KISS, Tacos, and Beer

“Un buen escritor expresa grandes cosas con pequeñas palabras; a la inversa del mal escritor, que dice cosas insignificantes con palabras grandiosas.” –  Ernesto Sabato

I find myself struggling with trying to balance showing versus telling in keeping my writing simple and fluid, all while allowing my own style and voice to develop. I won’t be one of those writers who writes three pages to describe something that could have easily been shown in a paragraph.  Number one, I don’t have the literary tool-set to do that and number two, I wouldn’t want to even if I did. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with those who can dazzle us with prose that showcases their mastery of words and ability to crank out intricate sentence structures. There is a time and place for complexity and for me personally, I don’t care to see it  over an entire novel. Poetry and short stories; yes, but not for ninety thousand plus words. Often, it leaves a reader confused and doesn’t move the plot. OK, it leaves me confused, like I might leave many of you confused rambling on about finite element analysis, proof load testing, and stress failures.  I don’t want to be that kind of writer.

My advice to writers as both a reader and a writer: balance. Use words that challenge, inspire thought, or paint pictures but don’t do it in a way that has the average reader wondering if he or she should have continued education beyond grad school just to understand your work. Remember that the reader is the customer. If you don’t care about that then by all means, impress yourself and a few others but don’t complain about lack of sales or interest in your work.The old adage “Keep it Simple Stupid” plays a part in writing and there is plenty of advice out there on the subject. One can still have creativity and depth in simplicity.  I’m a firm believer that reading the work of authors who master this helps make me a better writer.

The translation for the above quote by Ernesto Sabato?

“A good writer expresses great thoughts with simple words, whereas the bad writer says insignificant things with grandiloquence.”

So by now you are wondering what the heck KISS, Tacos, and Beer has to do with any of this right?  It’s just how my mind works.

Last month, we went on a vacation to Arizona to see my family.  This included a three day side trip to Las Vegas with my entire Arizona family so that my brother could finally marry his fiancé.  I hadn’t been to Vegas in years and my wife and kids had never been so we were excited about it.  Las Vegas is both beautiful and exhilarating but designed for one thing: to dazzle your senses in a manner that lessens the realization of how fast money is leaving your wallet.  I quickly became frustrated at how expensive meals were in the resort: one hundred plus dollars each time for a family of four.

I could write an entire short story about our experiences in Vegas but in keeping with the theme of this post, I will keep things moving and simple.  Getting off the the main strip, we drove down a side road en route to the KISS Wedding Chapel. Yes, this is where my brother and now wife wanted to be married, and by a friend of mine who plays in a Vegas KISS tribute band called Sin City KISS.  Along the route, I was determined to find an alternate place to eat after the wedding so my wife and kids were rattling off names of restaurants they were seeing on the way to the wedding, names that told me nothing with the exception of one. As we pulled into the chapel, I saw the huge KISS sign and it hit me, knowing immediately where we were going to eat after the wedding. Keep it simple stupid.

Bill

 

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22 Comments

  1. I loved this. Congratulations to your brother and his wife. As to showing rather than telling, I struggle with this, too. I am one of those writer’s of baroque, Germanic sentences. Unfortunately, my last name isn’t Faulkner, so I don’t have the skill to pull that off. As well as being a lover of deeply descriptive words, Ian Fleming usually helps keep me grounded with punchy, evocative prose. Yes, spy thrillers are my go-to. They’re like linguistic fiber supplements for my brain. “Bond’s gun spoke once.”

    • W.C. Cunningham

      August 17, 2014 at 5:41 pm

      Thanks Erin. I sometimes compare it to music. I have listened to a few guitarists whose music is so complex that something gets lost along the way despite its brilliance. It’s just not melodic to me and doesn’t flow. Yet there are great guitarists, and I will borrow your words, who provide us with punchy, evocative melodies we all remember. As for Fleming, we love Bond in my house. Thanks for reading and taking the time to share your thoughts.

  2. Once again, great post Bill. I have to hold my hand up and say that I have a tendancy to ramble on with my description. The first chapter of my book had two paragraphs cut where I did that. I think I am learning but from now on I will remember ‘Keep it simple stupid’!

