Keep it Simple. Stick to the Story. (Flowery not required)

This post is basically a reminder to myself, if nothing else.

I often lament over sentences that I write, thinking they are too stale, too boring, too similar to what I always write. I want the adverbs to flow, the impressive vocabulary to astound, the metaphors to soar.

But so often, writing seems so ordinary.

That’s okay. Life is ordinary too! I am not a poet. I am not Henry James (thank goodness!) and I don’t live in the 17th century.

What am I? I’m a storyteller. That’s all. I tell stories. And one does not need flowery, pretentious dribble to tell great stories. Actually, in my opinion, it’s preferable not to sound like that. Simplicity is a beautiful art form of a writer.

You can write the extraordinary without being flowery and deep. You can write interesting, gripping, and deep fiction without being inaccessible. You might think I just contradicted myself, but the first ‘deep’ meant purposely vague with ridiculously opaque references. The second ‘deep’ meant writing of substance. Writing that sticks with the reader. Writing that makes the reader think.

All of that is possible and you don’t have to be William Faulkner to achieve it.

What do you need to tell a gripping story?

Great, well developed characters who change with the story. Characters who are not cardboard figures or cartoons. Characters who are well-rounded and real with solid strengths and real weaknesses.

A great plot. A gripping sequence of happenings which fit the characters and is believable to the reader. I like to keep my plots moving, without bogging them down with excessive descriptions. I like to let the story tell the story.

Sentences with are crisp and flow smoothly. Dialogue which is brisk and interesting AND realistic. Stay away from hackneyed phrases or dialogue which seems pushed or forced just to move a story in a certain direction.

Luckily, all three of these can be achieved by keeping your writing short and your vocabulary simple.

Simplicity in writing is something to be treasured as a reader. Or at least that is my experience. So that’s how I roll and how I will continue to approach my writing in the future.

A(nother) Parallel Between Acting & Writing

Acting coach Larry Moss said:

“Acting represents all that human beings experience, and if you want to be “nice” you will never be a serious communicator of the human experience.”

Let’s see if we can substitute “writing” for “acting” and still have it make sense.

Writing represents all that human beings experience, and if you want to be “nice” you will never be a serious communicator of the human experience.” 

Yes, I think that works nicely for me. I certainly want my writing to represent human experience – the best and the worst that is out there.

What does he mean by being “nice”?

Well, I’m sure we have all read the stories or seen the movies or shows which put “nice” ahead of everything else. I’ve been turned off by cheesy, insincere story lines which basically are afraid to be vulnerable. Everything must be wrapped up nice and neat. The fairy tale happy ending. But as we all know, life isn’t like that. Usually.

Is there room for being “nice” and having a happy ending in a story. Absolutely. When the stories requires it! Not just because every story must have it. That is the huge difference.

Honestly, on some levels, I was afraid to embark on this journey as an indie author. I wanted to be, and I strive to be, a serious communicator of the human experience. At first I wondered what a friend or acquaintance might say if my character says this or if my character does that. I had a friend look at me strangely after hearing about my first novel and he wondered out loud to me “whoa, I know what you have been thinking about” as if I, as the author, had the same experience as my character. I understood from the beginning that if my writing would peak at the expectations of others then I would be doomed as a writer. I knew if I couldn’t write about controversial topics or strive to portray people in all their glorious depravity then I wouldn’t be taken as a serious writer. I had to cast off the shackles of other people’s expectations and learn to be free as a writer.

Writing is not about being “nice” but it also isn’t about being gratuitously depraved either. Neither extreme is authentic. Serious writing is about portraying people in stories as they really all – beautiful, complex, ugly, serious, and light. All wrapped together. That’s what I strive to do.

It’s good for acting. It’s good for writing, too.