On Writing and Complexity (Part 2)

Continued from On Writing and Complexity (Part 1)

(Photo credit: tanjaillustration)

How do we react to the following writers who might be trying to say they’re happy?

Person A: Awwwww. How sweet. That’s the best thing ever! Red roses are my favourite.
Person B: The flowers made me so happy.
Person C: My felicity was assured by your gesture of goodwill expressed by the earlier mentioned red roses at my doorstep.

Believe it or not, person C’s do still exist amongst us in the twenty-first century.

But usually, in the everyday world, C’s are really A’s or B’s rather insecure about what to write or trying to get an edge over A’s and B’s. What else can they do? It’s a competitive world.

But no matter what their intention, what do these styles make us assume about the people behind them?

How seriously would we tend to take A? (the Awww woman in my head) How do we visualize her? I say her because most would assume it was a she. Why? What if it isn’t a she?

Would we imagine C, who talked about felicity, as a balding gentleman in a tweed jacket with a thick pair of glasses?

Now that I’ve started playing the imagination game, I’d rather confess that I’m thinking of B as a Meg Ryanish kind of girl in a pair of jeans and a sweater going about her everyday tasks—less extravagant than A but far less controlled about life’s little pleasures than C.

There are styles that make us assume that the writer is simple, lazy, insincere or perhaps without a single thought in the inside of their head that wasn’t already a thought which had been thought of before.

When such writers are successful, they are great arrangers of ideas, words and phrases already in circulation without pushing those turns of language too hard to do anything more. There are readers too who like travelling well trodden paths and don’t want to venture out too far.

And then there are styles that are heavy, “academic,” ponderous, “nerdy,” with lots of qualifiers that try to pin down the meaning of every word or phrase  as though to prevent the butterfly from flying away out of control. When such styles are successful, they do pin meaning down but in some cases, they squash the subject to death in unseemly shapes on the waxboard of their work.

Such styles rarely ever take any chances with grammar. They are usually disdainful of any changes in the living languages be it colloquial usage or new forms that come up such as textspeak or “non-pure” mixtures of two or more languages.

Sometimes complexity in such styles become about adding qualification after qualification before saying anything. Being careful about making any statement at all lest it simplifies or stereotypes a nuanced situation.

In such cases, simplicity is seen as the enemy of the complex.

A Duel
A Duel (Photo credit: plums_deify)

But then again, simple does not necessarily mean less complex.

Lucid is good. Lucid is honest. Short sentences. Fewer polysyllabic words when not necessary. Saying less. Indicating more. Keeping the glass as clean and uncluttered as possible so that you see the clear day by looking out the window.
If the day has it’s nuances, your writing is complex.

Language stands out of the way.

But what if I wanted to decorate the glass, colour it so the glass itself is my object of play and I want more control over what you see through it by making myself opaque or tinted because I wanted to fascinate you with the magic of my glass?

That’s complexity too.

Unfortunately, most of us have to choose between these two extremes–simple and complex– drawing on our arsenal of known cliches and the limited amount of creativity we all have.

If we’re simple, folks might complain we’re not rigorous enough.
If we’re complex, others will say s/he thinks too much!

Now why do we even need to consider simplicity and complexity?

I know I started yesterday with a dating profile as an example but hey, dating is too complex a problem to handle in a post on writing. No matter how complex writing can get, dating can get complex-er.

Anyway, as far as men and women themselves are concerned (not their writing styles), profile writeups are doomed from the start. Because they are forgetting a basic attribute of writing.

All writing is part fiction. Hence all profiles are part fiction.

Leaving aside the profiles that are total fabrications, they are all products of the writer’s imagination—fictional portrayals of people these writers like to see themselves as. Depending upon access to language skills and marketing acumen, people then are either originally creative or adept at rearranging cliches to set themselves apart. Ironic, isn’t it?

Hence, “simple” profiles could indicate complex people just as super-complex profiles could lead to a person who leads a complex life in the head but is as simple in the business of everyday life as a black and white line drawing on a two dimensional sheet of paper.

Oh the tragedy of the assumption that writing can ever indicate anything outside of itself!

