The Mark Blog

Complication Is Not Complexity

I recently re-read the chapter entitled "Don't Do This: A Short Guide to What Not to Do" in Jerome Stern's Making Shapely Fiction. What I like in this book is that the general tone is relatively informal and conversational, as the title of this chapter exemplifies. He's funny and shares specific, personal examples. Stern teaches that there are no completely firm rules in writing fiction. Instead there are some basic tenets for good writing, and there are always exceptions to every rule.

In "Don't Do This," Stern touches on a point that really sticks with me: Complication is not complexity.

"Don't try to tell too many stories at once," Stern writes.

As a young writer I find that sometimes I have the instinct to add to a circumstance in my fiction by simply including other events, people, or flashbacks. Stern's point, I think, really hits home. It's not about how many things we can make happen, or people we can make appear or, as is often in the case of my writing, memories we can make surface. In actuality, it's about the depth of a given conflict/desire. What makes this situation complex? How can we go deeper rather than adding on top of it? What is it beyond the surface that makes this person and their yearning real? What is human and identifiable about this situation? Why is it important that this desire is being thwarted?

As I revise my current chapters and continue to write toward the completion of my novel, I want to hold this in my mind. The best stories in all forms and genres are, I believe, complex and not complicated. They are not a web but a well; deep, and sometimes dark, and full of the stuff that gives life.