04 September, 2013

Oversimplifying Under-simplifications

In an old post, "Spank Me", I mentioned getting hard-core (interpret that as you will) advice from my agent. Another interesting thing happened in a little back and forth we had afterwards. She asked me to describe the plot on simple terms. I did so in three or four paragraphs, seemingly little for an 80-100,000 page book. She questioned me in some depth and finally said, "So it's about a (thing happening) in a therapeutic hospital that you want perceived as an evil one."

"Curses!" I thought. What an oversimplification! Does that mean she hates the book because it's too smegging simple!? I've worked hard to lend that idea depth. I wrote back something along the lines of "Yes, essentially, but I want the reader to take my main character's side. I want to challenge their values, make them understand something very few people understand, and generally make the evil thing seem like a really meaningful, but also just plain cool, engaging thing." Blah, blah, blah. There was more than that, but that's the gist. Literally seconds after clicking the "send" button, I realised what Leslie was doing.

"If you can't explain a concept in simplistic terms, you don't truly understand the concept," as Albert Einstein said. I love Einstein quotes. He had a terrific clarity of thought and way with words.

(Another I use to justify myself:  "If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?" And yes, I know the guy in "The Big Bang Theory" television show quoted him as "messy desk", but he was wrong.)

So anyway, there we had it. One sentence, almost insultingly (at first) simplistically described a work I'd put half a year into, and made quite multi-layered and action-infused, if I do say so myself. It had covered the baseline of my plot in a way that at first glance made it look crap. But if I understand how to describe it in a sentence, and can also describe what I want the reader to feel in a sentence (which I won't reveal), I can have tremendous clarity of thought and purpose in writing the book. I can even have a way with words.

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