Sunday, 27 February 2011
Writer's Folly #1
Overcomplicated verbiage does not a good novel make.
Some believe that being a 'serious' author means using complicated, or even beyond that, overcomplicated language. I believed this once. Today's authors, especially some critically acclaimed American writers, use language that might baffle the living daylights out of the average reader, or at least bore them to tears. But some press on with reading, anxious to pull through their friends' recommended read or at least prove that they are a 'serious' reader by getting through a piece of critically-acclaimed work.
Today, we assume that the language must be hard and a paragraph perhaps provoke hours of thought in order for a book to be considered 'literature'. When I really started to study English in high school I had the same view. As our growing minds were exposed to books by some of the English greats, your impression was that anything good had to sound a lot more refined and elevated and witty than you'd normally say it. Anything else with easier language was hogwash, despite their popularity and despite how excited you were to just read a book and 'get it' immediately.
But, despite what you've been told, overcomplicated verbiage does not a good novel make. Award-winning authors like V.S. Naipaul by many accounts is considered great for his precise, direct style. So now we get to an important tip when you're writing. If it doesn't make sense when you or someone else reads it aloud, and you've tried everything you can think of to rearrange words and shift this and that to keep the profundity of the sentence, throw the entire sentence out. Sometimes it's better to keep things simpler, and your reader will thank you.
One tip I try my best to follow nowadays is 'When in doubt, throw it out.' It's one thing to sound witty and intelligent; it's another thing entirely to confuse or bore your reader. You don't want to risk losing exactly what you intended to communicate simply because you were intent on 'stepping it up too many notches'. Simpler language isn't necessarily 'ineffective language'. Sometimes the most direct path has the most profound effect. This doesn't mean we as writers don't challenge ourselves to present ideas and thoughts and situations in clever and new ways that'll grasp people and get their thought-wheels turning, but if you use 'when in doubt, throw it out', you'll find yourself eliminating a lot of the fluff and getting to the bones of the matter.
It may be hard, but you can do it.