Keep It Simple Stupid

Posted: April 21, 2011 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Who am I to tell you how to write? I’m not the best writer in the world. I’m clearly not the smartest guy you’ll ever meet. I may be in contention for the opposite end of that spectrum. I can’t do quantum physics. I’m not a rocket scientist. I can, however, color within the lines and I build a mean Lego castle. Even if I slept in a Holiday Inn Express, I wouldn’t be any smarter when I woke up than I was the night before. You know, Holiday Inn Express… the commercials…

Wow, crickets.

Though I can’t rap like white bread in the video, I do know one thing: what I like in writing. That is simplicity. I like the simplicity of the written word, when the writer writes, well, simple.

Some of the old school writers had the right idea when they penned their stories, giving just enough detail for the reader to understand the location and then let the story spell itself out.

However, in many cases, the dialogue really lacked a realistic flair.

Then you had those writers who were quite knowledgeable with their vocabulary. I found many of those stories to be tedious and aggravating. If I have to keep a dictionary handy when reading something, more often than not, I stop reading.

As time moved on, writers began going full on descriptive. You know some of those writers I speak of. Anne Rice and Stephen King come to mind (hey, not bashing King here–he’s my favorite writer, but let’s call a horse a horse, okay?). I love to know the scenery and the way folks appear and what’s going on, but I don’t need four pages on the shade of purple a curtain is. Yah know?

In today’s world of fiction, we are told action, action, action. Get straight to the action. So, the modern writer has become action driven, while character and descriptions have gone by the wayside.

What I like is a mixture of all of those. Details without overdoing it, simple prose without being too wordy and action that feels real without all the Batman BIFFS and BAMS.

Is that too much to ask?

Here’s the thing with me, the reader: If I find a story is straight up action, I put it down. I don’t care much for that style at all. If I find a story that is straight up descriptions, I put it down. If the story is too weighty on one thing and not balanced out by the other, I put it down. Bad dialogue makes me cringe and I almost always put those stories down. Lately I’ve put down a lot of books.

As a reader, I want the mixture. I want writing that’s not going to confuse me and a story that will engage me and not something that is so quick I feel like I just had great sex that ended badly. Does that make sense? I hope so, because I really don’t want to go into details with that…

I want the well rounded story. The simple story.

Simple? Yes, simple. Simple sentence structure. Simple language.

You see, we writers tend to over think things. Things our readers could care less about. In most cases, that is fine, but in some, not so much. We want our words to be just so, that when the editors get them they will gush and say they have to have that story. We tend to over analyze and scrutinize and theorize and whatever-else-ize you want to throw in there.

Listen to me for a second: Readers want great stories. That’s the bottom line. They want to be entertained. They want to fall in love with and/or hate the characters. They want to FEEL something while they are reading and, especially, when they are done. They don’t want to be confused. They want to be immersed in a story until its end and then need a cigarette afterward.

In order to do that, you don’t need purple prose or elaborate sentence structure. You simply need to tell the story.

Let’s be honest here: Do any of you wish you were Stephanie Meyer right now? She may not be the best writer in the world, but she wrote in simple terms with engaging characters. Bottom line. She wrote the great American novel–though many, myself included, don’t find it to be all that great. But, thousands upon thousands of women do. You can’t really argue with the success, can you? It wouldn’t do you any good. Those women are vicious about their Twilight…

Meyer had an idea and she wrote it. She threw the rules out the window and just wrote the story. The sentence structure is easy to read; the wording simplistic. If you ask a thousand women, nine hundred of them will say the book is a page turner.

Simple writing. Simple story. I need to vomit now…

Some folks are just born with talent and anything they write turns to gold. Most of us were not and we have to develop our skills as we go along. It’s an eternal internship. Say that five times real fast. We have to learn how to tell a effortless story.

