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Does writing with simplicity soften the need to read hard and well?

  1. Yes

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  2. No

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  3. I don't know

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  4. Invalid

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  1. Azurisy
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    Azurisy Member

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    Simplicity is a must.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Azurisy, Feb 7, 2014.

    Hello everyone,

    I would like to discuss about simplicity. Simplicity as in writing grammar and meaning. Simplicity is sophistication. It is also art.

    Simplicity is a difficult skill. It is not that naïve. It adds clarity. It adds elegance. It adds quality. A true reflection of intelligence and wisdom. A wise person is able to simplify concepts and write well. Complex knowledge and ideas are best communicated in a simplified manner.

    Write less. Convey more.
    Simplicity is about succinctness, brevity and clarity. It is a difficult skill to write in a fewer words and less pages to convey complex information, ideas and stories. The antagonism to this is Write more, convey less. A picture is compact yet conveys a thousand words. Try to do that in writing - one sentence, twenty ideas. Varying sentence construction will do. A sentence can be read in many ways if it is cleverly written.

    Simplicity in writing
    Simplicity in stringing sentences together is a difficult skill. It is possible to transcend grammatical rules and still make sense. Good knowledge of grammar is necessary, but also practice.

    Simplicity in meaning
    Metaphors, similes and analogies are good techniques. Complex character development can be dull. Complex issues can be dull. Complex places and events can be dull. It is ideal to start with fewer or one character. A deep focus on one or two characters will do. A single character can have multiple and subtle personalities. Quality is important. Quantity is not. Complexity is dull. Depth is not.

    Simplicity has the potential to appeal to multiple audiences. A subtle skill to convey and enlighten with moral significance. Novels with simplicity can stand out. The reader will want to reread and gaze at words of simplicity.

    After all, and to start a discussion...

    The more advanced a writer is (and the more simplicity is used), the less reading comprehension skills will be expected. The most struggling reader will never have to work hard to understand a novel so well written with simplicity. Simplicity is a trend that will eventually settle down reading literacy problems. Without simplicity (and if the writer takes it easily), harder reading skills and critical thinking will be necessary. Writing skill (and simplicity) is inversely proportional to reading skill on the same novel. However, good writers themselves already have high level reading skills. Good reading skill leads to better writing skill. Overall, to turn novels into better ones and sell fast, someone has to read harder first and start writing well.

    The inverse argument: sophisticated texts (with simplicity) demand higher level reading skills. Writing and reading skills are directly proportional.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2014
  2. Rafiki
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    Rafiki Active Member

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    "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."
    -Antoine De Saint-Exupery

    Think of your writing as a giant game of Jenga and see how many words you can remove before the thing falls over.
     
  3. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think simplicity can definitely work but that doesn't mean it's the only way to write well. Simplicity can be as dull as complexity, and "fewer or one" characters can make the story more like watching a game of catch than the World Series. And there's also a difference between simplicity and "writing down" to the reader - a mistake too many writers strive for.
     
  4. eleutheria
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    eleutheria Member

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    I think simplicity is an aesthetic. It's one I love and one I strive for (simplicity and clarity would be my main goals), but it is an aesthetic, not an absolute. Complex writing and characters may be more the taste of some people. :)
     
  5. CapnNogrow
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    CapnNogrow Member

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    Check out Cormac McCarthy's style. Especially his book "The Road". So simple, easy to understand and has a unique style. A damn masterpiece.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    McCarthy's style has simplified quite a bit in his old age. His Blood Meridian and Border Trilogy are written in a more complex style than The Road.
     
  7. aClem
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    aClem Active Member

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    I had no problem with "The Road" but "Blood Meridian" has been temporarily abandoned and sits on my Kindle waiting until I feel the need to really exercise my brain. Doesn't happen that often.
     
  8. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Or this:

    Simplicity is about brevity and clarity. It is difficult to convey complex ideas simply.

    EDIT: I'm not picking at you -- well, maybe I am, but in a friendly way. As a journalist I absorbed this rule of thumb: If you write a piece criticizing someone's writing (spelling, grammar, etc.), you'd better make sure your own writing is unassailable.

