When a little “Stupid” Beats “Too Smart”: Write Right-er by Simplification

What I wanted to be when I grew up was Smart. Intelligent. Articulate.

So every week I read “smart” books and tried to learn “smart” things at school. I got tested for entry into a Gifted & Talented school…didn’t make it based on the kind of smart they were looking for (more science and math, less literature and philosophy.) 

And I got picked on for being “snotty, intellectual, superior…” Sure, good grades in academic-writing classes, but not much positive response for the storytelling stuff.

So, yeah, I learned to live in two worlds—-the world of Smart, and the world where I could communicate with my peers without getting sneered at.

Fitting in while expressing your style can sometimes be a challenge.

Photo Credit: Nina Matthews Photography via Compfight cc

WHERE WRITING “TOO SMART” FAILS:

1. Info-dumps drags down the pace 

We’re talking plot constipation here: there’s so much crammed into a moment you can’t push anything else through and…ick…gross…yuck.

"Hey, I look great because I did all this research and here it is" is no excuse, authors.

If the information doesn’t…

  • further the story
  • reveal something about the characters
  • enhance the setting in a major way

…then CUT IT, stat.

(Yes, I know there are exceptions, particularly a bestselling author whose last name rhymes with “Nancy”, but let’s face it, they are exceptions for a reason.)

2. Scene description that Bewilders

Look at me, look at me, look at me!

Every piece of a location is not of equal importance.

Filling up the page with incidental details  obscures the scene.

Our “monkey brains” get easily confused by too many flashing blinking things. I confess I wanna puke every time I stumble across one of those websites where everything’s in motion.

  • pick a focus object/plant/food to fully describe
  • limit the words spent on the rest of the space
  • think like a photographer—-foreground, middle ground, background, and word-it-up accordingly

Call a “table” a “table” unless it’s important we know it’s a fifteenth-century Moroccan Laquered Leather blahblabhlbablhablhb…

And heavy layers work better in the first half of books. Once the action’s cooking, I can’t say I care what anything else looks like beyond a rudimentary hit—-or if something significant’s CHANGED about the space.

***Note: Genre dictates reader expectations. Romance, for instance, seems to require that clothing is described to a much higher degree of detail throughout the entire story. Sci-Fi has wonderful gadgets that may require a certain amount of technical info. So, of course, take genre into consideration.***

Finally *gulps* *has tears in her eyes*

3. The biggest words aren’t the bestest words

“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.”

-Stephen King

Sometimes you need a little help, and that’s okay.

But just picking at $50 word and plunking into the sentence so you can look smarter is a stupid-ass thing to do.

And it will get you beat up on the playground of the marketplace. Because when people have to look up terms, it means they’ve (gasp) STOPPED READING the story.

*cue screaming*

SUMMING UP

1. No “plot constipating” by ruining pace with blocks of information

2. Focus the scene, don’t drown us in details

3. Pick the words that fit, not the ones you think will make you look smarter.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

-Leonardo da Vinci

via Brainyquote

-Elizabeth Ellen Everson

Surprise Finds: Ideas from Ordinary Stuff—- The Mystery Ticket Stubs

Books hold all kinds of surprises…but it’s not always just the story or the plot.

Used books are extra fun, because they offer unexpected finds at prices I’m definitely willing to pay…so I’m psyched when I find something cool. Sometimes there are notes or highlighting, names inside the cover to ponder.

This post was inspired from last month when I found airline ticket stubs used as book markers inside a used book, The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell).

I could have thrown the stubs away, but I was too intrigued. (and a little hopped-up from watching Sherlockepisodes…again.)

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Who, What, When, Where, Why, How? All from ticket stubs.

Photo Credit: betta design via Compfight cc

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WOW. What could these mean if they really MEANT something?

I had names. A man. A woman.

Same last name. Siblings? Husband and wife? 

Then there was a destination and point of origin, and the dates of travel.

Squee! Double bonus.

One was TO the East Coast Place, the next was FROM there. One in September, one in April.

  • Why did each person travel? Were they together? Separate?
  • One of the stubs was dated September 11—-not likely THAT September 11, but still, it was a United Airlines flight—-what ideas did that inspire?

The seat assignments, boarding times and the flight numbers offered some ideas.

  • Which direction was the flight—- (the numbers can tell you a little bit about the E-W or N-S direction of the route, I discovered)?
  • A more exclusive type of plane might have a lower flight number, so was this an expensive or a more common journey for each?

What about the placement of the stubs in the book—-

  • He read further into the book than she did…or she might have removed his marker.
  • What if these markings left by international super-spies as coded messages to one another?
  • Did the book end up in the charity shop because they’re both deceased?
  • Neither one apparently finished reading the book. Why?
  • Murder mystery…
  • Theft ring…
  • She wore perfume…

***IMPORTANT NOTE: It’s not about prying into these strangers’ actual lives. I don’t do that. If there had been anything compromising involving identity issues, I would have shredded the things.***

Not sure where this info will land in my creative brain, but that’s part of the fun.

Pretty darn cool starter ideas for a couple of tiny pieces of paper, eh?

(And the book itself was an interesting read, so double-bonus!)

-Elizabeth Ellen Everson