So in my mind, managing simplicity and complexity in writing is less important so we can discover what lies beyond the window than to see what we can do with these two aspects of language we are given.

English: Cupid Cupid weather vane Pentlow, Essex.
Which way will true love flow? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other day, I saw a rather touching Bollywood movie called Barfi (India’s official entry to the Oscars). Part of it was a  love story between a deaf and mute, happy-go-lucky boy and an autistic girl. A very unusual subject matter for Bollywood in the choice of characters that had to be made to fit the conventional idea of “true” love.

The happy-go-lucky, tramp-like, simplistic character was exploited to the fullest to appeal to the formulaic part absolutely necessary perhaps for the movie to succeed. Yet, there were layers to the characterization in the depiction of both the boy and the girl that obviously addressed a very complex subject matter.

As a viewer it can be difficult to walk the tightrope between receiving simple and complex signals simultaneously. I was trained for “true” love stories and for “serious” stories where love is almost never really true.

But not this.

It was when I was wildly veering between seeing the boy as happy-go-lucky, viewing him in my simple mode, to almost a dimwit, viewing him in my complex mode, my “serious” side triggered by aspects of the movie itself even while my simple side was singing along (considering aspects of melodrama touched upon while connecting disability and autism to some simple state of true love shining out of  slightly crazy characters) that I began to see how difficult it is to manage both simplicity and complexity together in the same composition.

Hats off to people who try complex content in formulaic forms. It must be very difficult.

That’s when I really started wondering about writing and complexity.


This post followed from Writing and Complexity (Part 1)

26 thoughts on “On Writing and Complexity (Part 2)”

  1. A very interesting commentary and yes, I absolutely started forming ideas of writers A, B and C! They’re all lacking in their own way and all strong in their own way (e.g. B, for all his/her brevity, also falls in to the “show don’t tell” trap). I was recently at a workshop day for a university subject where we were given the advice that, when it comes to editing “when in doubt, cut it out” and that as writers, we can be tempted to ensure that the reader sees EXACTLY what we see, but as readers we will likely find ourselves much more interested in stories that leave a little room for the imagination. It’s a hard balance to walk, because so often we want our hard work to be “our own”. Death of the author and all that – who wants to be dead? Nobody, that’s who.


  2. it was a very absorbing read my understanding of “complexity” is that more often than not it is about words of power rather than power of words


  3. I think it was Da Vinci who said, “Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.” Flowery words or complexities have their roles in the universe, but simplicity, as Da Vinci says, offers its own sophistication.


  4. I love where you note that dating profiles are doomed; so insightful!

    Which isn’t a complex thing to say, but I think I’m more of a B writer overall.

    One of my own favorite characters is a man in his late thirties who is mentally disabled, but whom holds deep insights. It was a wonderful character to write, how simply he looked at life, but his conclusions were usually far beyond the norm. How to translate that sort of depth in a dating profile, or a FB status, or even a term paper? Thank goodness for fiction!


  5. Some of the best advice I was given was “write the way you speak”. Now obviously if a character requires different speech patterns or word choices that wouldn’t apply. The English teacher who gave me that advice also explained that meant if you don’t use “10 dollar words” in your everyday speech, don’t write that way (ala “C”)


  6. I read a lot of 19th century literature during my formative years, so my first drafts tend to fall into the “C” category, but the edited versions fall into the “B”. You did an excellent job describing how speech reveals a lot about a character’s personality.


  7. “All writing is part fiction” – how true! I think some people are afraid of reading fiction because it’s “not true.” Of course, great fiction can be “more true” than plain facts.


  8. Fascinating, I really enjoyed reading this and the previous one. I guess I veer between A and B myself, though more Bish generally…and there’s much more to be considered and reflected upon here which I will now do while i wash up….makes it go quicker. Thank you so much for a (2) very thought provoking and entertaining post(s).


  9. As I read this totally absorbing piece, I keep wondering where I am, and where I want to be. I am swept away by the breadth of your knowledge, and the depth of your thinking. Thank you for sharing, and for dropping by my blog.


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