I’ve pondered this over the last few years as I’ve tried to develop the ability to write engaging stories and memorable characters. I experimented with the action oriented stories and didn’t like them. I tried to use sophisticated language, but it just wasn’t me. I tried the heavy descriptions and found myself nodding off while writing. A bad sign if there ever were one. Now, I’m in the Happy Medium mode, trying to blend enough action with descriptions and feeding off the senses of the characters to, hopefully, create memorable works. I like where I’m at right now, though I’ve got a few major areas that need work.

The one thing I have always tried to do is keep my story simple. You’ve heard of K.I.S.S., right? No, not the rock band.

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K.I.S.S. stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. Ring a bell? Good. That philosophy is perfect for writing. It doesn’t mean you have to dumb down your writing. Just don’t overdo it. Complicated storylines are fine. Complicated writing is not. You want your stories to be free flowing and capture the imagination of your readers. By using eighteen letter words that start in X and end with Z you just may lose your readers, or at least jolt them out of the story.

I have come across some stories that are simple in the writing and hard to put down. I find the writers to be refreshing and have won me over as a fan.

My favorite of these is a guy named John Mantooth. If you’ve read any of my blogs before you may have heard his name once or twice. I’ve never read stories that seem so effortless in their telling. Take for example, The Water Tower, which appeared in Fantasy Magazine in 2009. Great writing, terrific story and engaging characters. The writing is simple and very easy to read. I could not pull myself away from this story until the final word had been read.

Mark Wolf, an individual I have watched grow as a writer over the last few years has quickly developed an easy reading style. I often find I have a hard time getting into fantasy and sci/fi types of stories, but I’ve often enjoyed his pieces. A little peek into Mark’s writing style and you will see it is simple and you can garner a lot of information in just a few words:

I was about 12 when I met Redder. I’d been orphaned for nearly half my life and made my way through snatching. Of course I had a wee advantage. I was a morph.

Very easy to read. This being a work in progress, I asked permission to use a little of the story ahead of time. I’m sure by the time Mark gets done with it, that paragraph will probably look different, while maintaining its simplicity.

There is Belinda Frisch , the author of the novel, Dead Spell. I received her book in the mail last week and sat down to read it. I’m a slow reader by nature, so the fact that I read through about 25 pages in about ten minutes is pretty good. The story is a page turner and it has none of the useless drivel that we find in so many novels these days. Unfortunately, my wife swooped in and took the book and has been reading it. Until she is done, I won’t see it again. If not for spring break here in SC, I would probably already have my grubby little hands back on it.

Possibly my favorite female author is a friend of mine, Michelle Garren Flye . I’ve known Michelle for a few years now and, aside from the way she writes, she is a terrific individual. The Steps My Lover Built is a short, yet powerful piece and it’s a very good example of simple writing. There is nothing fanciful about this story, but the meaning of it is easily understood.

There are others, but many of them don’t have websites or don’t submit their works for publication. It drives me nuts.

I will leave you with a thought. Keep It Simple Stupid–it’s easier than most of us think.

But, who am I to tell you how to write? After all, I’m still just another writer trying to find my way in this business. Ah, but I’m also a reader, and I know what I like to read and usually those stories that are the easiest to read and swallows a person up are the ones that are simply written…

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Comments
  1. I love the idea of an eternal internship, AJ. That’s really what we’re doing, isn’t it? Thanks for the mention and the food for thought!

  2. Rik Davnall says:

    Amen, brother – simple prose is beautiful prose (my byword for simple prose is always Orson Scott Card, particularly ‘Ender’s Game’), and brevity is the soul of wit.

    I haven’t read Twilight, so I won’t pass comment (though I have to point out that every writer I know who’s expressed an opinion on the matter has said the writing was awful…).

  3. AJ Brown says:

    Rik, the writing is definitely awful, but it was also simplistic and, according to every woman i know who has read it, it’s an easy read. The interesting issue to Twilight is that Meyer, herself, said she’s not a writer, so it’s clear why the writing was awful.

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