Wait. Do I mean K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid?

Nope! I mean: Keep It Clear, Stupid. 😀  K.I.C.S. Catchy, no?


I critiqued a very interesting story this week.  A mash of science fiction, religion, physics theory, and Native American mythology.  To be honest, it went completely over my head.

As smart as I like to think I am, I didn’t get it.

The author is very cerebral and maybe his intended audience is too, but if he/she is after a more general audience, someone like me should get it the first time through.  Or, at least, sort of get it.  And that didn’t happen.

I hate to presume, but I think this author could use a read through of the sixteenth piece of advice from…(drum roll, please)…the Writer’s Digest 25 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 30 Minutes a Day article!  Here it is:

16. Simplicity
The great film director Billy Wilder was once asked if he liked subtlety in a story. He answered along the lines of, “Yes. Subtlety is good—as long as it’s obvious.” The same can be said about complexity and simplicity. Some stories are so complex that it’s frustratingly impossible to understand them. But others (like Wuthering Heightsor Bleak House) are complex in a way that we don’t find difficult to understand, and actually find enjoyable because of the complexity. Conversely, Hemingway’s famous simple style is in fact very complex.

What really matters is whether or not something is clear. Each day, as you revise the pages from your prior writing session, take a few minutes to ask yourself, “Is this clear? Will the reader understand it?” If you’re not sure, revise until the answer is yes. Don’t be afraid to deal with a complex topic in a complex way, but always keep in mind that clarity will make you the reader’s friend.

When I told the author that I didn’t get it, s/he honestly thought I meant for her/him to ‘dumb it down’.  But that’s definitely not what I wanted him/her to do.  I said, “Explain it.  Better.”  Maybe I’ll send this to the author, too.  Mr. Morrell says it so much better than I could.


4 thoughts on “K.I.C.S.

  1. You said it exactly right here, Nila. Dense, convoluted, complicated writing is the result of dense, convoluted, complicated thinking. You see it in any bureaucratic missive and in legalese. Too many writers seem to believe that because a thing is very easy to do poorly (for example, an haiku, a childrens’ story, genre fiction) that it is not worth learning to do well.

    There is no such thing as “dumbing down.” Simplifying, clarifying, streamlining all make the writing smarter.

    There is a difference between complex and complicated.

    Complex is like lasagna. There are layers, spices, and contrasting and complementing textures and colors, which all meld into yummy goodness.

    Complicated, on the other hand, is clearing all the leftovers out of the fridge and odd bits from the pantry, tossing everything in a pot and hoping something edible emerges for dinner.

    1. Right, Jaye. I recognized it immediately when I read the author’s piece that s/he needed to clarify the theory, and that’s what I tried to convey to the author, but i think it might have stung a little and she/he didn’t hear the message. All they got out of it was ‘dumb it down’. So sad because it could be a really stunning and thought-provoking piece. I’m hoping they read this post…

  2. This is a great topic. Clarity sounds like it should be so easy and so obvious, and yet I think I’ve struggled with this as much as anything.

    It isn’t just a matter of muddled sentences or mismatched pronouns. It’s a question of finding that golden spot where subtlety lends the message some cachet, but it hasn’t descended into murk.

    1. It’s the hardest thing to do, I think. To be clear, but not obviously so, and to not talk down to your readers. It’s not easy.

      Thanks for stopping by, Jo-Anne. 🙂

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