Friday, August 21, 2015

The Writer's Kiss

   I've been reading recently. I guess that shouldn't be a surprise: a writer must always be reading in order to keep sharp. But most of the time I'm reading fiction, investigating how others tell stories that I might better tell my own. Though, I must admit, sometimes I read merely as a means of entertaining myself. The difference the current reading holds is that I am reading a book about writing: The Writer's Art by James J. Kilpatrick. It's a wonderful book; humorous and educational. I've learned a lot. One of the first points Kilpatrick makes is that writers need to be clear when they write. They should cut unneeded words and simplify any wordiness. This reminded me of the KISS acronym: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
   This idea of keeping things simple has been on my mind ever since I started writing my Kitten Mysteries series. Since they are written for a younger audience, I don't want to speak over the heads of my readers. But, sometimes the appropriate word I want to use is a long one. As I write, I have struggled with how I should solve this problem.
   There are several solutions that I have found in my reading. There are some books which simply use the longer words and let the reader fend for themselves. I remember reading certain books in school that required a dictionary nearby for complete comprehension. Unfortunately, this was taxing on my mind, resulting in my ceasing to read or in my ceasing to research definitions. Neither of these are desirable.
   Another solution found in literature for younger readers is one taken by Lemony Snicket. In A Series of Unfortunate Events, Snicket uses large words while placing a handy (and humorous) definition in beside it. This is a possible avenue I could take, though it would seem like a flagrant ripoff (flagrant: a word here meaning obvious or inarguable).
   So what do I do? How do I resolve my difficulty? As far as I have written, I can find no easy answer. There are times when I use a large word and then make a joke about the definition (or the lack thereof). There are also times that I have taken a larger word and simplified it into other words during editing. The key point to think about here, Kilpatrick argues, is clarity. If a word may be misunderstood by readers, then don't write it or find some way to clarify the meaning.

   What about you? Have you ever struggled with how to be more clear when writing? Remember, clarity is about more than just using big words: it covers using fewer words, simpler sentences, and staying on point. Tell me in the comments below of a time when you struggled with clarity.

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