Serious is good: funny is even better

In a past life, I was a fiction and comedy writer. I wrote regular columns in the Australian press and when my kids were small,  I did a great line in ‘motherhood stories’. I would dredge up the pitiful stories of life between the drips and spills as a ‘working mother’: the tragio-comic reality of having a Simone de Beauvoir aesthetic  and  a two-kids-under-two reality.

Looking back now from a strategic-story perspective, I’m starting to see that I probably underestimated the value of those stories. I thought they were just a laugh on Saturday morning but anyone reading them would have got a good glimpse of the chaos of young family life. And perhaps that would have led to a bit of understanding, empathy and compassion amongst people who could make a big difference to working parents. Their employers, service providers, bank managers, neighbours, decision makers and so on. (And I thought I was just having a moan!)

I wasn’t the only one to underestimate the stories though. I remember there was real resistance from editors and ‘serious’ readers  about ‘lightweight’ material.  I ended up writing one sort of column for the woman’s magazines and a totally different tone and subject for my work with the Sydney Morning Herald.

That was ten years ago. Recently I read a column in The Australian newspaper where writer Emma Tom complains about the same community resistance to her own real stories about working and parenting. She wrote that she often receives hate mail from readers who “claim such topics don’t belong in a weighty organ such as The Australian.” This article struck a chord because it reminded me how easy it is to underestimate the power of humorous and domestic stories: it’s as if being funny makes something less worthwhile.

Real human stories often seem small but in fact, they are usually the most powerful and lasting. When I’m crafting written stories I’m always looking for those small details that remind us that we are all human: details that create empathy by allowing us to see ourselves in the picture.

So let’s not shut our stories away because we don’t think they are going to be received well: as inappropriate, trivial, unpleasant or just not relevant.

The fact that people DON’T think the details of everyday life are important… is probably precisely the reason we should be telling them!

Read one of Moya’s past columns here

Don’t forget: moya will be posting from from March 14, 2012. Sign up for newsletters. Follow me @StoryDr now

About Moya Sayer-Jones

Moya Sayer-Jones is one of Australia's foremost experts on story; she consults with government, NFPs and corporate clients to help them access and use story to support their strategic objectives.


  1. You make a really good point. Stories not often heard often make people uncomfortable and better left in an existence ‘over there somewhere’ not in their immediate environment. I wonder if people wanting to be open to these different stories are the few seeking it. But I hope people like you and Emma Tom do keep going with pushing those stories with whatever means you have whether that be humour and others!

  2. I think it’s “empathy by sleuth”… not many people go looking to understand other people. It sneaks up on us.. By the way, thanks for posting Joanie. This is a brand new site: still in draft: still getting it great to hear from you

  3. bumped into this site again… :) no problem… I love this concept that only human are creating, there are some powerful messages in the books that you have produced (which looks like very innocent coffee books!) and for me sometimes hard to keep reading because it strikes at the heart chords… it does need to be written about though… I look forward to coming back here and seeing the drafts and product (tho looks good already!) and looking forward to reading more of your books! Good work and all the best :)

    • Thanks for your comment Joanie: and yes, you have reminded me to share our new books and videos too. Will do pronto! Best Moya

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