Continued from On Writing and Complexity (Part 1)
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.
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.
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)