Well, I’m back.
Today, I’d like to talk about something that most people don’t seem to think about as something worthwhile.
Stories that are short, straightforward, innocent. Simple.
Many of us place excessive emphasis on complex plots and twists that are “unexpected”. Nowadays, if we can guess the ending, then it’s suddenly described as “cliché” and “predictable” which is automatically frowned upon.
However… what is wrong with a story you know?
One of my favorite stories to tell is a story I’ve told a dozen times (for the record, it’s about how my sister and her husband first interacted before they liked each other). Every time, however, it makes me smile, makes me feel emotion. That’s what story is supposed to do, isn’t it?
Is the story I’m telling predictable? Fairly. If you heard the first half, you could guess the second half pretty easily. Does that make the story any less interesting?
Heck, I told that story for what must be the fiftieth time as part of my speech at their wedding. A good half of the people there (and we’re talking a big wedding reception… my sister knows too many people) already knew the story.
I told it anyway.
They all smiled and laughed and felt emotion because of it.
So let’s talk about simple stories.
The Importance of Simplicity
What does simplicity allow you to do? After all, simplicity seems rather limiting. A story that goes from point a to point b without much happening in between sounds kind of boring, doesn’t it? That sounds like a story your Aunt Matilda might tell you at Thanksgiving that you didn’t really want to hear but have to anyway because it’s impolite to just walk away mid-conversation.
However, simplicity can also have great power. Believe it or not, simplicity grants the reader more imaginative power. When the story is simple, there’s more dead-space for the reader to fill with their own ideas. Even if the story has very little storyline and character arc, the reader is more than willing to put their own ideas into it.
Simple stories can also be the most poignant. For most of us, our lives aren’t overly complicated. Even if we claim they are, they really… aren’t. Things are less complicated from the outside looking in; most complications only feel complicated due to a lack of perspective and distance. Therefore, simple stories resonate with the stories of our lives. They build on our experiences and sting us with something simultaneously sweet and sour.
This small power is still power-full. The poignancy of simple stories is like the strength of an ant. It may not seem like much from afar, but up close it’s astounding.
Sweet, Sweet Themes
What sort of themes do we find in most literature nowadays?
A lot of themes today reflect the way we feel about the real world. We feel hopeless. We feel defeated. We see evil and darkness and wrongness all around us. It comes from so many places, and we want to feel empathy from elsewhere. We want to feel like we’re not alone in seeing these things. So we write them. We read them.
This is important. It’s so, so important. If stories don’t tackle the themes of reality, they lose their power to reach readers with any true and lasting impact. However, if darkness is the only theme we write, it’s the only thing we’ll ever see.
Simple stories free us from those themes. Can you write a dark, foreboding simple story? Sure. I have. Those are important, too. But you know what you can do with a simple story?
You can make people smile the whole time.
There is no need for extreme variance in emotion when the story is short and simple. One emotion is fine. When I tell the story of my sister and her husband meeting, what am I wanting to elicit from my listeners? Joy. That’s it.
When I tell the story of Agram Awakens what emotions am I wanting to stir up? I can list a good dozen off the top of my head from just the first act.
There it is.
The power of a simple story: joy can’t usually carry a story. When a story is complex, innocently singular emotions aren’t enough to carry all of that weight on their shoulders. Simple stories can be carried like that.
Simple stories give room for innocence.
Writing Simple Stories
Don’t be afraid of simple stories. Don’t be afraid to write a cliché. Any cliché can be well-written enough that readers don’t care.
Don’t be afraid of innocence. It’s okay to have a story that tells of good, positive themes.
Don’t be afraid of shortness. It’s okay to write novellas and short stories. Not everything has to be a novel. Not everything should be.
Don’t be afraid of the darkness in our world. Write your simple story. Fight that darkness. Fight it with everything you have and light your little spark. Fight.