The Art of Simple Writing.

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

The purpose of every book is to be read. Yes, of every book. If you leave it on the shelf to collect dust, then it’s pretty much dead. A story is alive when there is someone to read it, so if we want to keep our book alive, we should keep the reader hooked to our story, thirsty to learn what happens next. There is a tendency for authors to use pompous expressions and ornate words to display their knowledge. This shows incompetence on the part of the author in being concise and expressing his thoughts in the best possible way.

Feelings usually do not require elaborate words and complex metaphors to be expressed. Love, sorrow, hatred, joy: with four words the writer can perfectly describe the emotional state of a character. It’s not the actual words that touch the reader’s heart, but rather the meaning of them. The right words are simple, they are those that sneak inside you and gradually unfold their meaning as you progress in the story. Do not fool yourself. It is much harder to get a complex meaning across with simple words and few paragraphs than to spread yourself thin in trying to write reams of pages of ornate, complicated language.

Hans Hofman said.  “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”

What would you prefer? To put your knowledge on display through complicated expressions and redundant details and force your reader to skip whole pages because they don’t understand what you’re writing, or to use simple words that together form a complex but understandable meaning? And the best part is that the readers will forge a bond with the character exactly because they can understand him. Simple is beautiful and, as a writer and reader, I try to keep it simple. The words, that is, not the meanings.

Do your characters have a will of their own?

Imagine the following situation. Today you have the day off and you have plans to go on a trip. It’s 2 o’ clock and any minute now your kid will come back from school. You have been packing, just the essentials, and then the phone rings. With a shirt draped over your shoulder, you pick up the phone. It’s your wife and she tells you that she wants a divorce. In the blink of an eye, your whole life changes. Your wife will leave you and you will see your kid only on weekends. What would you do?

For starters, let’s define free will as: the apparent human ability to make choices that are not externally determined[1].

I will give the character above a name and a personality. His name is Jim. He is easy-going, not very brave, he loves his wife and kid and he is shy. Pretty much your average Joe. Based on his personality, what would he have done in the situation above? My story needs a brave hero who will eventually win back his wife. Can I force him to do that? I don’t want another character, I love Jim just the way he is. Through the course of the story he will change –it’s inevitable– but he will still be the same person: Jim. What do I do if my story needs a brave man and not … you know, Jim?

This is a very common problem for a writer. Plot VS. Character. We will talk about this conflict in another post.

Let’s put Jim through a test. We are halfway in the book and a month after Jim’s divorce: He sits in a bar, a bit drunk. His feelings for his wife are still strong and he’s lost his kid too. A woman approaches. They talk and, eventually, she suggests going to her place.

Is there a story inside you?

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

If you are a writer, consider this for a moment. Why am I a writer? What do I want to achieve? Fame? Money? Do I want to entertain people or to just earn enough money for the rent? All these reasons are acceptable but they are not the real ones .

I will speak only for myself. Simply put, it is the urge to tell a story. When a thousand thoughts consume me and I’m bursting at the seams with ideas, I sit in front of my computer and write. I want to express my thoughts, my feelings and my troubles through a story. I want to see through the eyes of another person, one who lives in another world, who does different things but, at the end of the day, we are still one and the same . We share the same emotions, the same troubles and we see the world from the same perspective. Eventually, I get attached to this character and my only reason to write is to tell his (or her)  story.

It doesn’t matter if you are a writer or a reader. The question is the same: why do you write or read a story? Maybe there is something untold deep inside you that you need to explore. Possibly, there is a story that needs to be told, by you or someone else.