Simplicity is King

Simplicity is King

Like most people thirty and up who saw the Jodie Foster movie, Contact, I believe in Occam’s Razor. For those of you in the dark, it states that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Or, in other words, the simplest answer is often the truth.

I wish I knew who to give credit to for this uber cool image. Alas, I do not.
I wish I knew who to give credit to for this uber cool image. Alas, I do not.

In Contact, Matthew McConaughey tells Jodie’s character that Occam’s Razor can’t explain matters of the heart – cue deep moment of gut wrenching heartache and self doubt. BUT! It can help with many, many other situations in life, including writing.

I don’t know about you, but when I write I tend to start with a huge idea and a lot of adjectives. This usually ends in a giant word mess. In years past, I would read through my work wondering what in the world went wrong. Why did none of this sound as good as it did coming out of my brain?

The answer lies in simplicity.

Start with your plot. Can you break it down into it’s most basic elements?

  • Do you have a main character?
  • Does this character have a goal?
  • Are there obstacles in the way?
  • Does the main character achieve their goal or die trying?

Simple, right?

Once that is settled, you can break down your chapters. And last but not least, your trouble sentences. What are you trying to say? Still sounds bad? Take out everything that’s not necessary.

Of course, I’m speaking about short story or novel writing, but the same lies true with poetry. Are you trying to rhyme just for the sake of rhyming? Is that meter getting in the way of what you really want to say? (Notice… I rhyme all the time.. 😉 I read a lot of submissions in the past few months that use forced rhymes. That is to say, they are picking words that rhyme for the sake of the rhyme, at the expense of the imagery and meter. It’s painful. You know it when you read it. It’s the spot where you trip up and stumble and have to read again to figure out if you messed up or if the author did. If you have a trouble spot like that in your poem, kill it. Chop it out with a machete. Better yet, kill the rhyme an start with free verse and use the words you want to use, don’t limit yourself to rhyme and meter if you have an amazing idea in your head that begs to be expressed with poetry.

I used to be scared that I would lose some priceless literary gem if I started cutting things (eh hem… adjectives and adverbs… similes and metaphors) but the truth is that a clean, simple manuscript is going to take you light years farther than a convoluted and overly wordy one.

Kill your babies folks. Don’t be afraid to cut, cut, cut! You can always carefully add needed bits and pieces later, but for now, I dare you to get out your work in progress and do a search for the word HAD or the word WAS and see if you can get rid of most of them. Those are my current stumbling blocks.

Then go eat some Halloween candy, because…. uh… candy is the fuel of the universe, and stuff. You can quote me on that.




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