Thanksgiving is upon us, and to be honest, I’m pretty sick and tired of hearing about it. Not because I’m not grateful for the many blessings bestowed upon me, my family and our great country, but because I’m not looking forward to eating turkey for the next week to ten days. Yeah, I know, you too. So this little rambling of mine will have nothing to do with Thanksgiving, and I won’t mention it again, although I will share my favorite recipe for turkey with you a bit later. I’m sure you’ve seen it before, but it’s worth repeating.
Instead, I’d like to touch upon my neighbor, an eighty-five-year-old, retired history professor that I call the leprechaun. I call him that because he very much resembles the little guy on the cereal box, you know the one. More importantly, he acts like the little guy on the cereal box. For my neighbor, sitting still is not an option. He fidgets constantly and most days he does so at my house. As a retired, history professor, the leprechaun holds fiction and those of us who write fiction with total disregard as if we were something the dog left for us to pick up in the backyard. He also takes every opportunity to remind me of his valued opinion whenever he can, which is almost every day.
So a week or so before (fill in the blank) day (hey, I said I wouldn’t mention it, right) the leprechaun dances his way over to my house and let’s himself in (because I can’t possibly be busy, right?) I see that you are penning more of your babblement, he said when he saw I was at my desk. (Yes, he really does talk like that) If you mean I am busy writing, then yes, I am busy, I told him. History and non-fiction is the only way to go if you wish longinquity, he advised. What I wished for was for the Leprechaun to kindly go away so I could resume writing, but he insisted on staying and emptying the candy dish.
He took a seat on the sofa, clicked on the television and grabbed a handful of mini Snickers bars from the candy dish. I tried to do a little writing, but the background noise of the television and the munching of mini Snickers distracted me. (Leprechauns are loud eaters, you see) When the Leprechaun tore himself away from the sofa to grab a soda from the fridge, he noticed me staring at my fingers and said, You are most tardigradous.
Not always, I said. Allow me to uptrain you, he said.
I would if I knew what you were talking about, I said. The Leprechaun grabbed a few more mini Snickers and stood over my shoulder. Don’t maffle and tell me what the problem is, he said. Okay, I’m stuck on how to catch the bad guy, I said.
The illaqueation? he said.
I stared at him.
Of the rakeshame, the Leprechaun said.
Umm, sure, I said.
Continue on the path of fiction and you shall always remain a nuncupatory, he said.
Okay, I said and returned to work as the Leprechaun returned to my sofa. A little while later, when the candy dish was empty, the Leprechaun decided to return to his pot of gold and left me alone. His parting words were, I leave you to your wranglesome thoughts.
My only thoughts at that moment were, thank God you’re gone, and do I have anymore mini Snickers? What my Leprechaun of a neighbor doesn’t understand is the beauty of the English language and when to keep it simple. Many young writers I talk to don’t seem to understand this as well. They overcomplicate their work and use words you would need a translator to explain. Hemingway understood the simplicity of words only too well, and his writing style has often been described as economical and understated. Yet, his simple approach to writing won him a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize. Another example of KISS writing is the great Elmore Leonard, who said Hemingway was his single most important influence.
Get the idea?
So when young writers ask me for advice, I tell them KISS. Don’t use words that are difficult to understand. If you want to describe the bad guy as a bad guy, forget rakeshame and call him the bad guy. If something tastes sweet, call it sweet and not saccharinely. If something tastes bitter, call it bitter and not astringent. You won’t need a dictionary to figure out what you want to say, and neither will your readers.
Your story and writing will flow easier if it doesn’t read like a collegiate spelling bee. Sometimes it really is just that KISS.
And now for the above mentioned: my favorite recipe for turkey.
1. Buy a turkey.
2. Have a glass of wine.
3. Stuff turkey.
3. Have a glass of wine.
5. Put turkey in oven.
6. Relax a while with another glass of wine.
7. Turn the bastey.
8. Wine of glass another get.
9. Meat for thermometer hunt.
10. Glass yourself another pour of wine.
11. Bake the wine for four hours.
12. Remove the oven from the turkey.
13. Tet the stable.
14. Grab another wottle of bine.
15. Turk the carvey.
16. Have asouter bass of bine.
17. Pass out in gravy boat and awaken when it’s all over.
Al Lamanda is the author of the Edgar Award nominated mystery novel Sunset. The sequel Sunrise won the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance award for best crime novel of 2013. His latest mystery First Light is available in stores everywhere and on line.