Keep it Simple Stupid: What My Son and Twitter Taught Me About Writing

I can hear my son, Logan, shouting “Don’t say stupid!” in my head as I type this.  That might be the most important thing he’s taken away from my 3.5 years of parenting him.  Don’t say stupid.  You see, I am a potty mouth, and somehow Logan has only managed to pick out the word stupid from among the myriad creative ways I have found to swear or say otherwise nasty things in his presence.  (No, I am not a perfect parent, or a perfect person by any stretch of the imagination, and if there is one absolutely terrible parenting faux pas that I have committed, it is swearing in front of my son.)  Stupid is the only word he has repeated.  I taught him that word is forbidden after he called his friend stupid.  So he reminds me.  Every single time I say it.  Because for him, we live in a black and white world, words have good meanings and bad meanings and if he shouldn’t say stupid, then darn it, nobody else should.

That’s the way it should be.  As one of my favorite characters, the eponymous character Angel, once said, “We live as if the world is what it should be to show it what it can be.”  Except, that’s sort of impossible.  We can’t live in a world where we react to things as though evil and good were very easily divided into their corners because the grey areas are where the conflict lives and where the interesting essence of a story can be found.  There are great mountains of complexity to be found in the space between good and bad and that is more than enough to make people’s head spin.  Your reader can be entranced and confused and compelled by what you write because of that alone.

You don’t need extremely complex verbiage to do that work for you.  And despite what E.L. James may have taught you with “50 Shades of Grey”, you do not need to chew, swallow then vomit a thesaurus up to do so, either.  (I know I pick on her far too much, but all I can think of upon examining her work is a very enthusiastic and, still simplistic, “ARGH.”  The occasional book reviewer in me cringes.)

Watching Logan grow up and develop language of his own has provided me with an opportunity.  As he struggles to define and understand new words, I also struggle to put my own thoughts into words that he can understand.  If one fact can be distilled from that experience, it would be that language is important.  You may be thinking, “No s&^t, Sherlock!”  And to that I can only reply, “Told you about my potty mouth.”

Logan is not only constantly in search of the right words, but I’m always constantly in search of language economy – a way to explain my ideas in simple, effective sentences that are not ridiculously verbose.  Logan is also a hyper child, and when I try to explain things in roving, complicated sentences, he reacts by walking away from me.  Which is what readers often do if you present them with long, twisty sentences that look like a paragraph when you really could have said it in one line.

Oddly, my use of twitter has taught me something similar.  If you look at my twitter account, it is filled with #WIPquotes, or, quotes from my works in progress.  These usually get posted as I’m writing my story.  I write a line, I like it, I tweet it.  But often times, the line does not fit in the tweet.  Since I like to share, I really want to make that line tweetable.  (Language can also be invented – tweetable?)  So I will try to find better words to streamline the sentence, and in that way, most times, I make the line stronger.

It’s true, that talking to Logan usually means simplifying too much, unless I want to spend the next hour explaining the words that explain the words that explain the words, etc., etc., etc.   But the idea that sometimes the simplest explanation, the simplest phraseology, the simplest term, can often be the best is something that is often tossed aside in the pursuit of “prettier” language.

Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule – there are always reasons to go for the more complex terms, the more interesting turn of phrase.  The idea is always to strike a balance between the two so that your work becomes more well rounded and not too bogged down.

Any thoughts on this topic?  To any of my writer mothers out there – Any fun things you have learned about your work from your children? Share!

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10 thoughts on “Keep it Simple Stupid: What My Son and Twitter Taught Me About Writing

  1. LOL…the only way my children will read any of my work (fanfic or original) is 1)if any of my original is ever published 0r 2) after I’m dead.
    What I DID get from my son is a nom de plume. I truly hate my first name (the name I go by is actually my middle name….not crazy about it either,lol). He gave me the only way that first name is acceptable…he told me it was spelled with an L and C (hence my screen name).