    I'm just extending that rule of thumb to the topic of simplicity. If you call for simpler writing, you'd better write simply. ;)
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2014
  9. Rafiki
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    Rafiki Active Member

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    I thought his post was fine, his sentence structure was repetitive, but the writing was fine. Simplicity doesn't mean shorter words, or shorter sentences, or the removal of adjectives- it means not using more than you have to. What's the minimum you can get away with?

    Think of it like high school.

    All the Pretty Horses was better.
     
  10. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Exactly. If "succinctness and brevity" uses more words than you have to, then perhaps "brevity" will do.
     
  11. Rafiki
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    Rafiki Active Member

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    Those damn "And"s worm their way into everywhere, don't they?
     
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  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Be brilliantly concise.
     
  13. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Don't get me started on every speech or letter ever sent out by schools! "It is our mission to do this and this and this, which promote the that and the and that of our student for the blah and blah of their futures."

    Uggggggh!
     
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  14. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Ain't they just the devil? Oh, to be succinct and brief!.

    To pick at you a bit now, I'm reminded of this old joke among pilots:

    Little boy: When I grow up, I want to be a pilot!

    His father (a pilot): Son, you have to make up your mind.​

    As for bloated language, we must cease and desist!
     
  15. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    If you be brilliant, concision will take care of itself.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Concision?

    In any case, brilliance and conciseness are two orthogonal axes. You can be brilliant but long-winded, or you can be concise but pedestrian. Also, brilliance itself has two distinct meanings, and I meant both of them. Brilliance can be the quality of finding relationships and patterns that most people overlook. It also means shining brightly, like a beacon or a sunlit gem.

    Conciseness is not the same as brevity. Anyone can keep it brief by trimming out content, but to be brief while retaining the most important nuances = that is being concise.

    Be concise, con brio.
     
  17. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Allow me to be somewhat perversely contrarian about this:

    Simplicity is one of many axes one can measure writing (or any art) by. In itself, it is not sophistication – that’s another axis, orthogonal to the simplicity axis.

    There is nothing about simplicity that adds elegance, let alone clarity. In fact, it’s possible to make something very simple at a great cost to clarity and even truth. For example, I could write that the Earth is spherical and moves around the sun in a circular orbit. These are simple concepts stated simply, but they are not accurate. I have to revise my statement to say that the Earth is an oblate spheroid and moves in an elliptical orbit. That’s more complex, but much more accurate.

    My point is that if you oversimplify, you lead your reader astray.

    This means that you have to take into account your intended reader when you write, as well as what you expect your reader to do with the concepts you convey. If you’re writing for a third-grader, then spheres and circles are probably perfectly fine. But it you’re writing for a graduate student in astronomy and planetary science, you have to go with the more complex concepts, and that means abandoning simplicity.

    Another way of looking at this is that the definition of simplicity changes depending on the intended reader.

    There’s a certain maximum verbal efficiency that’s achievable. What you’re really saying here is, “Try not to be too sloppy.” This is usually good advice, but once again, it depends on the intended reader and the purpose of the writing.

    Succinctness is defined as brevity and clarity. It’s redundant. Your sentence should read, “Simplicity is about brevity and clarity.” And it’s not always true.

    For example, a famous sentence in evolutionary biology is “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” (Let’s leave aside the question of whether or not this hypothesis is true.) It’s a very simple three-word sentence, but how many adults with only a high-school diploma understand what it means? Wikipedia rephrases it thus: “in developing from embryo to adult, animals go through stages resembling or representing successive stages in the evolution of their remote ancestors.” This is a much longer and more complex sentence, but it’s far easier for non-biologists to understand.

    Simplicity does not always mean brevity and clarity.

    “Write more, convey less” rarely happens, and only happens in writers of little or no skill.

    I know this statement is famous, but any adult knows it’s hogwash. A panel from a Dilbert comic strip is a picture that conveys much less than a thousand words, whereas Picasso’s Guernica conveys whole volumes. I know this is a bit beside the point, but this statement has always bugged me.



    How clear can a sentence be if it can be read in many ways? This is a recipe for confusion and misunderstanding, not clarity or simplicity.



