Don’t ask me how the Karate Kid got in my head, but alas, there he is! It probably has something to do with the fact that for the past week I’ve been thinking about the use of simplicity in writing. I believe it’s hard for many writers, myself included, to tamp down our deepest desire to wax poetic at every available opportunity. And who can think “wax” without thinking “wax on, wax off,” hand gestures included?? I sincerely hope it’s not just me…if so, I probably look pretty silly sitting here making karate moves all by myself…*blush*
In terms of literary brilliance, the Karate Kid is not exactly legendary, so let’s just leave Danielson hopping around in the Crane stance in the mental recesses of my youth, shall we?
To the subject at hand – I think that the use of simple, concise language is so often overlooked in the art of writing. Many of us are so in love with words that we type with a hair trigger aimed at proving our knowledge and worth in the world of literature. We are so proud of our complex sentence structures and well-honed metaphors that we sometimes fail to see beyond our own artistic vision to that of the reader’s basic enjoyment.
I watched a television interview a few years back with a well-respected female writer that included a question and answer segment with the audience. One woman stood up and honestly told the writer that she had struggled to get through her book. Her main problem was that she would read a paragraph, feel that she hadn’t grasped it, and would have to reread it again and again before the point would really hit home. In response to this, the writer lifted her chin, looked down her nose and said, “That my dear, is called reading.”
Funny that, I used to do the same thing with my biology textbook, only I called it studying…
I went out and bought the book in question right away. After that kind of statement, I suppose I had to make sure I still knew my way around the written word with some degree of intellectual prowess. It turned out to be a very eloquent word painting on the struggle to find personal satisfaction and inner growth…and what I like to call a “hard read.” I got the message the writer was trying to convey just fine, but to be honest, it was boring as hell! Her need to demonstrate the complexities of her own thought process was so overdone I often found myself buried too deep in one metaphoric offshoot or another to remember the point she was trying to make in the first place. Still, I appreciated the beauty of the work with the understanding that, rather than a learning tool, it had actually been crafted as a work of art.
The road between that type of writing and the work of Agatha Christie is miles apart. Have you ever wondered why the words of some authors seem to fly off the page at a pace you can barely keep up with, while others move along so slowly that you feel like you’re stuck in line at the DMV? Much of it has to do with the simplicity of language and sentence structure.
Agatha Christie was a master at this! She was blessed with enough humility to not take herself too seriously. She was not writing for recognition as a literary master, in fact, she never believed herself to be one. She did something so much better – she wrote for her readers! She didn’t feel the need to prove her brilliance; it shone brightly enough in her fantastic plot mapping. Over and over again we see in her work, the use of simple language and sentence structure geared toward moving the reader along with ease.
This topic of simplicity in art came up one evening at my house following an outing to see a local dance performance. One modern piece in particular was the source of a great conversation as to its actual meaning. Elements of it reminded me of a scene from Macbeth, and our family debated back and forth a bit on whether or not the work was actually a representation of the emotional ramifications of committing murder.
Whatever the meaning, the dance incited a particular feeling and subsequent discussion, so from an artistic perspective it was a definite success. But the pieces that were overlooked in regard to art were the really fun ones. Yes, we discussed the modern pieces – but we LOVED the jazz! Everyone enjoyed the playful dances that leaned toward naughty as well as the toe tapping good time that washed over the entire audience when the jazz acts were being performed. We did not discuss the meaning of the pieces…we knew the meaning. Does that mean that the simpler works were not art because they were clear and easy to understand?
Are we so committed to the hipster inspired attitude that has invaded the world of art and literature that we snub our noses at what simply makes us feel good? If so, I say the hell with that attitude! We need to get over ourselves a bit and write for the love of words, yes, but also for the love of the reader and their want for simple enjoyment. For without them, our literary strokes of genius may well stay on the shelves and we masters of the complex paragraphs will have far less time for writing as we are forced to pay our bills by other means…yikes!
I often think of Vincent van Gogh in regard to this topic. Are his simple pieces that depict beauty and exuberance less filled with the touch of his spectacular talent than the works that take us on a little trip to crazy town? Absolutely not – it’s brilliance at work from start to finish!
So I say, harness your inner reader and have some fun. Stop trying so hard to be epic for a sentence or two, and just be you – a rare commodity indeed, for there is only one in the whole world! Stand up for a moment, do a quick “wax on, wax off,” clear your mind, laugh out loud, and enjoy your art!
and just so you know…
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You guys have a great week of writing!