ComplicatedIsntBetter

“More complicated” isn’t always “better.”

If you’ve ever taken a literature class, you’ve seen this problem. The literary canon–the list of books which are largely accepted as being the most important and influential in shaping our culture. If you notice, the books within the literary canon are all “literary” works. In other words, genre artists need not apply. In academia, literary works are valued highly over nonliterary works, so much so that the professor for my novel writing class actually separated us into two individual groups: the students writing what he considered “literary” works went to one room, and the students writing “genre” fiction went to the other.

In other words, “genre” writers didn’t get to critique literary works, and same visa versa. Kinda shitty if you think about it, right? (And I did have the chance to read some of these “literary” works, and they weren’t any better or worse than the stories the genre writers were coming up with, but their authors sure felt like they were.)

This comes down to the same misconception, really: that more “complicated” writing with more “complex” vocabulary and language is somehow superior writing. Writers who focus more on the different styles of language, including simpler language, are “lesser” than writers who strictly focus on writing works that sound literary. I’ve already given my piece on the bullshit superiority difference perceived between literary and genre fiction, but that hasn’t changed academia at large. If you want to write genre fiction, be prepared to defend your work a little bit more to literary snobs, who will inevitably believe you lack the same talents the canon has.

Unfortunately, there are a few key things that these people seem to forget. First, in the grand scheme of things, genre fiction vastly outsells literary fiction. You can see that by the sheer volume of genre books in every single bookstore around the country. There are hundreds of thousands more genre books out there than there are literary books. Second, there is absolutely no way to determine that just because a literary book with more “complex” writing is better written than a genre book with more simplistic writing.

The other major issue with the assumption that writers who choose to use overly complicated and detailed writing are superior to writers who instead opt for simpler language also assumes that these second writers don’t have the ability to paint the same kind of imagery, which is simply untrue. In fact, just because something is written in a more detailed way doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any better at painting a picture than a work that isn’t written in that same excruciating detail. In many ways, there is a subtle art to using less complicated language and this art is just as complicated as painting the same images in more words.

In fact, I could probably make the argument that it takes more skill to use simpler language to paint the same images than it does to use up your entire vocabulary. Sure, it sounds “literary” in the end, but at what cost? You risk boring your readers, inundating them with information that simply doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and severely limiting the fanbase that may be interested in buying your book in the future.

If we’re going to say that “good” writing must be “literary” in style (with complicated sentence structures and dense language), we’re essentially saying that Harry Potter is complete slop. We’re saying that Lord of the Rings is the only kind of fantasy worth reading. We’re saying that young adult fiction is “bad,” adult fiction “marginally better,” and anything that you need a dictionary by your side to get through is the epitome of quality.

It’s bullshit. What really matters in writing is the quality of the story, the quality of the characters, and the quality of the writing–a quality that has more to do with with how scenes are structured and phrased than it does with the number of complex sentences and hundred-dollar words the writer used.

Cheers,
–MC

Categories: Opinions and Rants, Writing

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