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.

I wanted to write pretentiously.

This post is kind of a continuation of what I was talking about yesterday: the four things I’ve learned about novel writing. But I feel the need to expound a little more on one of the topics.

I remember in the past when I tried to write, I would become very frustrated because when I re-read what I wrote, I didn’t sound like Faulkner. My vocabulary sounded unsophisticated, my descriptions were weak, and my metaphors were tired.

I wanted to sound important! I wanted to sound sophisticated! I wanted to sound like Alexander Pope, or John Milton and all those other authors I studied as an English major undergrad. I wanted to sound pretentious!

The other day I was reading several reviews of a novel by a certain author. Review after review mentioned how the language was “thick” and “hard to wade through” and the author would go on for paragraph after paragraph with elegant descriptions without saying much of anything.

In other words I WANTED TO SOUND LIKE THAT! I wanted to say nothing with a lot of words!

Boy, have I changed, and I think the main reason I’ve changed in my outlook about writing is that I’m finally comfortable with who I am and what I want to say.

I no longer want to sound pretentious. I want to sound real. I want to be real. I want to write with heart. I want to bring emotion to the surface. I want to build intensity and purpose into plot. I want to say something about the human condition, and I want to do it in a way that is open, honest, and simple. I want readers to say that when my novel ended, they wanted more.

One of the best reviews I have ever received was when a reviewer said that the beauty of my writing is in its simplicity. If that’s the case, I’ve accomplished my goal.

A story is a simple yet elegant matter. Why mess it up with a bunch of pretentious sounding words?