I had the good fortune one of these days to help a friend edit his dating profile. He is a good looking, normal enough, fairly interesting guy but this is what he had as his killer writeup. He was sure that the following would have droves of women impressed:
I am a goal oriented, driven, optimistic, hard working, funny individual. I like hiking, biking, travelling and reading. Favourite book: Life of Pi.
Now, when he told me his favourite book was Life of Pi, I could not deny it. I had seen a copy of the same on his bookshelf in his living room. The goal orientedness probably came from the objective statement of his scintillating resume. As for the rest, well, he did have a sense of humour. When people laughed at his jokes.
I told him to bring a little more life into his profile. “How?” he said. “Just more examples. More concrete things.” My version of Show, don’t tell.
Now god knows I’m not a dating expert. But I did fear that people would think he was either uninteresting (rather boring despite the hiking and biking) or “simple.”
And no one wants to date either boring or simple.
So I advised him to revise the writeup.
He expanded his version and brought it over again.
Hello. It’s me. Every morning I wake up with a smile on my face. I am very successful. I want to make myself better and better everyday. So I work hard. I bring a smile to everyone who meets me. I want to be the sunshine of your life. I am very interesting. I like to hike, bike and read stuff. I read the book Life of Pi in one sitting.
The writeup was fine. It was correct. What else?
I didn’t think I could really express what was lacking. So I let him go.
But I wondered about the women who would be assessing him. What kind of women would like to read this? What would they think of him?
Would they think that he was a simple guy?
What was lacking in his writeup, for the lack of a better term, was something I would call complexity.
Everyday at the departmental store, I see colourful cards in pastel shades in the stationary section that write about smiles and sunshine and happiness and life and moonshine and the best of everything.
The world is new, the mind is soaring, people are wonderful and the world is an adventure full of smiles.
It’s the same with Facebook.
This was a status update I encountered recently (or something very like it):
Isn’t it wonderful how life always brings surprises? (picture of object ABC) A simple object ABC but how it shows that life still has the basic human good, little surprises around the corner, genuine people who always have a smile!
- Cliches, quotes, superlatives. Is that what takes away complexity?
- Or is it just a lack of cynicism that removes the dash of realism from life that makes writing appear simple?
- Or is it a lack of concreteness, a tendency to generalize the world into a ball of saccharine sweetness that takes away its complexity?
- Or is it a tendency to overstate ideas?
What would be the difference between the Facebook status update above and one that said
I was surprised by object ABC left at my doorstep this morning. It made me happy. Wonder who left it there. It brings back my faith in life.
Is this one simply more believable and hence more complex?
Sometimes a lack of complexity and this tendency to generalize can come out of anxiety. You see this often at the beginning of mandatory student papers.
Throughout the history of time human beings have wanted to look for their roots.
Sometimes this same template is modified for something quite different, say, an essay on film.
Throughout the history of time human beings have been influenced by movies.
What does this make us think about the person behind the sentence?
[Continued on my next post: On Writing and Complexity (Part 2)]