“How to Write with Style,” Part 5

This post is part of a series called ‘The Writer’s Pool.’ I will be drawing from the wealth of knowledge from the world’s greatest writers to explore their advice, techniques, tools, and more.

One of the “tricks” to finding your own style of writing is to “keep it simple.” This is Vonnegut’s third point in his essay on style. He pointed out that both Shakespeare and James Joyce sometimes wrote sentences that were “childlike when their subjects were most profound.”

I think this is something many novice writers struggle with. We grew up reading works from Shakespeare, Dickens, and Joyce. And we just assume that “good” writing is profound and wordy. How can we impress a reader, unless we are “wowing” them with our amazing vocabulary? Not to mention these complex sentences that are just packed with language?

But, in the end, readers care more about what happens in your story, than how it sounds. That’s pretty much counter to everything we learned in English class. I don’t have to drag out those old statistics that say newspaper articles are written at a third-grade reading level to make my point. Simplicity of language is picking the very best words to communicate your ideas.

And, most of the time, that means using words that don’t require your reader to Google its definition.

Don’t believe me? Do this. Go to Goodreads or Amazon and find some random self-published story. Don’t even buy it. Just sample a page or two. Chances are, the insecure writer went too far in their descriptions and language. It’s unreadable. You won’t even care about the story (even if it’s a good one), because of how unnecessarily complicated it is.

Also, there’s this. Think back to your favorite book in the world. How much do you remember the artful language it used? Be honest, you probably remember very little. But you certainly remember the story, i.e.: what happened. Do you love Harry Potter because of how complex and marvelous the language was or because you cared about what happened to the boy who lived?

This is one of the rules that can be painful, if you’re not willing to be honest with yourself. But it is very freeing. The pressure to sound impressive is gone. Just say what you mean, using the simplest language possible.

You might even find you’ve removed a major burden that was slowing you down.