Latest News

Keep It Simple, Storyteller

When I first started writing, simplicity was a concept I didn't really get. I assumed that if you were drafting a book, your job was to pack twists and subplots and side characters into that baby until your reader's head spun. I thought that your job was to infuse your story with obscure metaphors that caused betas to contemplate the meaning of life and the universe and everything.

Well, I was wrong.

Because when I started doing revisions for my agent, one of the first comments she had was, "We need to simplify."

I'm pretty sure I felt something short-circuit in my brain.

"What do you mean, simplify? I spent two years outlining this book and nailing down every detail of the world and creating character charts - it's not supposed to be simple. It's supposed to be deep and multi-faceted and full of symbolism!"

And this is the point when I realized why my agent was my agent and I was not. Because throughout these revisions, I began to understand that a simple storyline does not take away from the story itself.

Here's an example: I recently read a book that I really, really liked. It had wonderful characters and a gorgeous setting and a lot of awesome, intricate mythology. But after a certain point in the novel, I started to get confused. Suddenly the mythology was too intricate. There were too many characters. The gorgeous setting was getting lost under layers of excessive description. It was all just...too much. The book was rich and complicated, but the complexity took away from the heart of the story.

You can cut your character's three-page backstory without ruining the character. You can simplify the world-building without making the world crumble. You can limit yourself to a few lines of description without detracting from the beautiful setting.

  • Blogger Comments
  • Facebook Comments


  1. What book was the confusing/complex mythology one? Now I'm curious.

  2. Awesome advice! I tend to like sparse prose and simple storylines over intricate and detailed worlds - although a skilled writer can make a world detailed regardless while being simple at the same time.

  3. Good post, Kristin :)
    And too true!

  4. Excellent post, and great advice. Thanks!

  5. Thanks guys!

    Jaimie, I purposefully avoided mentioning the name of the book because I didn't want to offend anyone - reader or writer, lol. And, like I said, I really enjoyed the novel, so I didn't want to take away from that by criticizing the worldbuilding.

  6. I couldn't agree with you more! I know I'm always guilty of making my books WAY too complex, which is often the result of me being bored during a first draft, heh. Every time I revise a book, one of my main goals is to simplify. After all, if *I* find myself getting confused by the plot sometimes, no doubt my readers will, too!

  7. I am totally guilty of this! It's hard to gauge when enough is enough.

  8. Terrific advice. Plus, it makes your job easier as the author: less intricate bits of subplot and storyline to weave together, less chance of writing yourself into the proverbial corner.

  9. "Storyteller," riiiiight....

  10. I learned the hard way to keep my story simple. I had many complexities in my story that even I couldn't keep track of, but I then thought of keeping the language, characters, and setting simplified.

    In the end, everything turned out better than I had imagined. Simple is always the best. Always.

    Write on!

  11. Agreed. I just read a book like that in French. I kept having to look back to see which characters were related and who was who's assistant, and which Knight came from which country...

    Too hard!


Comments are moderated on posts two weeks old or more -- please send us a tweet if yours needs approval!

Item Reviewed: Keep It Simple, Storyteller Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Anonymous