    Complex characters, issues, places, and events can also be endlessly fascinating. Once again, it depends on the intended reader and the purpose of the writing.

    This is not true. You use as many characters as your story needs. If you need ten characters, use ‘em. (Don’t use more than you need – don’t introduce characters just to fill up pages. If, however, they serve the purpose of the story, don’t cut them out!)

    This is very untrue. Extremely untrue. Complexity and dullness are orthogonal axes. I think what you really mean here is, “Incompetent writing is dull.” I’ll agree with that. But complexity can be exciting, even dazzling, if the writer knows what he’s doing.

    Complex novels also stand out. Thomas Pynchon writes bestsellers. So does Don DeLillo. Many other writers of complex novels do as well. Their fans love their work.

    Personally, I like rereading complex and beautiful passages from writers like James Joyce and Anthony Burgess.

    I can’t say I’m a fan of dumbing down our work to make it easy enough for children. I want people to develop higher-level reading skills. Also, did you just say that simplicity in writing will make critical thinking skills unnecessary? I sure hope not! There’s too little critical thinking going on in our society as it is.

    Anyway, I think before I can say more about this, we’ll have to agree on a good, solid definition of simplicity. You seem to associate it with many qualities I do not.
     
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  18. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Thanks @minstrel. I didn't feel like typing any of that, so I was hoping you'd chime in here. You're a hero, now.
     
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  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I can agree with minstrel to some degree. There's nothing inherently bad about complexity in writing, as long as the complexity doesn't impede the reader's ability to wrap his or her mind around what the author us attempting to convey. Such writing, when delivered by a master of the art, is indeed is a beauty to behold.

    Still, there is a power and elegance to concise writing that in my opinion is unmatched by the wizards of intricate prose. And as advice to new writers, I see more writers do a faceplant trying for elegant complexity than I see trying for too much simplicity, even though both are very possible.
     
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  20. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't really understand the question of the poll. Someone care to explain?
     
  21. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    Simplicity is a must.
    That seems stated as to be an axiom. In which case nothing can be further from the truth. Simplicity is a component of a complex set of tools. Each used wisely can yield a work of art. Which on the outside, may look simple, but, be anything but.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2014
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  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I ignored the poll, and I generally do. Those are generally meaningless without discussion qualifying the choice.
     
  23. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sounds wise. I'll read the answers instead.
     
  24. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I ignored the poll too. It just wasn't clear enough for me.

    I think it all hinges on balance, experience and skill. Simplicity and complexity are like yin and yang. They also operate over a range of scales. You can have a plot that is simple or complex. You can use language hat is simple or complex. You can choose ideas that are simple or complex. The best way to go is to make the piece as simple or complex as it needs to be in each scale.

    For example, Harry Potter's world is a little on the complex side when you consider the series as a whole. Just thinking about all of the characters and the back grounds and the relationships and how things twist and turn through the series. It's certainly not the most complex, but it's got its layers. Despite this, the language is very simple in diction and syntax.

    Conversely, Paradise Lost is the most stylistically complex book I've tried to read. It is riddled with allusions, metaphors and poetic devices. However, the plot is simply the fall of man, starting with Satan. It's got an epic scope, but the plot is not very complex

    Lastly, Lolita rides the fringe of simple and complex on both scales, in my opinion. The language parodies a lot of different styles, but it is only ever what it needs to be for the style of the story being told. When it's a comedy, the language is hysterical. When it's a mystery, the language is contemplative and suspenseful. Wen it's a romance, the language is artful and tender. And yet the book is a complex amalgamation of all-- though you never feel confused as you're reading it.
     
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  25. aClem
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    aClem Active Member

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    The word "simplicity" is probably not the best choice. I would use "clarity" instead. Many important things can not be expressed in simple sentences using simple words. Having said that, I think the point is to AVOID needless complexity. There may be a few readers you will impress by using the most obscure vocabulary possible and throwing in as many metaphors and allusions as you can, but are they really the only readers you want to reach? Unless a writer has something REALLY important to say to me, and he has convinced me of that, I am not willing to slog trough page after page of such writing in the hope that there will be a pay off.
     

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