Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Writing 101: The Merits of Simple English

Listen, I can get as flowery as the next guy. I'll wax poetic about the sky if you want me to, and I'll bet I could come up with some adjectives you've never even imagined before. But really, what's the point? The most beloved books aren't necessarily the most thrilling, the most frightening or the funniest stories ever written...but they are easy to read. Want to be a writer? You need to understand the merits of simple English. 


He strolled forward with the night wind on his shoulder, propelled by a steady tread that squeaked just so with each new stride. The dead foliage on the trees made crackling sounds, shivering with the frigid mistral that came sweeping down the mountain. The refuse storage loomed in front of him like a spectre, a hungry maw waiting to swallow his offering whole.

Do you know what I was describing with the above? I'm talking about a guy taking out the trash on a chilly fall evening. If you didn't get that right away, it's because the above is an example of over-done writing. Every single sentence doesn't need to be an event -- and frankly, shouldn't be. One of the merits of using simple English is that it's easy to understand. I shouldn't have to second-guess every word and read every paragraph twice over just to know what the heck is going on. 

Make me do all of that as a reader, and I'm just going to end up getting exhausted. Flowery language is nice, sometimes, but being inundated with it through page after page is tiresome. It's okay to simply say what you mean. You can still be wonderfully descriptive without using all the lesser-known adjectives in the thesaurus. Let's take the example above and strip it down to simple English: 

He could feel the cold night air on his shoulders as he walked in his squeaking shoes. A cold wind from the mountain made the dead leaves on the trees rustle, creating crackling noises overhead. The garbage area seemed to come from nowhere, casting shadows over him as it stood ready to receive his trash bags.

Easier to read, right? Totally understandable, and yet still descriptive? These are the merits of simple English. Use plain, everyday language to get your point across, because plain, everyday language is what most readers understand. Don't ever make it difficult to read your book. Simplify, and make it easy instead.

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