Keeping it Simple

Anyone who has ever studied any form of writing, business or design has probably heard of a little thing called the KISS principle. If you haven’t then there is a fair chance that you’re either not taking your studies seriously, or you’ve plain forgotten about this little pearl of wisdom. KISS is a rather simple acronym that stands for Keep It Simple Stupid and was principally noted by the US Navy in the 1960’s. The principle is easy to understand – the name basically says it all; most systems work best if they are simplistic in nature and avoid unnecessary complications.

Originally coined by a lead engineer at the Lockheed Skunk Works, the principle stemmed from the idea that engineers need to construct a jet aircraft that could be fixed with the limited tools available to the average mechanic operating within the field of combat. The system in question was the maintenance and repair of a piece of machinery responsible for air to air combat; however the idea is so easily relatable to many other areas in life – including writing.

When a writer creates a piece it must be two things: original and relatable (or at the very least understandable). Often times an ill-experienced writer (yours truly sometimes included) tends to focus on mastering one of these two integral components instead of both; which in turn produces a project that feels incomplete, unbalanced, or for lack of a better word – shit. Evidence of this is clearly evident in our everyday consumption of media through the mediums of both spoken and written word, however it is possible to find success creating a piece that lacks originality yet is highly understandable and still become successful.

If you don’t believe me then go spark up the wireless and take a listen to the god-awful tracks from artists like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, or One Direction that run on high rotation. These artists often produce tracks or ‘systems’ that are simplistic yet totally unoriginal. Their so called writers (aka marketing teams) produce lyrics that carry no real weight, yet are so easily relatable that they can be effortlessly interpreted within the minds of the masses. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look: Katy Perry recently released a song where she warbles:

You held me down, but I got up; already brushing off the dust.

But who held her down? And why did they? They must have been a real arsehole to do that to her. Was Katy being physically abused? That’s absurd! Why didn’t anybody help her?…Or is it a metaphor? Was she was trapped underneath a glass ceiling within the music industry? Surely not! Or was someone trying to supress her in another manner? The point is that no one really knows just who the fuck pissed off Katy to the point where she grew the heart of a fighter, and the point is that it doesn’t matter. Her lyrics are so vague and unoriginal that everyone from a scorned employee or lover, through to a ten year old girl can take those lyrics and find their own story within them. Katy keeps it simple, and as such even someone with the limited mental capacity or ‘tools’ that a ten year old possesses can understand her message.

But what happens when a writer creates an ill balanced piece that focuses too heavily on originality that it fails to pay any courtesy to the works ability to be palatable and relatable to the masses? Sadly that also happens every day, and as an aspiring author who devours the works of other up and coming artists on a regular basis, I see it all too often. Writers become so concerned with creating original pieces that they throw caution to the wind, dust off the thesaurus and unload with a string of unnecessary adverbs and adjectives that take a potentially beautiful piece of work and leave it feeling disjointed and almost impossible to digest.

Manuscripts like this simply don’t work; you can quote me on that. I’ve sat in university tutorials and listened to others ramble for almost three pages about how a character looks, or describe in every minute detail the room in which said character finds themselves standing. Their work reads like a fucking who’s-who of describing words and labels; if we were being marked on word counts I’m sure they’d win some kind of commendation for their stellar efforts. They mistake clutter for originality and over saturate a scene or script until it becomes indecipherable and the actual purpose of the work is lost in an unmelodiousness mess of descriptions.

I truly believe that the best piece of advice I have ever received as a writer came in my first semester of university almost three years ago now. My lecturer was reviewing the works of our class after an assessment, providing a little generalised feedback to the congregation as a whole when she stopped and put down her notes.

‘Many of you have written wonderful descriptions of characters and plot-lines only to run out of space within the confines of the word limit provided before your story ever really began,’ she said with a grin. ‘From now on I want you all to do one thing: Just fucking write what happens.’

Her little rant still sits in the back of my mind every single time I write, or even when I consume the works of others. We as writers often need to remind ourselves of the KISS principle in order to keep ourselves in check and ensure that our work is both creative and palatable to others. Originality is paramount to feeling fulfilled as a writer, yet it can so easily become lost within a maze of descriptions and passive writing. We must keep it simple and create works that we ourselves would love to sit down and read. If you proof your own writing and think holy shit that sounds wordy, then chances are that your audience isn’t going to have the faintest fucking clue as to what you are trying to say.

Author: Chris Nicholas

Chris Nicholas is an author from Brisbane, Australia. He has published two novels, and is currently working on his third.

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