Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Keep it Simple, But Make it Powerful

By Darvell Hunt

The best stories I have read are those that have a simple premise, but do something that has never been done before. This might sound easy, but in practice, it’s usually not.

Think of Velcro: a very simple idea based on a cocklebur sticking to your socks. This invention took the world by storm and revolutionized footwear for the very young and the very old, among other things.

Think of the snap: also a very simple idea, but based on a clothes button that you press to fasten, instead of threading something big through something small, yet it revolutionized the way men hold up their pants and women hold up their socks.

Try to think of our world without these items. It’s hard, isn’t it? A world without Velcro? That would be like a world without Harry Potter!

I’m currently reading Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Wow, what a neat idea, exploring how Peter Pan became a lost boy in Never Never Land. I’m only about halfway through it, but I’m entranced. Every time a new element is introduced that I know from the world of Peter Pan, I think, “Ah! So that’s how that came to be!”

Sure, I know, this book is an “after work,” or a derivative work based on the original Peter Pan story and not written by the original author, but it seems to mesh so well with what I already know, that my mind seems to gloss over that fact. It works, because the explanations are simple. I'm left thinking, "Well, of course that's the way it happened! How else could it have?"

Some of my stories take a whole page to describe. As a writer, it’s hard to make things simple, because we tend to make our stories complicated so we can show our friends how smart we are. The more I learn about writing, though, the more I find that it's quite a complicated process to make things simple.

And when I say simple, I do not mean shallow, but rather, easy to explain. If you can pitch your idea in 20 seconds and wow the person to whom you are pitching, so that they immediately want to read your story, then you have done what I am suggesting.

Well, got to go. Time to practice what I preach. I’m thinking about writing a story about a little man with hairy feet who lives in a hole in the ground with a round door who meets a powerful master who trains him to lift things with the power of his mind, but is bitten by a spider so that he has superhuman strength, who’s rich parents were killed when he was young, so he decides to be a vigilante good guy, but then we really find out he’s from another planet, and when he came to earth, he became stronger and more powerful than other people, and he can fly, too, but if people make him really, really mad, he turns green and ugly and forgets how to talk.

Let's see now... maybe I could simplify that plot a little. Yeah, maybe. I probably don't need to say he turns green when he's mad. I think that’s been done before anyway.

1 comment:

Cindy Beck, author said...

Good entry. It's not an easy task to write simply ... and I loved your last paragraph.