent people sometimes, make the silliest mistakes.

People remember good humour. That is what they will talk about long after they have read your work or seen it performed. People remember witty remarks and how they were put across. This is what you should endeavour to have in your fiction. At an appropriate moment, drop in a joke, develop a light moment.

Writing humour should not be a problem. All you have to do is let the plot unfold naturally. Remember, do not force it. Can you imagine if you were having a conversation and you have a complete plan of when you will be making those around you to laugh? That would be ridiculous! However, it takes practise to realise this flawless infusion of humour in fiction. It also takes deep reflection on situations and what can cause people to laugh. You may not get it right the first time, just as a comedian who goes on stage armed with all the funny jokes and then goes blank, but after a while everyone will be wondering how you do it.

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