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By Johannes Helmold

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Regardless of the genre you are writing in—even if it is something academic—you may now and then feel the temptation to write, so to say, out of your shoes. By this I mean trying to sound like a more stylish, smart, or experienced writer than you are. In its turn, this means you (not necessarily) may write in a fancy manner, overuse clever words and specific terms, be super-explanatory, or play with the text’s structure to the extent when its inner logic breaks.

If you do all this, don’t. Trust me, your writing will only become better if you stop trying to be original or in some way outstanding. One case is when your initial idea requires using complex forms or text organization (like in the case of Julio Cortazar’s “Hopscotch,” for instance), or when you write real scientific fiction that requires referring to physics, equations, and such. The best example of all this, in my opinion, is Arthur Clark’s series of novels about the space odyssey of 2001.

The other case is when you write something far more trivial, but still strive to show off. Imagine what would happen to, say, the Harry Potter series, if J.K. Rowling started to build complicated semantic structures, use wordplay 10 times per page, overuse flashbacks, metaphors, and super-smart magic-related terms, taken right from medieval manuscripts on alchemy and exorcism. Most likely, she would be valued by a narrow circle of literary aesthetes, but the majority of teens and adults would drop the book after reading the first five pages.

This brings us closer to the following two conclusions. The first is to write in a simple style. If you take popular modern authors, you won’t get knocked out by the abundance of literary techniques and bulging style. Truly talented writers tell about complicated problems in simple words, and use light constructions to describe difficult situations. You should do the same.

Secondly, mind your audience. If you see your average reader as a person who can easily grasp and value perplexed intertextuality, post-modernist crotchets, meanings hidden within palindromes and ephemeral wordplay, and so on, then of course, you can write however you want. But if you want to write for a broad audience, don’t make your writing more complicated than your plot requires.

Simplicity is the key to perfection. It’s like keeping a blade sharp: the more simple your writing is, the sharper the edge.

Have fun writing!

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