    • W.C. Cunningham

      August 17, 2014 at 6:12 pm

      Thanks Emma. I would hope that the more we read and write, the easier this all becomes. When I see it in something I’m reading and it stalls me, I try and push through it. If it happens too often, the author loses me. I have been trying to learn from this and find a happy medium in my own writing.

      • I have no doubt that you will find it. From what I have read, you already have. Congratulations to your brother and his new wife, should have said earlier – sorry!

  3. I agree about saying keeping things short. I quit a book once because the author was so in love with her writing style. I want a story first, and if the writing dazzles me, that’s a plus. But even though I’m a writer and us folk can maybe appreciate literary somersaults a bit better, I still don’t. It’s simply showing off. Great post! 🙂

    • W.C. Cunningham

      August 20, 2014 at 9:00 pm

      Thanks. I know a lot of this is personal preference but to me, a story needs to keep moving. I do like a little literary dazzle in short stories though.

  4. Great post Bill and I really liked that quote from Ernesto Sabato. I think this is a balance that is difficult to get right particularly when put alongside the fact that you can’t please everyone whatever you do. I can tend to ramble on with descriptions mostly because I hear the ‘show don’t tell’ mantra in my head so generally now I write it all then cut out what I think I can get away with. Congratulations to your brother and sister-in-law, you can’t go wrong with tacos and beer!!

    • W.C. Cunningham

      August 20, 2014 at 3:21 pm

      Thanks Georgia. I’m still learning how to balance show versus tell and continually challenge myself. Thanks for the congrats on the wedding. My brother waited a lifetime for this and I am happy for the two of them. As for tacos and beer? I could live off tacos and beer. OK, and maybe margaritas too. And coffee. Oh and Nutella!

  5. Fantastic post. Loved the Ernesto Sabato quote and the wedding pics. I think I finally figured out that my show don’t tell in my novels comes from having quite a bit of dialogue – each to their own. And I cannot be doing with zillions of description – I also want to be able to imagine for myself. I don’t want description à la Balzac for a carriage clock, for example. I can see how much you are enjoying this whole writing process. Long may it continue. Have a great weekend, Susan

    • W.C. Cunningham

      August 23, 2014 at 6:12 am

      Thank you Susan! I am enjoying it and am enjoying this journey immensely. So much talent out there to learn from.

  6. Great post. For me, I like a story that moves and get bored if it takes a few pages to describe an entire scene before anything happens *yawn*. I try to give just enough to the reader so they can create the images, I’ll keep it going with action and dialogue.

    • W.C. Cunningham

      August 23, 2014 at 6:27 am

      I’m the same way although I’m finding it tough balancing that in my own writing. I suspect that is a normal though. I don’t want to set my story pace or tempo at a level I can’t maintain throughout the chapters yet don’t want the “yawn” either.

  7. Hello Bill! I like the quote and enjoyed your article. You should put up some pictures of the wedding. How was the taco place? 😀

    • W.C. Cunningham

      August 23, 2014 at 6:40 am

      Hi Vashti! Thank you for reading again. I will post some additional pictures of the wedding as I get them from my sister-in-law. I should have a photo page like you do now that I think about it. The taco place was delicious and had some clever choices on the menu. Growing up in a Hispanic house, I can be a bit picky when it comes to Mexican food.

  8. I used to think my writing was inferior because it was so simply written. I’ve always admire writers whose prose reads like poetry. Now I’m learning that simplicity is a good thing.

    • W.C. Cunningham

      October 8, 2014 at 7:54 pm

      Thanks Christy! I find complex prose has its place and I honestly don’t mind it in a short story or poetry. It’s a personal preference and every reader will be different but simplicity is a good thing.

  9. The trick in Vegas, I was always told, is to hit the free buffets at all the casinos. But not hit the slot machines for any more than you’d be willing to pay for a meal. 😉

    • W.C. Cunningham

      October 8, 2014 at 7:56 pm

      Well if there were free buffets, we certainly could not find them. Maybe down on the old strip. Still a fun trip and I would go back after a little more research. Thank you for reading!

  10. This hit home. I sometimes worry that my writing lacks elegance. The KISS was just what I needed.

    • W.C. Cunningham

      November 2, 2014 at 7:50 pm

      Thanks for reading. I think a lot of it comes down to personal taste and the correct balance. To me personally, it’s more about the quality of the story.

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