Wednesday, August 8, 2018

How to Keep Your Writing Simple


It’s so easy to make writing overly complicated, and one of the great dangers writers can come up against is trying to make their work expressive and creative without being overwritten.
While one might think it is harder to make writing complicated than it is to keep things simple, because writers want their readers to see, to believe and to feel everything about their world and the characters within it, it is, in fact, all too easy to create overly complicated and even confusing prose.
So how can you avoid this?
Don’t use five words when you can use one
It’s easy to use too many words when trying to describe our characters and the worlds that they inhabit. We so desperately want the reader to imagine it the way we do that sometimes we ruin it by describing things too much, not allowing them to use their imaginations, telling instead of showing and giving huge descriptions instead of choosing the best words to explain succinctly and accurately what we need the reader to know.
Don’t keep switching points of view
Change points of view over and over is only going to confuse your reader and possibly even yourself as the author! Stick to one point of view or switch character points of view when you being a new chapter.
Use time carefully
Going back and forth in time can add layers and depth to your story, however, if you choose not to keep time linear make sure you are smart and clear about it. If you keep jumping forwards and backwards in time, your reader will soon get confused and quickly lose interest.
What does the reader need to know?
When you are writing, you should always have the reader in mind. Look at what you have written and be honest with yourself about what the reader needs to know. Kill your darlings, cut unnecessary words, paragraphs, scenes, chapters and even characters if they aren’t important to your story.
Make every word count
Your book can’t go on forever; even the longest books have a finite amount of words, so it's imperative to make each one of them count. If you find yourself writing for the sake of it, or to draw out a scene to boost your word count you are almost certainly making your writing too complicated.
Use ‘he said’ ‘she said’
Many writers fall into the trap of adding unnecessary adverbs after a character has spoken. Done too many times and this distracts the reader from the story. In most cases a simple ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ will do.
These tips are ideal for writers looking to simplify and neaten up their writing. Writing that is direct, smart and interesting is so much more likely to capture readers attention than writing that is convoluted, complicated and overly descriptive. So next time you sit down to write, keep in mind these tips to keep your writing simple, straightforward and ultimately far more effective.

This came just after I edited my memoir. There were many times when I found myself cutting down words in a sentence that I found unnecessary  or repetitive, or combining two sentences to avoid overusing phrases such as "This was why..." I saw that I'd used that one quite a bit. 
Switching points of view was not an issue, since this is a memoir. Also true of a diary novel, since both are about one person. I haven't decided if I want to attempt writing from multiple points of view, which would be for an whole new novel. I've read a few such books recently and have found it interesting to see more than one character's view of the story.
"What does the reader need to know?" I have asked myself that many times while going over the memoir. I just cut a chapter that  felt was repetitive of what had been told in previous and subsequent chapters, but put moved of the information from that chapter into other chapters where I felt it would fit. 
I have been trying to neaten up my writing as well as tighten up some sentences and paragraphs, and trying not to be overly descriptive. These tips, however, came after I had begun doing such, but are still good to know.


  1. Hey, Jamie, Did you see the IWSG Goodreads' Book Club is reading Art of Memoir by Mary Karr?

  2. I'm big into cutting the words to the minimum number needed to convey the meaning, but then, I'm a minimalist. Still, it's important to note that some people do read to get lost in the words, and they like a proliferation of excess. (Or at least they seem to prefer it--the reviews say.) I guess it's important to keep in mind there's an audience for everything, and even hard and fast rules don't always apply. But most the time they do.

  3. Simple is often best. In writing and in life.

  4. I continue to work on cleaning up my writing and taking out unnecessary words. I am getting better about it all the time. Loved your advice. Great reminders and things to pay attention to for everyone. :)

  5. Making each word count can be challenging but it sure makes the story pop.