Keep It Simple, Stupid!

For anyone who has ever set foot inside an English composition class, you are probably pretty familiar with the K.I.S.S. acronym.  Today I’d like to discuss the two extremes of this very misleading, and often misunderstood, writing tool.

On the far end of the extreme are those writers who take this acronym literally and think that simple everything is better:  simple plotline, simple sentences, simple characters, simply dialogue.  This is all well and fine…if you are writing childrens books.  If you are aiming for anyone with more than a 5th grade education, you are going to have to get out of the “See Jane run” mentality.  A manuscript written for someone above the age of thirteen should not sound like it was written by an 11 year old unless:

1.  it actually was written by an 11 year old

2.  you are Stephanie Meyer

3.  you intended for it to sound this way because it is based around the view-point of an 11 year old

Most English instructors make the very grave mistake of telling their students to write everything on a 5th grade level.  Okay, unless you are writing for an audience who is 12 years or younger, then anyone else is going to have more than a 5th grade education.  I have always said that I have more than a 5th grade education, I think on a level higher than a 5th grader, therefore I write subject matter and in a style that is meant for those with more than a 5th grade education.  Most adults who read something as simply written as the Twilight saga are often bored to tears.  (I know I sure was.) They want something that will challenge their minds, intrigue their imagination, and totally engross them in the storyline.  “Here comes Edward” just isn’t going to cut it for the majority of the adult population.  Don’t be afraid to use a large vocabulary if you have one.  You are not the only adult in the world to know big words.  Just be careful to not use too many at one time, try to use more common words that a lot of people would know instead of just a few doctors or lawyers or those with a much higher education, and always look for new, if somewhat simpler words, to use in place of always saying the same thing.

For instance, writing “He exited the building” sounds much better than “He left the building.”  While ‘exited’ isn’t exactly a big word, it gives the illusion of a much more sophisticated sound.  Remember that having a large vocabulary doesn’t just mean knowing a lot of different words;  knowing a lot of different words that mean the same thing is not only included in that vocabulary count, but as a writer, it will help you tremendously.  Other ways to write that same sentence include:

**He departed from the building.

**He headed off into the unknown, leaving the building behind.

**He disappeared out the door, leaving the building behind.  

**He vanished out the door and down the steps.

As you can see, there are many ways to write “He left the building.”  All of the above examples are fairly simply stated, but the way they are written spices things up, uses different words to keep the reader interested, and is not so simple that it would make the reader want to bang their head on their desk in frustration.  That is not to say that using something as simple as “He left the building” should never be used.  But if you are having to write the same scenario over and over, learning new ways to state the same thing keeps the reader interested and keeps the writer from falling into a rut.

On the other end of the spectrum are those writers who write so far above the regular Joe’s head that no one without a Ph. D. would be able to understand what was going on.  This, of course, is fine if the work in question was being written specifically for doctors.  However, if the work is supposed to be for regular, everyday people, it is only going to infuriate the reader and make them feel like an idiot.  Most people, myself included, have the mentality that people use big words to make themselves sound smarter than they actually are.  This means that you, by default, are not as smart as they.  And trust me, no one likes to feel like an idiot.  Not to mention that no one is going to continue to read something that requires them to look up the definition of every other word in a sentence.   

When it comes to writing, a very important first step is deciding who your target audience is.  If you are aiming for children, then you are naturally going to have to write in very simple terms.  If you are writing for adults, however, you are going to have to find a happy medium.  Write things too simply and your audience will die from boredom before they hit the second chapter.  Write too far above their heads and they will quickly tire of trying to figure out what all the fancy words mean.  No one really needs to know that you secretly have a vocabulary that rivals Merriam-Webster.  What does matter is that you can choose the correct words from your vast vocabulary that will appeal to the most people.


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