Thursday, August 28, 2014

On the nature of simplicity in good writing...

The Geek God and I are finally watching The Wire. Yes, I know, a decade behind the rest of you. At any rate, we recently watched that famous moment in "Old Cases" where McNulty and his partner, Bunk, are investigating an old crime scene. It takes place in an apartment that has since been cleaned and repaired. They crack the case with nothing to go on but a few crime scene photos and the F word. Seriously, the dialogue of the entire scene consists of them conversing in Vulgar Dude. The F word, and only the F word, for a solid 5 minutes. It is hilarious, gripping, and absolute genius.

Truly, this brief scene attained a level of Haiku-esque minimalism that made me writhe with simultaneous ecstasy and envy. I instantly wanted to watch it again. And again. It will remain with me for years, glowing in memory as a shining beacon of "Less is more."

Yes, I realize that this example is visual and therefore not the same as written fiction. As writers of books, we are forced to set our stage and dress our actors with nothing but our fingers on the keyboard.

My point is that great writing isn't about big words or heavily detailed description ("Excuse me, but your research is showing.") or even perfectionist grammar. Yes, knowing all this is important. Proving that you know it is not. Great writing is about connection. Without connection--that direct line feed, that intravenous transfusion from creator to audience, that freaking divine thread of communication made by tapping your soul like a Vermont maple--well then, you are just scratching lines and curves into the sand before the incoming tide. Your work won't be remembered by anyone but you.

So, the next time you feel stirred by a sesquipedalian adverb you stumbled upon in your Synonym Finder, remember that isn't the size of the word, it's how you use it that counts!

Here is a link to the aforementioned scene from The Wire. Warning: Adult Effing Content. It is an HBO show, after all!


  1. As a reader, I think the greatest complement you can be paid is when the author assumes you can work sh!t out for yourself. I'm a firm believer in the 'show, don't tell' rule, and sometimes feel a bit cheated when you congratulate yourself for 'getting' what a writer is trying to convey with a line or image or detail, only for them to tell you straight out in the very next paragraph.

    Leaving those details as a subtle wink encourages a two way relationship with your work and the reader. I feel involved with a book/show, when you're expected to do a little bit of the work yourself.

    It's true what you say about visual media following different rules than print, but one of my favourite episodes of my favourite show was 'Hush' in S4 of Buffy. No dialogue, but everything conveyed visually, and one of the scariest episodes they ever made.

  2. No kidding, Laura! The Gentlemen are so very disturbing!