Simple

Hey, gang.  I’m back from my vacation.  Went to Blizzcon, then Disneyland, then Dreamworks Animation Studios.  It was a busy couple of days, and I’m still not recovered.

Blizzcon was a great time.  It was my first, and it was cool to see some of the things they previewed.  Disneyland isn’t really my thing, but the wife liked it, so that was cool.  The Dreamworks stuff . . . it’s mostly hush hush.  We’re working on a new project that I’m not really free to talk about.  I will say it is NOT the Gil’s All Fright Diner or anything like that.  It’s an original idea, and while we’re in the preliminary stages, it could be awesome.  Or not.  We’re still figuring that out.  Can’t say any more than that at this stage.  So don’t bother asking.

But enough of my adventures in the real world.  They are thrilling, indeed, but they are also not what make me very interesting.  In fact, the only thing that makes me interesting to the general public is the mysterious art of novelology.  We might as well talk about that.

While I can’t tell you what makes a great story, I can say that it’s not all that mysterious.  Put interesting characters in an interesting situation, let things unfold to a satisfying conclusion, and BINGO you have the basics of a solid story.  That’s not very helpful though, is it?  It seems almost like a no brainer, a bit of advice so obvious that there’s no need to even speak it aloud.  Nevertheless, I’m sometimes surprised by the number of aspiring writers who don’t get this.

Granted, there is no one way to write a story, but too often, I see people buying into the idea that characters and stories must be complicated in order to be interesting.  The problem with complexity is that while it’s great when done properly, it’s usually pretty lousy when done poorly.

Personally, I find simplicity is underrated.  I don’t think of myself as a simple writer, but I do admit that it’s rare for my stories to be exceptionally complex.  There’s usually a good guy and a bad guy, some supernatural or sci fi themed conflict, and a resolution that involves either a tentacle monster or the universe almost exploding (or both).  I’d avoid saying I have a formula, but there’s no denying certain recurring elements that keep popping up.

Yet even a simple story has room for its own personality, its own unique qualities.  With eight published books, one finished manuscript in the pipe, and a current project a third of the way through, I’ve created dozens of characters and endangered many a universe in myriad ways.  And none of my characters are especially complicated.  Still, I think of them as distinct individuals, even the similar ones.

But what if they weren’t?  Would it really matter?  If I had only a dozen or so character archetypes at my disposal, would it hurt anything?  Aren’t we Terrans just telling the same handful of stories over and over again with our own touches added to them for good measure?  In the end, it’s all the same passions, the same fears, the same thirst for adventure, the same fear of the unknown, the same sense of mystery, the same empathy and malice that compels us.

Understanding this makes things a lot easier.  I consider myself a fairly creative soul, and I think my stories have some intriguing twists on the standard expectations of modern fantasy.  Yet ultimately, if they work it’s because they appeal to the reader on a most basic level.  It’s why I can’t complain about being called “funny” because a funny story has reached someone in a very special way.  Humor is one of the things that makes us tick, and if a story helps someone get in touch with that element of themselves, I’m honored to have been a part of that.

My advice to aspiring writers of all types is to worry less about wowing the audience with how complex you can make things, and just concentrate on having one or two characters worth following around.  And then have them do something interesting enough to make us glad we did follow them.  Maybe that’s something as thrilling as punching space aliens.  Or something as simple as having them learn and love and laugh.  The specifics aren’t important.  And this is obvious to anyone who looks at the bookshelves.  They’re filled with all kinds of stories for all kinds of people.  And while it’s unlikely that any story will have universal appeal, a writer doesn’t have to have a universal audience to be successful.  In fact, if you’re definition of successful artist is universal acceptance, you might as well stop now.  Because I guarantee that no matter how successful an artist is, there are plenty of folks who dislike him.

The tradition of great storytelling has always been taking a protagonist and throwing them in an unusual situation.  Everything else is just window dressing and details.  Important stuff, to be certain, but at the end of the day, a cool story without much decoration beats a dull one draped with a thousand useless accessories.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

 

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4 Comments

  1. Posted October 27, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Excellent advice, sir.

  2. Posted October 28, 2011 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Part of why complexity is deemed the MUST HAVE is that people try to publish themselves and the byzantine story arcs is how they try to hook people into reading and reading and reading, so every one is trying to achieve that. To the point where I, as mere unpublished novice/mortal, feel uncomfortable if my story is on the simpler spectrum of story telling.

  3. Posted October 29, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    This is exactly what I’ve been interested in exploring lately. In my case, the ” thousand useless accessories” tended to be purple prose. I take a lot of joy in writing interesting sounding sentences. And they are interesting on their own, but within a story they only slow things down.

    People wonder why certain books are so popular; certain books that people hate on to a silly degree. It’s because the story is strong. I don’t even want to mention those books in question. It would only continue to associate those works with the word hate, and i don’t want to be a part of that. But what always fascinating has been attempting to discover why a story is popular. Especially the stories that people consider to be simple. Every time I picked up one of those books the answer was staring at me in the face. I was and is almost always exactly what Mr. Martinez pointed out above. Story and Character. Story and Character. rinse repeat.

    As soon as i started focusing on this in my own writing and stopped worrying about how the words sounded, my writing improved exponentially. The plots are sharper and the characters are far more compelling. So my own little contribution would be to keep the self indulgences to a minimum.

    Great post!

    - Cryston

  4. Norma C. Roberts
    Posted November 19, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Making a story complicated can makes the reader bored or the story very lame. I hope every writer will keep that in mind.

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