Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Vonnegut’s Advice to “Keep it Simple”

I like long sentences. Growing up, engineering these lengthy grammatical feats was like alchemy to me; again and again I transformed words into corridors, labyrinths, twisting pathways that went on and on and led readers through my convoluted ink-dreams. It was impressive, I thought, and a bit magical, to disorient the audience, to keep them on their toes with twists and sharp-edged, polysyllabic declarations of my genius. As a student of words, I believed every reader was like me, and would hang in the grip of every passing letter, carefully picking their way through each sentence’s turns, all the while remarking to themselves what a rush it was to come across an author who imbued so much life and wisdom into her work. I wanted to show readers how smart I was, how I could make language bow to me and give my writing endless beauty in its sentences with curling tails and never-ending clauses.

When I started studying writing for real, I came across a piece of advice from one of my favorite fiction writers, the wonderful Kurt Vonnegut. In a paper on “How to Write with Style” Vonnegut implores his readers to “keep it simple” when it comes to the way in which they choose to present information - particularly that which is exceedingly profound. In his example, Vonnegut cites William  Shakespeare as well as James Joyce, both of whom he admits had the ability to “put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra,” but, as he highlights, chose not to do so in instances of profound genius. Conversely, he asserts, these expert writers in fact chose to present some of their most profound ideas (his go-to example is Hamlet’s famous, “To be or not to be?” as well as the opening passage of the Judeo-Christian Bible) in relatively simple language. In his article, Vonnegut asserts that simple can be beautiful, as countless canonical authors have demonstrated, time and time again. If they can make the simple work, why can’t we? This is something I ask myself and attempt to employ often in my own work as a writer.

(Reference to “How to Write with Style:

Bio: Kira Geiger is a third year MFA student with a concentration in Creative Nonfiction. Her work has been previously featured in NoiseMedium, FishFood Magazine, and tiny poetry: macropoetics

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