    1. I was wondering where that came from. That’s pretty brilliant of your son. 🙂

      Logan knows that Mommy and Daddy are writers, but I always tell him that just like there are some television shows that Mommy and Daddy watch that he can’t until he’s older, Mommy and Daddy write stories that he can’t read until he’s older. Assuming I’m published, he will one day either read them or avoid them like the plague. And I will cringe LOTS while he is deciding which. LOL If I remain unpublished, I will squirrel them away in terror. 🙂

  2. Ideas, corporations, behaviors can be STUPID; applying the word to an individual can be hurtful. (And then there’s the viewpoint that using “stupid” as an insult is ableist.)

    To quote myself from a recent LJ comment to a post on gendered insults: “I don’t approve of a moratorium on controversial words, but I heartily approve of co-opting them by using a usually insulting word in a POSITIVE context.”

    Twitter has ruined me; I’ve failed to post meta or write fanfic because of an uncontrollable urge to reduce everything to 140 characters.

    1. I tried to explain that there was a difference – and that stupid is not a word he should be using against other people. And I have many bad ableist type of words that shoot out of my mouth that I need to stop. I know that one already. If there is one thing I am aware that I suck at, it’s controlling my verbal language. I either speak awkwardly, or things just fly out of my mouth. I am much better with the written word. Perhaps this is why I’m a writer? LOL

      Twitter has it’s uses, but there are many things about it that are frustrating. However, as somebody who tends to be wordy, Twitter curbs that.

  3. Not a twitter fan, as you know, but I have found that some writers are a tad bit verbose. Especially writers from the classic era. Although I like a descriptive novel, I find myself sometimes sighing and wishing that the author would get to the point already. As for “using big words,” I have a pretty decent sized vocabulary (which also includes some potty mouth saying in various languages), but I have actually come across books that have me pulling out the dictionary every five pages to understand what the hell the author is talking about. So annoying! Yeah, we get it, you’re smart…or you have a really good thesaurus…but how about keeping the audience engaged by speaking in layman’s terms every once in a while.

    1. Lol! You? Not a twitter fan? NO WAY! :p

      I agree! I find it very frustrating if I need to research to understand your book. I can understand if it’s a technical reference, even a pop culture reference, but if I’m looking up word and word, we have a problem.

      I have a pretty strong vocabulary as well, and don’t feel the need to flaunt it. Flaunting that you are smart, as a rule, usually makes you sound less intelligent and about 75% more arrogant.

      1. Something else that annoys me lately – not related to this topic, but may appear as a rant on G-POP.net some day: Can’t anyone proofread these days? Lately…and I’m sure that spellcheck and other computer programs are to blame for this…my reading experiences have been plagued with typos. And I’m not talking about blog posts and small publishing company novels, but the big name publishers like delrey, TOR, et. al. It is annoying as hell when I find typos in a novel – just ruins the whole flow of things. And it’s happening more often…hate to date myself, but before computers were so big, typos appeared less often in novels. Just sayin’.

        1. I agree – it seems as though this happens in bigger and bigger titles. I mean, it is difficult to catch every single mistake, and it is gonna happen now and then, but you are right that these things are distracting.

  4. How had I not commented on this????? *bad Kehwie!* (And my user name came from a kid, but not my own kid.)

    My daughter is quite bummed she can’t read my fanfic. But she also wants us to write a fic together sometime. We’ll see how that goes! 😉

    Melissa’s comment on classic novels being wordy sometimes made me think of Dickens. He was paid by the word, so of course he padded his works. When he did live readings, he abridged them himself and cut the extraneous fluff.

    I too get paid by the word, and I try hard not to fall into that trap. Thankfully, it is harder to pad much when the articles are usually only 350-500 words–I actually usually have trouble trimming it down to the specifications! I feel like I can’t cover the topic adequately. But then, I am naturally wordy. See this post as an example. Sigh.

    I admit I find Twitter frustrating sometimes–I have to break grammar rules at times to make things fit, which bugs me. I can’t get a whole thought in. Sometimes real conversation is hard. But on the other hand, sometimes short statements can be so weighty and so profound. And I am getting better at it. Maybe one of these days I’ll be waxing eloquent about how Twitter has helped my writing! 🙂

  5. Pingback: 10 Things To Know About Me…Er…If You Want To… – Justine Manzano ~ Author

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