Last June, when my husband and I were on vacation in Italy, we spent a lot of our time lazing by the beach or pool. T was reading the Conan series, and at one point turned to me and asked if the book I was writing was "complicated."
"Yeah, I guess so," I told him. I thought about it and corrected myself. It was definitely complicated and that was one of the reasons it was taking me so long to write.
"Hmm, cause these books are definitely not complicated," he told me, holding up old Conan the Barbarian. "They're almost ridiculously simple."
I've been thinking about that for a while. No one is going to claim that Conan the Barbarian is great literature, but I bet there's a lot of people who would argue that the series is fun and readable. Think how quickly Robert E. Howard must have been able to churn those stories out. You'd have to if you were being paid by the word. Complexity isn't a luxury you get to enjoy under those circumstances.
I think about all the stories or movies I've seen that have really simple premises, and how much I tend to enjoy them. Superbad is about two underage kids trying to get alcohol for a party. What a great idea. It's so simple and everyone (at least in the U.S.) can relate.
This year's Mad Max was about (spoilers) a fat old dude trying to get his women back. If the movie had been anything more complicated than that, I doubt it would have worked. Mad Max is all about simple premises and basic instincts so you can enjoy the action without having to think too hard.
I've always thought Dragon Ball Z was kind of genius for this same reason. Train really hard, and you can become a martial arts master (it helps if you're also an alien). Find the seven dragon balls, and you get any wish. That's basically it, but there's so much that can be developed around those two simple ideas.
Ender's Game has a fairly simple premise if you think about it. Boy goes to battle school and kicks butt at video games and simulated warfare. The simplicity of the plot, which is practically episodic, lets the narration spend more time on Ender's personal issues.
Can you summarize your book or short story that easily? Is the concept that simple?
I think about my book, and it's not that simple. I try explaining the story to my husband sometimes and I'm all, "and then this happens, and then this, and then this, and she can do that because this, and he can't because yada yada yada."
Maybe I want to/need to write a simpler book? In fact, while writing this post, it occurs to me that I've plotted a section near the center of the narrative arc, because I felt like it needed "more story." But when I think about that part, I realize it's totally unnecessary. It complicates things for the sake of complicating them.
Kids, I'm just going to cut that part out. Boom, that's 10,000 words I probably just saved myself of having to write and later delete.
I'm going to keeping thinking on this simplicity idea and see if I can figure out a way to summarize my book in one sentence. And if I can't, then maybe it's too complicated for both my tastes and my abilities.
Of course, some people like complex stories and that's absolutely cool. A Game of Thrones and The Wheel of Time books, come to mind, but neither of those are my cup of tea. So...why have I been trying to write a story on their scale?
If you're working on a story, do you find it simple and straightforward to explain? Or is it complex, maybe more complex than you originally anticipated?